The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to UNECE’s Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents (Industrial Accidents Convention), drawing to a close today, took place from 7-9 December 2020 – for the first time, in a hybrid form, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parties adopted operating procedures to guide their remote participation and decision-making, supplementing the Rules of Procedure of the Conference, which offer a model for addressing novel legal issues in the facilitation of multilateral conferences.
UNECE Executive Secretary, Ms. Olga Algayerova highlights: “At its 20th anniversary year, this CoP highlights the Industrial Accidents Convention’s important role in the context of agenda 2030: It is a model legal instrument for technological disaster risk reduction, which effectively addresses safety hotspots, provides a forum to discuss emerging and new risks, such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and shapes more integrated, sound policies across sectors.”
The decision on strengthening mine tailings safety in the UNECE region and beyond acknowledges the key role for the Convention to play in future in reducing risks of failures at Tailings Management Facilities and increasing the safety of persistent hot spots, in particular in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia (see PR issued on 7 December).
Following their review of the ninth report on the implementation of the Convention (2016–2018), Parties adopted the decision on strengthening implementation, committing themselves to make further progress towards the Convention’s full implementation, notably to:
- identifying industrial hazardous activities and notifying each-other of those which could cause a transboundary effect,
- developing and implementing policies, strategies and measures for prevention and preparedness, including on land-use planning and siting;
- strengthening their risk assessment and prevention measures for industrial accidents triggered by natural disasters; and
- cooperating with neighbouring and riparian countries in the development of harmonized or joint contingency-plans.
Parties also invited beneficiaries of the Convention’s Assistance and Cooperation Programme, including those not yet Party to the Convention, to implement the same commitments to facilitate their accession to the Convention and improve its implementation. The newly adopted workplan for 2021–2022 will particularly support countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, including several non-Parties, in strengthening policies and measures to align with the Convention’s requirements.
“Assistance activities are fundamental to strengthening capacity for national policy-making and governance and lead to more robust transboundary cooperation,” said the Convention’s Chair, Ms. Torill Tandberg, Specialist Director at the Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) of Norway. “We are proud to have launched National Policy Dialogues on Industrial Safety in Central Asia and to continue supporting Central Asian countries with Projects on strengthening the safety of mine tailings. I am confident that these efforts will facilitate countries’ progress towards implementation, and hopeful that other non-Parties in the region will follow the path of Ukraine, which takes steps to accede to the Convention in the nearest future.”
The Conference discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts industrial safety, noting that the pandemic adds new challenges for authorities and industry to consider in cross-sectoral policies. It disrupts the ways industries prevent, prepare for and respond to risks. Measures taken in response to the pandemic have caused industries to unexpectedly close and re-open, in some cases resulting in accidents and near-misses. Delegations agreed to take all measures to safely manage their hazardous activities during the pandemic by securing continuity of inspection capacity, and to include pandemics in future risk assessments.
The Convention’s next workplan includes, among others, activities related to risk assessment, Natural disasters triggering technological hazards (Natech), risk management, land-use planning and industrial safety, preventing accidental water pollution and capacity development. As CoP-11 draws to a close, Mr. Sergiusz Ludwiczak, today’s Deputy Director of the Environment Division, the Convention’s first secretary, remarks: “I would like to congratulate Parties on their achievements the past 20 years, which have seen a gradual growth of the Convention’s impact and outreach. The new workplan and the outcomes of CoP-11 steer the industrial safety community into the next decade, towards Agenda 2030. Today, the Convention is well-positioned to achieve its vision; I would like to strongly encourage Parties and UNECE member States to make full use of this momentum, in order ‘to significantly increase industrial safety and reduce the risk of technological disasters by ensuring the Convention’s full implementation, its wide recognition as a legal instrument for risk reduction under the Sendai Framework and its contribution to the SDGs; and to serve as an example of the prevention of and preparedness for industrial accidents through transboundary cooperation.’”