“Within three decades, work under the Industrial Accidents Convention has been transformative for the UNECE region, enhancing the protection for humans and the environment and making it an example for transboundary cooperation on accident prevention and preparedness, which can serve as inspiration for other regions to follow”, UNECE Deputy Executive Secretary Dmitry Mariyasin declared at the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (CoP-12) (Geneva and online, 29 November – 1 December 2022).
In marking the Convention’s 30th anniversary, the CoP reviewed key achievements made to date. Membership has grown from only 27 signatories to 42 Parties, including with the CoP welcoming Ukraine as the newest Party which acceded to the Convention in October 2022 despite the ongoing war.
Mr. Kyriacos Koushos, Minister of Labour and Social Insurance of Cyprus, highlighted that “some past activities, such as the seminar on land-use planning and industrial safety and the seminar on the Beirut port accident were steps in the right direction, as is the development of the Industrial Accident Notification system, a key parameter in the effective cooperation of the Parties.”
Switzerland highlighted that “another important achievement is the large number of guidance materials, good industry practices, checklists, also related to tailings management facilities, that have been developed for use by countries, competent authorities, operators and other stakeholders.” The European Union emphasised that, “since its inception, the Convention has supported countries in improving industrial safety and disaster response preparedness to avoid future accidents, especially those with transboundary effects.” Serbia reported on the successful launch of National Policy Dialogues on Industrial Safety, which greatly improved national coordination.
In addition, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan reported on strengthening inter-sectoral cooperation by establishing inter-institutional working groups on tailings safety and the prevention of accidental water pollution in 2022, to address safety hotspots and to mitigate risks. UNECE has supported these and other countries since the inception of the Convention’s Assistance and Cooperation Programme in 2005.
Work on mine tailings safety has proliferated under the Convention. Guidelines, hazard and risk methodologies, tools and projects have been developed to support countries in preventing failures at tailings management facilities, which in the past have led to death, illness and severe damage to the environment, economies and infrastructure, and in preparing for and responding to accidents should they occur. With estimates of a stark increase in the demands for certain minerals and mining, including to produce clean energy technologies, the CoP endorsed a roadmap of actions that countries should take to build on existing work and to further step up mine tailings safety, including to address tailings management facility risks through policy and governance and to prevent accidental water pollution. In the green energy transition and need to mitigate climate change, countries can use the roadmap to ensure industrial safety and reduce the risks of technological disasters at existing and new tailings facilities.
From hurricanes to floods, melting permafrost and wildfires, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Sixth Assessment Report: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability shows that countries need to take adaption measures in view of the elevated risk of climate-related extreme weather events and slow onset climate events and the wider impacts of climate change, which also affect infrastructure and industrial systems. Adaptation is essential in order to ensure safety at industrial facilities that are susceptible to natural hazards, as they can trigger technological disasters, known as Natech events.
At CoP-12’s UNECE/OECD Seminar on effective management of technological risks of accidents triggered by natural hazards, national authorities, international organizations and experts from industry provided a deeper understanding of how natural hazards of small and large scale can lead to Natech risks, and how to manage them more effectively. The CoP subsequently adopted a decision on Natech risk management to address this area of concern under the Convention. The decision urges Parties to strengthen cooperation in understanding, preventing and mitigating the effects of Natech events, including those with transboundary causes or consequences, including in the light of increasing Natech risk as a result of climate change. Parties are also requested to integrate Natech in their climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies, including through better inter-institutional cooperation and by including Natech in their risk assessments, land-use planning and decision-making on siting and emergency plans. The decision further encourages all UNECE countries to share relevant data on Natech events in the eNatech database, operated and serviced by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, alongside inclusion of Natech events in the reporting on identification and notification of hazardous activities under the implementation of the Convention.
The CoP also adopted an ambitious workplan for the biennium 2023-2024 containing activities that are aligned with the Convention’s long-term strategy. These include facilitating implementation in relation to Natech risks and preventing accidental water pollution; risk management of hazardous substances; assisting countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in strengthening policy and governance and strengthen transboundary cooperation, such as in the Syr Darya River Basin, among other areas.
More information on the meeting and its outcomes will be made available at: https://unece.org/environmental-policy/events/twelfth-meeting-conference-parties.