International cooperation concerning chemicals

The environmental effects of chemicals know no boundaries. A high level of environmental protection requires cooperation both within Europe and globally. The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for international cooperation aimed at preventing the environmental impact caused by chemicals as well as for the development and implementation of EU legislation.

The most important international chemical agreements are as follows:

  • Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (PIC Convention)
  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP Convention)
  • POP Protocol of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
  • International convention on mercury
  • Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)

Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (PIC Convention)

The Rotterdam Convention is based on the procedure of Prior Informed Consent (PIC), according to which, chemicals covered by the convention may only be exported to countries that have provided advance consent for their import. Information and tools for identifying hazardous chemicals are provided to the countries that import chemicals in this way. The parties to the agreement may decide to limit the import of chemicals and notify other parties that have undertaken to observe import limitations of this decision.

The Rotterdam Convention applies to 52 chemicals or chemical groups. Lead compounds that cause severe environmental and health hazards, along with numerous pesticides, are examples of chemicals to which the import notification procedure applies.

The Rotterdam Convention came into force in 2004. Finland accepted the convention in June 2004. The convention has been ratified by 161 parties.

The Rotterdam Convention has been instituted in the EU by Regulation (EU) No 649/2012 of the European Parliament and Council concerning the export and import of dangerous chemicals (so called PIC-regulation). This regulation is, in part, stricter than the international convention and it is updated regularly by delegated acts adopted by the Commission.

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP Convention)

POP (Persistent Organic Pollutant) compounds are extremely resistant to degradation, and capable of long-range transport from the emission source and bioaccumulation in life forms. In addition, they are severely detrimental to human health or the environment even in small concentrations. As these substances travel far from the emission sources, international measures are required to limit POP compounds.

The Stockholm Convention concerning global limitations on POP compounds came into effect in 2004. Finland ratified the convention in 2002. In total, 182 parties have accepted the convention, which makes it one of the largest environmental agreements in the world.

The convention stops or strongly restricts the production, trade, use and emissions of the POP compounds to which it applies. Initially, the convention covered the “dirty dozen”, i.e. twelve POP compounds: aldrine, dieldrin, endrin, DDT, heptachlor, chlordane, mirex, toxaphen, hexachlorobenzene, PCB, as well as dioxins and furans. Thereafter, the convention Parties have been able to agree on restricting production and use of certain POPs so that the convention now applies to 28 chemicals or groups of chemicals. In the European Union, the obligations of the Stockholm Convention are originally instituted with a POP Regulation in 2004. The regulation has been amended multiple times and the effectual re-casted POP regulation (EU) 2019/1021 was adopted in July 2019.

POP Protocol of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

A protocol regarding POP compounds was added to the Convention for Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in Århus in 1998. This protocol limits the use or emissions of 16 POP compounds in total. Finland accepted the protocol in 2002. The protocol came into effect in October 2003, and there are currently 29 parties involved. The 16 compounds limited by the CLRTAP-POPs protocol are: aldrine, dieldrin, endrin, DDT, heptachlor, chlordane, mirex, toxaphen, chlordecone, HCH (lindane), hexabromobiphenyl, hexachlorobenzene, PCB, dioxins and furans, as well as PAH compounds. Seven new substances were included in the agreement in 2009.

The POP Protocol, too, has been instituted in the EU through the POP Regulation (EC)850/2004 and its amendments.

Minamata convention on mercury

A global convention to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury was negotiated within the framework of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The convention was signed in Minamata, Japan in October 2013 when the European Union and most of its Member States, including Finland, joined the treaty. The convention has been signed by 128 Parties and ratified by 111 Parties so far. Finland deposited its instrument of ratification on 1 June 2017. The convention is particularly important to Finland and countries in the Arctic region as mercury is a hazardous substance capable of long-range transport and accumulates in the polar regions.

Minamata Convention addresses the whole life-cycle of mercury with the objective to protect human health and the environment. The convention prohibits the production, export and import of the most significant products containing mercury, such as batteries, switches, cosmetics and measurement devices as of 2020. The use of amalgam in tooth fillings must be minimised. The convention obliges the Parties to phase-out the use of mercury in number of production processes. For example, the use of mercury in chloralkali industry must cease by 2025. Air emissions of mercury from the most prominent emission sources, such as the burning of coal and waste, must be restricted.

Furthermore, the convention limits the international trade of mercury, the production of mercury and sets forth obligations regarding sustainable waste management and the safe storage of mercury. Mercury’s most significant purpose of use, the separation gold from soil in small-scale gold mining, will be restricted.

In the European Union, the obligations of the Minamata Convention are instituted with a Regulation on mercury (EU) 2017/852.

Strategy for International Chemicals Management

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) was established in 2006 as an initiative to create a comprehensive mechanism for promoting chemicals management on the global scale and fill in the gaps in implementation procedures. In line with the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the aim of SAICM is that, by 2020, the risks of the use of chemicals are managed in such a way that significant adverse effects on human health and the environment are minimised. SAICM takes into account the environmental, health, occupational safety and agricultural perspectives associated with chemicals in various sectors. Besides individual States, the parties involved in its implementation include the relevant international organisations (UNEP, WHO, ILO, FAO, UNITAR, UNIDO, UNDP, World Bank and OECD) and other stakeholders (private sector and civil society organisations).

According to the UN Environment Programme, the target to 2020 will not be reached, but sustainable management of chemicals and wastes requires rapid and ambitions global actions. Within the SAICM negotiations have been started to create a new international framework for the management of chemicals and wastes post-2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministerial meeting envisaged to take place in October 2020 to decide on the future international framework has been postponed to 2021.