BY OKAFOR AUGUSTINE IZUCHUKWU
The UNECE Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) continues to support actions to promote transparency in environmental matters across the globe. It drives the development of national legislation and practice towards a common set of international standards, bringing about positive changes that would otherwise not occur.
Given complex global production and supply chains, adherence to such standards for PRTR registers can help reduce pollutant releases and promote a green and circular economy.
At the ninth meeting of the Working Group of the Parties to the Protocol on PRTRs (Geneva, 24–25 November 2022) – chaired by Slovenia – Parties, other member States and stakeholders from different regions shared their experiences in implementing PRTRs, for the first time touching upon the role of PRTRs in supporting access to information on plastic pollution. They also discussed a number of subjects relevant to the promotion of a green and circular economy, including harmonized data collection and dissemination standards for pollutants; reporting data on production volume and resource consumption; comparability of PRTR data by the public, industry and policymakers; and coordination of major organizations and instruments dealing with chemicals managements at the international level.
The benefits of improving integration of existing PRTR data with other available information as a means to more effectively achieve the Protocol’s objective to reduce and prevent pollution were highlighted. Such integration will facilitate the use of PRTRs by other instruments dealing with pollution and avoiding duplication of reporting. Several speakers showcased ways to optimize existing PRTR systems with a view to: advancing the digitalization and automatization of data reporting and management tasks; making PRTRs fit for supporting policymakers, industry and public in the transition to a circular economy; increasing the usefulness of PRTR data to different users; and applying socioeconomic data together with PRTR data to better address environmental justice issues.
With a focus on linkages with ending plastic pollution, several stakeholders shared perspectives relevant to transparent and useful PRTR systems. It was highlighted that easy access to environmental data today should not be limited to static information available on web pages but should comprise modern technology allowing for upstream and downstream traceability of information relevant to decision-making processes throughout the life cycle of a product in a standardized way. It is also necessary to support countries by developing guidelines on specific technical issues, such as the measurement of releases of microplastics. PRTRs have a potential role to play in this regard. The Protocol’s national focal points were encouraged to: liaise on this matter with their counterpart national focal points involved in the negotiation of a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution; promote the Protocol’s requirements and the replication of PRTRs in the negotiation of a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution; analyse how existing national/regional PRTR reporting from production facilities and dissemination infrastructures could be made fit for managing data on plastic pollution specifically; and share experience on pollutant release data collection and dissemination relevant to informing and shaping reporting and dissemination tools under a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.
Several speakers shared experiences in establishing PRTRs in countries with economies in transition and developing countries, including legislative steps towards accession to the Protocol, establishing PRTR systems and gathering stakeholder feedback. Elements highlighted as fundamental for success included: building PRTRs as a stepping-stone for other national and international reporting; integrating PRTRs into planned e-government systems; and foreseeing a role for PRTRs in informing governmental decision-making processes. It was also important to train stakeholders right from the start in the use of the system, its data and functions, and to address false impressions of PRTRs as being costly or complicated to implement. Several remaining challenges were outlined, including: the need to align legislation and institutional frameworks with the Protocol’s requirements; establishing a comprehensive list of polluting facilities; and coping with delayed progress on implementation activities due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the invasion by the Russian Federation of Ukraine. Among the challenges for low-income countries, several delegations specifically highlighted the difficulty in paying increasing costs for software development and maintenance services – likely linked to the high demand for qualified labour in this sector internationally.
One of the major outcomes of coordination activities was the promotion of synergy and exchange of information on the development of guidance material on different aspects of PRTRs, methodologies for reporting requirements and other capacity-building tools in support of countries establishing PRTRs. The International PRTR Coordinating Group – led by Spain – played an important role in this regard.
The meeting attracted a high number of participants, with speakers from Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau, Israel, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Morocco, the Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the European Union, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, of the Minamata Convention on Mercury and of the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European ECO-Forum, as well as the Chair of the International PRTR Coordinating Group.
A number of commitments made by the Working Group of the Parties and the experiences shared at the meeting are expected to: assist Parties and interested Governments in the region and beyond in establishing and modernizing their PRTR systems; and promote PRTRs as a tool for environmental reporting supporting a green and circular economy.