Status Quo on Asbestos

Day 4: Despite India changing its stand, the COP hasn't been able to reach a consensus on the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list. Confusion over the meaning of 'listing' as opposed to 'banning' was cited as the reason for not being able to reach a consensus.

The listing of chrysotile under the convention that simply requires the "prior informed consent" of importing countries. The listing has no bearing whatsoever on limiting trade. With no consensus it turns out that the PIC listing is postponed for another three years before the next COP meets.

 It was declared at the plenary that the contact group meeting did not yield any positive results. Countries like Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Canada continued to oppose the inclusion of asbestos in the list. While Ukraine and Kazakhstan cited lack of scientific data, Canada did not explain the reason for its position. Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam did not attend the contact group meeting. 

The action of Canada was a set back to the progress made by the contact group, as they did not make themselves available to have further discussion in the smaller group, and did not express to the group a willingness to debate the issue of the listing.

The other countries opposed to the listing which joined the smaller discussion group, identified the issues which caused them difficulties in agreeing to the listing and the contact group were able to consider these concerns and propose options to address them through the Switzerland compromise decision.

Switzerland had presented a compromise text in an effort to ensure that consensus is reached. The text accommodated the concerns of the opposing countries while achieving the objectives of the convention which are to protect the vulnerable populations.

So Canada stood out as the sore thumb in its opposition. African countries took Canada head on when they demanded the latter to explain the reason for their position. The only reason they could give was that 'for over 30 years, the government of Canada has actively promoted the safe and controlled use of chrysotile both domestically and internationally.'

Minutes later the African nations issued a denunciation of the Canadian stand. Kenya requested the opposing countries to give developing nations the opportunity to safeguard the health of their population and environment.

Canada called for future action and suggested an alternate voluntary position in case COP5 does not reach a consensus on the listing of the chemical. The African countries were not supportive of parallel voluntary mechanisms as they could render the Convention ineffective, and hamper any efforts to move towards listing.
Canada was condemned for the dual standards on its policy on asbestos- while on one hand Canada is the biggest exporter of white asbestos in the world, it has ensured that the the Canadian parliament and the prime minister's house has been kept asbestos free.

There was outrage back home in Canada at an ongoing epidemiology conference.
Tony Fletcher, a UK epidemiologist who is in Canada for the meeting writes that "a large gathering of epidemiologists added their voice to the outrage against Canada's obstruction of the listing of Asbestos under the Rotterdam convention." 

ROCA (Rotterdam Convention Alliance) challenged the relevance of Canada's reasons and urged parties to not allow political and economic reasons undermine the scientific basis of the convention. WHO too expressed disappointment on not reaching a decision even after asbestos meeting all the criteria for the listing.

Chrysotile Institute said scientific studies show that health risks from exposure to chrysotile was so low that they were not even measurable. The International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations suggested permanently removing chrysotile from the COP agenda.