“In three decades, the work under the Industrial Accidents Convention has transformed the UNECE region, enhancing the protection of people and the environment and making it a model for accident prevention and preparedness, where cooperation across borders can provide inspiration for other regions to follow”, UNECE Deputy Executive Secretary Dmitry Mariyasin announced at the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (CoP-12) (Geneva and online, 29 November-1 December 2022).
As the Convention marks its 30th anniversary, the CoP reflects on the main achievements to date. Membership has grown from just 27 signatories to 42 parties, including the CoP welcoming Ukraine as the latest party to join the convention in October 2022 despite the ongoing war.
Mr. Kyriacos Koushos, Minister of Labor and Social Insurance of Cyprus, emphasized that “some of the past events such as the Land Use Planning and Industrial Safety Seminar and the Beirut Port Accident Seminar were steps in the right direction, as is the Industrial Accident Notification System development, which is a key parameter for effective cooperation between the two parties.”
Switzerland highlighted that “another important achievement is the development of a considerable amount of guidance material, good industry practices, checklists, also related to tailings management facilities, for use by States, competent authorities, operators and other stakeholders.” The European Union emphasized, “Since its inception, the Convention has supported countries in strengthening industrial safety and disaster response preparedness to avoid future accidents, especially those with transboundary effects.” Serbia report successfully launched national industrial safety policy dialogue, greatly improved National coordination.
In addition, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan reported that cross-sectoral cooperation will be strengthened to establish an inter-agency working group on tailings safety and accident water pollution prevention in 2022 to address safety hotspots and reduce risks. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has supported these and other countries since the launch of the Convention’s assistance and cooperation program in 2005.
Work on mine tailings safety has proliferated under the convention. Guidance, hazard and risk methodologies, tools and projects were developed to support countries in preventing failure of tailings management facilities, which in the past have resulted in death, illness and severe damage to the environment, economy and infrastructure, and to support countries in preparing and Respond to accidents. Due to the estimated sharp increase in demand for certain minerals and mining, including the production of clean energy technologies, the CoP endorsed a roadmap of actions countries should take to build on existing work to further enhance mine tailings safety, including addressing the adoption of policies and Remediation controls tailings management facility risk and prevents accidental water pollution. Amid the need for a green energy transition and climate change mitigation, countries can use the roadmap to ensure industrial safety and reduce the risk of technological disaster at existing and new tailings facilities.
From hurricanes to floods, thawing permafrost and wildfires, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability shows that countries need to Adaptation measures to events and slow-onset climate events and the wider impacts of climate change, which also affect infrastructure and industrial systems. Adaptation is critical to ensuring the safety of industrial facilities vulnerable to natural hazards as they can trigger technological catastrophes, i.e. Natech events.
At the UNECE/OECD workshop at CoP-12 on Effective Management of Accident-Technical Risks from Natural Hazards, national authorities, international organizations and industry experts gained a deeper understanding of how large and small natural disasters lead to natech risks and how to more effectively manage them. The CoP subsequently adopted a decision on Natech risk management to address this area of concern under the Convention. The decision urges Parties to enhance cooperation to understand, prevent and mitigate the impact of natech events, including those with transboundary causes or consequences, including increased risks of natech in light of climate change. Parties are also requested to integrate Natech into their climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies, including through better inter-agency cooperation and integration of Natech into their decision-making for risk assessment, land-use planning, and siting and contingency planning. The decision further encourages all UNECE countries to share relevant data on Natech incidents in the eNatech database, operated and served by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, while including Natech incidents in the reporting of identification and notification of hazardous activities during the implementation of the Convention .
The COP also adopted an ambitious biennial workplan for 2023-2024, containing activities consistent with the Convention’s long-term strategy. These include promoting implementation related to Natech risks and preventing accidental water pollution; risk management of hazardous substances; assisting countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia to strengthen policies and governance and strengthen transboundary cooperation, e.g. in the Darya River Basin, etc. field.