Interview between Nelson Sabogal, Senior Programme Officer, BRS Secretariat, and Charlie Avis, BRS Public Information Officer.
CA: Good morning, Nelson, first of all, let me wholeheartedly congratulate you on your retirement, you will be much missed not only here in the BRS Secretariat but also around the world. Thank you, in advance, for sharing with us some of your reflections, experiences, hopes, and aspirations as you reach this landmark in your life.
NS: Thank you Charlie
CA: So, please, tell us, in the 22 years you have been involved internationally in chemicals and waste governance, what do you consider the sector’s major achievement?
NS: I think the phase out of the ozone depleting chemicals by developed and developing countries. All the countries in the world have done an excellent effort to implement the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and its Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, so that we now expect the recovery of the ozone layer around the middle of this century, in 35 years time from now.
CA: How was that achieved? What were some of the crucial elements which allowed that to happen?
NS: This was achieved because of science, when the ozone research demonstrated the risk of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the decrease of stratospheric ozone over Antarctica, the policy makers, using the precautionary principle, adopted the Montreal Protocol and the financial and technical means were provided through the Multilateral Fund and the Panels. The scientific, environmental, technical and economic information was provided on time to amend the Protocol and the countries followed by phasing out the CFCs, halons and other substances that destroy the ozone layer in their industries and the consumers played a fundamental role like in the refrigeration and aerosols sectors. Personally I consider this is an excellent example that shows that the humankind can tackle the climate change, at the end this is a responsibility of every one.
CA: A lot of your work has been on behalf of the different regions, and not just your native Latin America. How have you seen the changing political, economic, and technological landscape across those regions, in these two and half decades?
NS: Well, in the specific case of the chemicals and waste sector there has been a lot of progress in all regions of the world, as an example, there is very well crafted legislation in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Mexico, the environmentally sound management of wastes has improved in Asia, and a lot of obsolete stocks of old pesticides containing persistent organic pollutants have been eliminated in Africa, and Europe is moving towards prevention and minimization of the generation of wastes. All these contributions are important, and the process is largely driven by the Parties as one would expect, however there is also a lot of expertise in the private, academic, non-governmental sectors, and in the cities of the world. We have an excellent asset, the Basel and Stockholm Conventions Regional Centres that steer regional efforts by linking global hazardous chemicals and wastes management obligations with national development plans.
CA: The BRS Secretariat is unique in environmental governance in that it serves and coordinates three separate but interlinked international conventions. Tell us a little background to how this “synergies” arrangement came about, and how successful do you consider it to have been, relative to initial expectations?
NS: Actually, I am privileged to have been involved since the start of the synergies process and the idea was to enhance the implementation of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, bearing in mind the lifecycle approach and the interlocking coverage of the three conventions. The main focus was the Parties, that when they are implementing the three conventions, they ensure close cooperation and coordination among the relevant sectors and ministries. In fact, I think the main focus should increasingly now be in the field, in the real implementation of the three conventions at national and local levels.
CA: From Science to Action: what does that mean for you, and what does it mean for the Convention/s?
NS: Well firstly to achieve lifecycle approach to the sound management of hazardous chemicals and wastes to protect human health and the environment you need a good understanding of the scientific aspects. Science was behind of the Montreal Protocol and the Stockholm Convention. The work for the implementation of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions have contributed to the development of knowledge, like the Basel Technical Guidelines and the scientific documents on the chemicals and their alternatives that contribute to the recommendations of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee and the Chemicals Review Committee. The Parties should continue to strengthen the scientific and technical base of the three conventions in order to have better decisions and enhance their implementation.
CA: One last question please: how do you see the future for sound management of chemicals and wastes, what are the big issues, where are the major challenges, what are the prospects for succeeding to protect human health and the environment?
NS: Excellent questions! The future for the sound management of chemicals and wastes is prevention, minimization and better use of the chemicals and resources from wastes. Already Europe is moving on the Waste Prevention Programmes, California has very good examples on how to prevent waste in several industrial and services sectors and China is moving to circular economy industry, turning waste into resources. Waste reduction also helps conserve resources for future generations and contributes to a cleaner environment and to protect the climate of the Earth.
We also have our “lighthouse” the Cartagena Declaration on the Prevention, Minimization and Recovery of Hazardous Wastes and Other Wastes adopted at the Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (COP 10).
I am retiring in the year of the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations and the year of the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
CA: Thank you very much for your time Nelson, muchas gracias, and all good wishes for your future, you have definitely earned a rest although I expect you will still be quite busy!
NS: Thank you, Charlie.