Interview with FAO’s Christine Fuell

French               Spanish

Interview with Christine Fuell, Senior Technical Officer and Coordinator of the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention within the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, Italy, and Charlie Avis, BRS Public Information Officer.

CA: Good morning, Christine, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today. What are the main issues to be addressed at the upcoming meetings of the triple COPs, in particular for the Rotterdam Convention?

CF: Good morning, Charlie, and thank you for giving me this opportunity. One of the main issues will of course be the consideration of chemicals for inclusion in Annex III to the Convention. This time the Chemical Review Committee (CRC), which met in Rome in October 2014, recommended the pesticides methamidophos and trichlorfon, as well as two so-called severely hazardous pesticide formulations, namely fenthion formulation, and paraquat dichloride formulations. In addition, we will discuss, for the 5th time in the history of the Convention COP meetings, the industrial chemical chrysotile asbestos. Another important topic is of course the status of implementation of the Convention. This provides Parties with the opportunity to highlight their implementation efforts and encourages others to do likewise.

CA: The theme of the 2015 triple COPs’ meetings is “From science to action: working for a safer tomorrow” – is science key to the Rotterdam Convention and if so, how?

CF: Definitely! The availability of scientific information is essential to our ability to understand the risks posed by chemicals and pesticides to human health and the environment, and eventually assists us to manage those risks properly. The objective of the Rotterdam Convention is to contribute to the environmentally sound use of certain hazardous chemicals, by inter alia facilitating information exchange about their characteristics. The Convention is built upon requirements for science-based risk and hazard evaluation, as well as scientifically-supported information on the physico-chemical, toxicological and eco-toxicological properties of the chemicals and pesticides for which Parties submit notifications of final regulatory actions for bans or restrictions. Such notifications are reviewed by an independent and impartial scientific committee, the CRC, which consists of government-designated experts in chemical management.

CA: The Rotterdam Convention aims to protect human health and the environment from potential harm of certain hazardous chemicals, as do the other two chemicals and waste conventions, the Basel and Stockholm Conventions. Why is the Secretariat for the Rotterdam Convention split between Geneva and Rome?

CF: The Convention, in Article 19, states that the secretariat functions shall be performed jointly by UNEP and FAO; a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was also adopted in 2005 by both organizations with a view to clarify the secretariat roles and fulfil this responsibility, acknowledging the "areas of competence, comparative strengths and experience, FAO having primary responsibility for pesticides and UNEP taking primary responsibility for other chemicals, in order to facilitate the mobilization by the Secretariat of the full range of scientific, technical and economic expertise required by the Convention".

FAO, as the United Nation’s specialized agency for food and agriculture, has the strongest expertise on pesticides and their whole life-cycle, including their uses and wastes when pesticides become obsolete. FAO also provides key capacity on alternatives and alternative approaches, including integrated pest management and agro-ecology. The development and sharing of alternatives (to banned or restricted hazardous chemicals, whether industrial chemicals or pesticides) is a key element of the Rotterdam Convention.

CA: What else does FAO bring, in terms of capacities and expertise?

CF: It is not only the expertise available in FAO Headquarters itself, but also the global network which currently covers more than 180 countries. The decentralized network includes 5 Regional Offices, 9 Subregional Offices, and 80 FAO Representations. We closely cooperate with 18 Plant Protection Officers and their national networks all around the world, all with substantive expertise with regard to pesticides and with thorough knowledge of the national and regional situation and the conditions of use, something very important when it comes to - for example - incidents with severely hazardous pesticide formulations.

CA: How do they support you in practice?

CF: Most importantly, they give us first-hand information on the immediate needs of a country. Furthermore, whenever we provide technical assistance to a country or a region, they mobilise the most relevant and effective networks in that region. They, together with the Designated National Authorities (DNAs) and Official Contact Points (OCPs), support us to ensure that we reach out to the right participants, and make us aware of any particularities that might influence the success of a project or a workshop, and helping also with practical and logistic arrangements. But it doesn’t stop here.

CA: What else?

CF: We align the technical assistance we provide based on the programme of work mandated by the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, as far as possible with FAO’s strategic objectives, regional initiatives, major areas of work and the country priorities as outlined in their Country Programming Framework. Like this, we join forces, avoid duplication of work, and ensure the maximum impact from given resources.

CA: Can you give us a practical example?

CF: In 2014, the secretariat staff supported several Latin-American countries through sub-regional training and planning workshops to prepare national action plans and to strengthen their capacity on meeting their obligations under the Rotterdam Convention. National follow-up is then done by the FAO Plant Protection Officers in the sub-region, with whom the Secretariat exchanges all necessary materials and instructions via skype, email, teleconferences and any media. This saves time and costs on staff travel while ensuring that participants have a direct partner in the region. Technical assistance of this nature in 2014 in Latin-America led to the submission of 60 additional import responses (Honduras: 17, Dominican Republic: 29, Nicaragua: 8, and Colombia: 6).

CA: Will you be travelling to attend the meetings of the triple COPs in Geneva in May, and if so, what are your expectations?

CF: Of course! The whole Rome team will be present, and not only for the Rotterdam Convention COP meeting. We will have a booth at the Science Fair, we will facilitate specialist side events, and we will support the contact groups meeting aside the plenary sessions of the COPs. We will also assist the colleagues in Geneva in many organizational/administrative and technical tasks behind the scene. As to expectations, agreement on the so called non-compliance mechanism and procedures would be a very significant step forwards, because it has been considered at all previous meetings of the Rotterdam Convention COP, including the latest one held in 2013 (‘RC COP6’), at which much progress was made. 

Most importantly, the Parties’ unanimous agreement on the listing of all 5 candidate chemicals would be a big achievement, remembering that this would not constitute an outright ban but rather make them subject to the PIC procedure, a structured process of information exchange, from which all Parties may greatly benefit. I know my expectations are high; however, thanks to our joint efforts in the preparation of these COPs’ meetings, I am confident that we will meet many of them! 

CA: Thank you very much for your time.

CF: Thank you, Charlie, for this opportunity and see you soon in Geneva!