Green Cross International’s Environmental Security and Sustainability programme was the focus of an event at the Environment House in Geneva on 16 September sponsored by the Geneva Environment Network.
Global Green USA’s Director of the Programme, Dr. Paul Walker, was the keynote speaker at the event, where he discussed GCI’s experience in the last 15 years with weapons demilitarization and toxic waste remediation.
The event was opened by David Piper, Deputy Branch Head of UNEP Chemicals, who provided insight into the work of the chemicals branch of the UN Environmental Programme. Nelson Sabogal, Chief of the Convention Services and Governance Unit of the Basel Convention, followed with an introduction to the Basel Convention, which seeks to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. David Ogden, Executive Coordinator of the Stockholm Convention, closed out the opening remarks by providing background on the Convention under which 21 chemicals are covered.
In his speech, Dr. Walker explained the work of GCI and Global Green in promoting demilitarization, particularly in the US and Russia. He shared stories of his experiences in the last 15 years, including his first visit to a Russian chemical weapons stockpile in the Kurgan Oblast in 1994. He also gave an update on several countries’ chemical weapons destruction progress under the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) including the US, which is about 10 years away from completion and Russia, which should complete its CW demilitarization programme in about 5 years.
Regarding the CWC, Dr. Walker explained the challenges of deadlines, budgets, transparency, and the Convention’s implementation agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. While the CWC now includes 188 States Parties, 7 countries – Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, and Syria – still remain outside of the regime as well as Taiwan, which hosts one of the world’s largest chemical industries. Dr. Walker also shed light on the lesser-known issues of buried and sea-dumped chemical weapons. In the US, for example, one of the largest buried chemical weapons sites is located in downtown Washington DC with some 1,000 private homes in the area. Japan has also just begun excavating and destroying hundreds of thousands of old and buried chemical weapons left by the Japanese army in China after WWII. Given the fact that many countries have also dumped chemical weapons in the oceans over the last century, a UN resolution on the issue is expected later this year. Dr. Walker informed the audience that toxic waste poses the single largest global health threat with pollution hot spots affecting over 150 million people yearly.
In conclusion, Dr. Walker noted that the world has come a long way from 7 declared possessor states with over 71,000 tons of chemical weapons to 4 states with 30,000 declared tons remaining in stockpiles today. However he stressed the need for everyone to keep their eye on the prize, namely a world without nuclear, chemical, & biological weapons but with a strong nonproliferation, inspection, and verification regime. Reaching this goal will require ongoing cooperative partnerships, strong financial support, and renewed political support from all stakeholders to safely eliminate dangerous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and associated high toxic wastes in a timely manner.