Interview with the new Rotterdam Executive Secretary (FAO)

Interview between William Murray, Deputy Director, Plant Production and Protection Division and Executive Secretary for the part 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, Bill, and my congratulations to you as the new Executive Secretary for the part of the Rotterdam Convention within the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome.

WM: Good morning, Charlie, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself. I have a long history with the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, both as part of the Canadian Delegation that negotiated the text of the Conventions as well as with the Rotterdam Secretariat. I coordinated the work of the Rotterdam Secretariat here in Rome from 2000 to 2009, moving on to other tasks within FAO in the midst of the consultation process on synergies among the Rotterdam, Stockholm and Basel Conventions. I am looking forward to renewing my connection with the colleagues in member countries, in the Secretariat in Geneva and to working closely with my counterpart Rolph Payet in his role as Executive Secretary of the three Conventions in Geneva.

CA: What are your thoughts about progress made so far in the synergies process?

WM: Looking at the documents from the seventh COP in May this year and discussing with colleagues here in Rome, the progress that has been made towards greater synergies among the three Conventions is impressive. The fact that the last two COPs have featured simultaneous meetings of the three Conventions is itself a testament to the progress in greater synergy among the Secretariats. We will also be hosting back-to-back meetings of the Rotterdam Chemical Review Committee (CRC) and the Stockholm POP Review Committee here in Rome in October.

I look forward to the upcoming review of the synergies arrangements and the opportunity to identify what has worked best and to identify any gaps or opportunities to further enhance ways of working together.

I intend to use my knowledge and experience of the Conventions to continue strengthen cooperation and collaboration among the Conventions but also with FAO and other partners.

CA: What sort of cooperation or collaboration do you have in mind – can you elaborate?

WM: There are a number of examples that come to mind. One area of continued concern to countries, in particular developing countries, concerns the risks associated with the use of pesticides. FAO is recognized as the lead international organization working on matters related to pesticide management including in its role within the Inter-Organizational Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) and the Strategic Approach for Integrated Chemicals Management (SAICM). Countries have called for concerted action on “highly hazardous pesticides” and a proposal has been jointly developed by FAO, including the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat, WHO, UNEP and the SAICM Secretariat, to be considered by the 4th International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4) this month in Geneva.

By solidifying the gains made through the synergies process over the last 10 years, we can look forward to opportunities for the Conventions to work with countries in different ways, for example in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

An example of this is Goal 12, which includes an explicit reference to “the environmentally sound management of chemicals and wastes through their lifecycle” – but particularly in the case of pesticides, there are also new opportunities within the framework of sustainable food production systems and the increased recognition of the critical roles of agrobiodiversity and ecosystem services such as pollination.

CA: What about cooperation with other parts of FAO ?

WM: The creation of the FAO/UNEP Joint Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention in 2004 was a unique example of cooperation among two international organizations. Since then the merging of the Secretariats in Geneva, and the appointment of a single Executive Secretary has enhanced the visibility of the Conventions whilst maintaining their status as independent entities. At the same time the housing in FAO of that portion of the Rotterdam Secretariat responsible for pesticides has created opportunities to leverage the work of the Convention.

The Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention has been identified as an FAO Corporate Technical Activity, a mandated area of work for which specific resources are allocated. The FAO Conference in June 2015 allocated 1.5 million USD to support the Secretariat in 2016-2017.

The Secretariat works in close cooperation with more than 18 technical officers in the regional and subregional offices of FAO around the globe, part of a global network covering more than 180 countries, including 5 Regional Offices, 9 Subregional Offices, and 80 FAO Representations. These colleagues, with connections and in-depth knowledge of the regional and national conditions, are an invaluable resource.

CA: How do you integrate the work of the Rotterdam Convention into this?

WM: The programme of work mandated by the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, is aligned with FAO’s overall strategic framework and as far as possible integrated within the organization’s work on pesticide risk reduction. One advantage is that we are able to avoid duplication of work, identify synergies in working at the regional and country levels, and leverage the effective use of the resources available through the Convention.

For example the Secretariat joined forces with the FAO Pesticide Management Team as well as international partners in convening a recent meeting of the Southern African Pesticide Regulators’ Forum (SAPReF) (Harare, 27 – 30 July 2015). The meeting, involved representatives of 14 countries (including Rotterdam Convention Designated National Authorities or DNAs), and developed a strategic action plan to reduce health and environmental risks associated with the use, trade and disposal of pesticides. One result was that the implementation of the Rotterdam Convention was identified as a priority in the SAPReF Action Plan for 2015-2016 while progress was also made in the submission of import responses, notifications or final regulatory action as well as a possible proposal for a severely hazardous pesticide formulation.

CA: One last question, please. What are your expectations for the forthcoming CRC meeting which you mentioned earlier, and which takes place at FAO headquarters in Rome from 26 to 28 October?

WM: Well, it is the highly professional work of the Chemical Review Committee that enables the achievement of the Convention’s goals. This Committee does tremendous scientific work and my hope is that based on the available information and documentation it would be able to agree that the criteria set out in Annex II to the Convention have been satisfied by each of the notifications of final regulatory action for atrazine, carbofuran and carbosulfan. These three pesticides could probably then become part of the PIC procedure in the future and information about their risk to human health and the environment would be exchanged in a structured way so that parties can take action to protect their people and their environment. I also hope that the proposal to consider dimethoate EC 400 g/L as a severely hazardous pesticide formulation will satisfy the criteria set out in part 3 of Annex IV to the Convention. This is a great opportunity for developing countries and countries with an economy in transition to raise their voices at the global level regarding problems they face with particular pesticide formulations. And of course I hope that the draft decision guidance documents for short-chained chlorinated paraffins and tributyltin compounds can be finalized and then submitted to the Conference of the Parties, with a view to their adoption in 2017.

CA: Thank you very much for your time and welcome on board!

WM: Thank you, Charlie, for this opportunity!