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Global trends are major cause for concern, says UN chemicals report

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Global trends are a "major cause for concern" in achieving sound chemicals management and actions to address the adverse affects of substances that are not properly managed are "urgently needed", according to a major UN report.

Ahead of releasing the second Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO-II) report in March, UN Environment has published a summary of its findings for policy makers. It includes ten actions aimed at progressing the sound management of chemicals globally (see box).

The summary report highlights megatrends, such as global economic and population growth, as areas that are affecting market demand for chemicals, creating both risks and opportunities.

And, it says, the expected doubling of the global chemicals market between 2017 and 2030 will "increase exposures, concentrations and adverse health and environmental impacts", if the sound management of chemicals and waste is not achieved worldwide.

"Many manufactured chemicals have helped improve human health, food security, productivity and quality of life throughout the world," the summary says.

However, many with hazardous properties "continue to cause significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment because they are not properly managed".

'Business as usual is not an option,' GCO-II summary for policy makers

Some of the challenges it highlights are hazardous chemicals used in products, complex supply chains, polluting manufacturing operations and a lack of capacity in developing countries to effectively implement basic chemicals and waste management systems.

"Business as usual is therefore not an option," it says.

Solutions exist, the report adds, but "more ambitious, urgent and worldwide action is needed by all stakeholders."

Global framework

The summary says findings of the GCO-II "indicate that the sound management of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020, despite global agreement reached at several high-level UN conferences, and significant action already taken".

The 2020 goal was set out in 2006 under the UN’s global voluntary chemicals programme, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (Saicm).

And with Saicm’s mandate coming to an end next year, programme stakeholders are finalising discussions – known as the intersessional process – on whether it should continue beyond its 2020 mandate, or be replaced with an alternative framework. 

An "aspirational and comprehensive" global framework is required, the summary says, and must "create incentives to foster commitment and engagement by all relevant actors in the value chain".

Several ideas for a post-2020 framework have been put forward. Last year, ministers and vice ministers from eight countries formed an alliance, which supports the adoption of something similar to the Paris Agreement on climate change for chemicals.

The GCO-II was mandated by the second UN Environment Assembly (Unea-2) in 2015, with a particular emphasis on areas where data was found to be lacking, or inadequate, and to assess progress towards Saicm's 2020 goal. The report summary will be officially launched at Unea-4, which is taking place in March in Nairobi. The full report will be made available at the meeting of the Saicm Open Ended Working Group, which is taking place in Uruguay 2-4 April. 

Achim Halpaap, senior adviser of UN Environment’s chemicals and health branch, told Chemical Watch the summary seeks to inform delegates participating in the upcoming Unea-4 session and in other relevant processes, such as the beyond 2020 discussion.

It aims to help them "consider progress made in implementing the [Saicm] 2020 goal, as well as the identified options on the implementation of further action to achieve the sound management of chemicals and waste worldwide," he said.

The first report, published in 2013, examined trends in worldwide chemicals production, use, disposal, and provided policy options.

Ten actions identified to achieve the sound management of chemicals globally

  • Develop effective management systems: Address prevailing capacity gaps across countries, strengthen national and regional legislation using a lifecycle approach, and further strengthen institutions and programmes

  • Mobilise resources: Scale up adequate resources and innovative financing for effective legislation, implementation and enforcement, particularly in developing countries and economies in transition

  • Assess and communicate hazards: Fill global data and knowledge gaps, and enhance international collaboration to advance chemical hazard assessments, classifications and communication

  • Assess and manage risks: Refine and share chemical risk assessment and risk management approaches globally to promote safe and sustainable use of chemicals throughout their lifecycle

  • Use lifecycle approaches: Advance widespread implementation of sustainable supply chain management, full material disclosure, transparency and sustainable product design

  • Strengthen corporate governance: Enable and strengthen chemicals and waste management aspects of corporate sustainability policies, sustainable business models, and reporting

  • Educate and innovate: Integrate green and sustainable chemistry in education, research and innovation policies and programmes

  • Foster transparency: Empower workers, consumers and citizens to protect themselves and the environment

  • Bring knowledge to decision makers: Strengthen the science-policy interface and use of science in monitoring progress, priority setting and policy making throughout the lifecycle of chemicals and waste

  • Enhance global commitment: Establish an ambitious and comprehensive global framework for chemicals and waste beyond 2020, scale up collaborative action and track progress

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