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Global goal for chemicals will not be achieved, says UN report

Industry – Industrial plant ©supakitmod - stock.adobe.com

The global goal to minimise adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020, according to a major UN report.

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

But a summary version of the second Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO II) report says, despite international agreement, reached at high-level UN conferences, and significant action already taken, "scientists continue to express concerns regarding the lack of progress" made.

Despite international agreement, reached at high-level UN conferences, and significant action already taken, 'scientists continue to express concerns regarding the lack of progress' made

The 68-page summary report, which follows on from an earlier policy makers report, was published yesterday at the Unea-4 conference in Nairobi. It comes just weeks before the full report is due to be released during the Saicm Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) meeting in Montevideo next month. This is being held to establish whether the programme should continue beyond its 2020 mandate, or be replaced with an alternative framework.

The GCO II summary - which sets out 10 key findings - finds that despite "significant progress" made, major implementation gaps remain. In particular, developing countries, and economies in transition, still lack basic chemicals and waste management systems.

It highlights that the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) for classification and labelling has not been implemented in more than 120 countries, mostly developing nations and economies in transition.

Many, it says, still lack pollutant release transfer registers (PRTRs), poison centres and capacities for hazard and risk assessment and risk management.

Gaps remain in managing industrial chemicals and consumer products, with regulations on lead in paint being a "revealing indicator". As of September 2018, only 37% of countries had confirmed they have legally binding controls on lead in paint. And, even if regulations on specific chemicals are in place, implementation and enforcement may pose challenges, it says.

Progress remains insufficient, the summary says, and there is an "urgent need to take concerted action to develop basic chemicals management systems in all countries".

Chemical production and consumption is shifting to emerging economies, in particular China. The Asia-Pacific region is projected to account for more than two-thirds of global sales by 2030 and cross-border e-commerce is growing 25% annually.

With such growth expected, the report says industry’s involvement in global chemicals management has "not been sufficient".

"While industry is involved through programmes such as [the international Council of Chemical Associations'] Responsible Care programme, universal coverage is yet to be achieved," it says.

However, speaking on behalf of the ICCA, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Mike Walls, told Chemical Watch recently that he does not agree with this conclusion on the 2020 goal, saying that "we've made significant progress".

"A more appropriate approach to the discussion is considering what we have achieved and how we can continue to build on successes as opposed to bemoaning the fact that we haven't completely achieved the 2020 goal as articulated in the Rio declaration," he added.

The ICCA is pushing for a "reinvigorated" Saicm programme.

Saicm

The 2018 independent evaluation of Saicm found that it is "unique in its ambition as an inclusive multi-stakeholder, multi-sector voluntary policy framework".

The evaluation also found that the programme creates a "collaborative space for raising awareness, increasing knowledge and reducing risks".

However, it points out weaknesses, such as:

  • insufficient sectoral engagement;
  • the capacity constraints of national focal points;
  • lack of tools to measure progress; and
  • limited financing of activities.

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