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Sweden deputy PM: stronger global action on chemicals needed

People - Sweden's deputy PM Isabella Lovin - source Kristiah Pohl/Regeringskansliet

In an exclusive interview with Chemical Watch, Sweden’s deputy prime minister, Isabella Lövin, said the government will push the international community to agree strong measures to tackle the adverse impacts of chemicals and plastics.

Ms Lövin was speaking ahead of this week’s UN Environment Assembly (Unea-4), where she is heading the country’s delegation. In addition to her role as deputy prime minister – a position she has held for two years – Ms Lövin took over from former environment and climate minister Karolina Skog in January.

Ms Lövin has taken leadership of the ministerial alliance, along with co-chair Uruguay's environment minister Eneida de León. The alliance launched last year and is pushing for a more ambitious global framework on chemicals and waste.

"Sweden wants to be as ambitious as possible and we will see how many countries we can get on board to agree on the most ambitious policies possible," she said.

The mandate for the current global framework, the UN's non-binding Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (Saicm), ends in 2020.

High level discussions are ongoing – known as the intersessional process – which aim to decide whether Saicm should continue or be replaced with an alternative framework.

We see the [intersessional process] as a unique opportunity to strengthen and ensure that what we have after 2020 is better than what we have now because clearly this has not been sufficient" Isabella Lövin.

"We see the [intersessional process] as a unique opportunity to strengthen and ensure that what we have after 2020 is better than what we have now because clearly this has not been sufficient," she said.

A summary version of the second Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO II) report has concluded that the global goal to minimise adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020.

"We're not going to achieve the goal," said Ms Lövin. "We have too many dangerous chemicals threatening human health and the environment. We need to do more and we need to use the [post-2020 negotiations] as an opportunity to strengthen the global framework on chemicals."

But she stressed that achieving this "won’t be an easy ride".

"We all know of the challenges associated with the multilateralism of today's world and there's a lot of hesitation from importing countries to agree on ambitious measures because [chemicals and waste] are politically sensitive issues," she said.

However, she added, because they affect people's health and the environment "we think we can find the political will to push forward with more ambition".

"We're seeing chemicals and waste end up in our oceans, on our plates and in our bodies and so there is a very strong political will in many countries around the world, including developing nations. We hope to build on that strong will."

Ms Skog’s aim for the Alliance was to reach a global agreement on chemicals and waste, comparable to the Paris Agreement on climate. A meeting this week at Unea-4 will determine and set out what sort of framework the alliance will aim to achieve.

The International Council of Chemicals Associations (ICCA) has opposed a legally binding agreement, backing a "reinvigorated" Saicm instead.

We know that chemical production is increasing and that they are traded globally, therefore we need a global chemicals framework that ensures everybody is safe from the products that we buy, our drinking water and everything else that can expose us to harmful substances" Ms Lövin.

Ms Lövin said the current framework has enabled progress but "it is not sufficient".

"There is always protest from the industry when it comes to having tougher regulations. We know that chemical production is increasing and that they are traded globally, therefore we need a global chemicals framework that ensures everybody is safe from the products that we buy, our drinking water and everything else that can expose us to harmful substances."

"It wouldn't be sufficient to aim for anything less."

Plastics

Ms Lövin also highlighted the issue of plastic litter and particularly the additives that leach from the materials. Sweden will also be pushing for global measures to address plastics litter entering the environment at this week’s Unea-4.

"There are many dimensions to the problem of plastic litter, such as certain plastics containing toxic additives which make it difficult to recycle," she said.

"We therefore need to have greener, more recyclable materials," she added.

Research has shown, said Ms Lövin, that when microplastics find their way into the ocean they attract hazardous substances, which are then transported with the ocean current.

The Swedish government, alongside the two parties it negotiates budget with, has stated that it will enact taxes on single use plastics.

In February last year, Sweden adopted a plastic microbeads ban on rinse-off cosmetic products, which entered into force in July 2018. It also advocated for EU level restrictions on microplastics, which are plastic particles under 5mm in diameter. 

Following the European Commission’s request, Echa published in January its restriction proposal for microplastics, which suggests restrictions as well as requirements on labelling and reporting.  

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