Time for a global deal on chemicals?
By Niko Urho (Senior Fellow at the Center for Governance and Sustainability)
Chemicals are fundamental to societal well-being and a key component of our economies. However, the proliferation of chemicals has raised severe concerns of their negative impacts on the environment and human health. Over 140 000 chemicals have been introduced to the global markets, most of which lack thorough safety and toxicity testing.
Only a few chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants and mercury, are regulated globally by legally-binding agreements. In 2006, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) was created as a voluntary approach with the mandate to achieve sound management of chemicals and waste by 2020. As the deadline approaches, it is becoming apparent that countries are off track to meet the goal.
Evidently, global chemicals governance is hampered by the lack of an efficient framework to deal with the growing number of problems linked to the unsound management of chemicals, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, nanomaterials, and highly hazardous pesticides. This has stimulated discussions for the development of a more robust mechanism for sound management of chemical and waste in the future.
Stockholm High-Level Dialogue
To induce high-level discussion on addressing toxic chemicals of global concern, Sweden invited a small group of like-minded countries, researchers and stakeholders to Stockholm on 12 March 2018. Discussions were lead to by Minister of the Environment Karolina Skog and focused on creating an ambitious new global framework for chemicals and waste.
The discussions highlighted that the new framework could include both voluntary and legally-binding elements. In particular, the bottom-up approach of the Paris Agreement on climate change was considered as a good model for addressing chemicals and waste. Useful elements for the new framework could include a national action plan mechanism and the development of guidelines and standards.
Participants noted that the lack of political interest is in the heart of the problem, despite studies confirm that the cost of inaction is unbearable. To this end, inducing high-level political commitment was considered pivotal and the new framework should be endorsed by the UN General Assembly or High-level Political Forum.
The UN-led Intersessional Process
The Stockholm High-Level Dialogue was organized in the eve of the second meeting of the intersessional process on the ‘Strategic Approach and Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste Beyond 2020’ organized in Stockholm 13-15 March 2018. The intersessional process derives from the mandate given by the Fourth International Conference on Chemicals Management organized in September 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland to develop a new framework for sound management of chemical and waste. It includes series of meetings leading to the adoption of the new framework in 2020.