by IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub ,

The international community continues to prepare for the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-5). A panel session during the 2021 edition of the Helsinki Chemicals Forum discussed targets and indicators to track national and global progress, as well as the role of regions with advanced chemicals management systems in helping less developed countries achieve a high standard of protection by 2030.

Moderator Monika MacDevette, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), reported that according to the second Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO-II), the global goal to minimize adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020. She also noted progress made by the four virtual working groups that convened in 2020 and early 2021 to advance deliberations on chemicals and waste management beyond 2020 and prepare delegates for negotiations at ICCM-5.

Alexandra Caterbow, Co-Director, Health and Environmental Justice Support (HEJSupport), said most of the approximately 350,000 chemicals on the global market are not tested or regulated. She said babies are often born “pre-polluted,” and urged governments and industry to step up action, including: increasing supply chain transparency; ensuring that existing tools for sound chemicals management are usable everywhere; a funding mechanism based on the ‘polluter pays principle’ where industry internalizes the cost; and consideration of gender aspects, human rights, and the needs of vulnerable groups. She added that hazardous chemicals or pesticides banned in one country should not be allowed for export to other countries.

Servet Gören, European Industry Chemical Council (CEFIC), industry representative in the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) bureau, highlighted efforts by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and other industry stakeholders, with UNEP, to advance implementation of the Globally Harmonized System for Chemical Classification and Labelling (GHS), particularly in African countries. She said that since not every country is able to set up regulatory systems, capacity building is critical. She told participants that ICCA is coordinating capacity-building activities in Latin American and in Southeast Asia. Gören said the ICCA supports a fees-based chemicals regulatory system. She called attention to ICCA’s Responsible Care program, a voluntary initiative to foster advances in safe chemicals management, but stressed it is not a substitute for regulatory systems. She said the new post-2020 chemicals framework should include a capacity-building clearinghouse mechanism (CHM).

Per Ängquist, General Director, Swedish Chemicals Agency, warned that consumers can import products through e-commerce without knowing whether they contain hazardous substance. Thus, information on health and environmental properties should be made available for chemicals on the market, he said. Noting that only a limited number of chemicals is regulated, he said information on hazards must be distributed in the supply chain. He lamented the fact that the GHS is only being implemented in a limited number of countries, and that many countries lack or have weak legal and institutional systems for sound chemicals management, especially for industrial and consumer chemicals. 

Judith Torres, Uruguay's Ministry of Housing, Planning and Environment, and Co-Chair of the Intersessional Process Considering the Strategic Approach and the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste Beyond 2020, noted the speed with which the chemicals industry is growing in developing countries where controls are lacking and expensive to develop and implement. She noted the UN Environment Assembly’s (UNEA) support for strengthening the science-policy interface (SPI) and placing chemicals and waste on the same level as climate change and biodiversity. 

Jing Zhao, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, China, reviewed domestic progress in environmental management of chemical substances, including the registration of new chemical substances and controlling environmental and health risks. On Beyond 2020, he said targets and goals should be integrated and linked to the SDGs. He mentioned the need for: technical support and transfer; information sharing in chemical-related fields; and a long-term and stable funding mechanism to promote sound chemicals and waste management beyond 2020.

During the ensuing discussion, panelists supported: 

  • developing strategies for gathering local use and exposure information that is critical when countries are in the infancy stage of developing sound management strategies;
  • a better balance between the sound management of chemicals and waste; 
  • a CHM for information dissemination; and
  • the idea that making something legally binding does not ensure progress on the ground.

The 2021 edition of the Helsinki Chemicals Forum took place online from 27-28 April 2021. 

ICCM-5 will convene "once an end of the pandemic is foreseeable and travel restrictions are lifted around the world," according to the SAICM president. [Meeting webcast]