by IISD's SDG Knowledge Hub,

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has published a document on the evolution of its work to address chemicals and waste. Among other projects, GEF expects to help countries tackle more complex supply chains in the context of a post-2020 framework on the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). The post-2020 framework is currently being negotiated. 

Over 100 million human-made chemicals and chemical formulations are used in every sector of the economy. When not used properly or disposed of safely, they pose significant risks for the environment and human health. Some of these chemicals require global management and are controlled by international law. 

Production, use, and disposal of chemicals are rapidly increasing in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

The document notes that despite progress made under the various chemicals-related agreements, the production, use, and disposal of chemicals are rapidly increasing in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. In addition, many manufacturers do not always sufficiently analyze the potential harmful impacts of their products before they are used commercially. For example, neonicotinoid pesticides—the most widely used insecticides in agriculture—have been linked to the decline in bee populations. Chemicals used to manufacture non-stick cookware have carcinogenic properties and were recently banned under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) as a result.

The document descries GEF's financing of the reduction and elimination of chemicals covered by the Stockholm Convention, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The GEF also supports the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)

Describing the evolution of the GEF's work on chemicals and waste, the document explains that until the fifth replenishment of the GEF Trust Fund (GEF-5), projects addressed single chemicals, such as DDT phase-out or PCB management, and single-topic projects such as reducing emissions from waste management. Since GEF-6, an increasing share of projects have worked across conventions and focal areas, including in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector, the textiles supply chain, and the Implementing Sustainable Low and Non-Chemical Development in Small Island Developing States (ISLANDS) programme. As of March 2022, over USD 2 billion has been programmed to support work on chemicals and waste in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

According to the authors, under the Stockholm Convention, all relevant sectors have been funded, with higher levels of funding programmed in priority areas, including: PCB phase-out and management; DDT phase-out; reducing and eliminating waste and stockpiles; environmentally sound management of POPs; and reducing and eliminating unintentionally produced POPs from industrial and open burning sources. The GEF has funded every eligible national implementation plan and provides resources for updating them.

Under the Minamata Convention, the GEF has also: developed the guidance and framework of the Minamata Initial Assessments, which have been undertaken by more than 115 countries; funded over 35 National Action Plans in the ASGM sector; and helped accelerate the phase-out of mercury use in producing medical devices. Work under SAICM has focused on lead in paints, chemicals in products (including textiles), highly hazardous pesticides, and managing e-waste.

The GEF’s plastics portfolio has historically addressed plastic pollution through preventing emissions of unintentionally produced POPs, focusing on the poor incineration of waste, including e-waste, medical waste, and agricultural plastics. GEF-6 supported phasing out chemicals in plastics, including, while GEF-7 adopted a circular economy approach to address the issue. The GEF’s work on chemicals and waste focuses on: creating the enabling conditions and environments for the safe management of hazardous chemicals and waste; phasing out listed chemicals and introducing alternatives; eliminating stockpiles, and contaminating materials and products; and transforming supply chains to be circular and sustainable.

The document underscores the need for:

  • transforming chemical use along the entire supply chain of products, materials, and processes, not only end-of-life management of products and materials;
  • safer and more sustainable materials and chemicals in chemical design and manufacture; and
  • strengthening demand for safer products, as well as systems for proper handling products that still contain harmful chemicals.

In addition, a post-2020 framework on SAICM is being negotiated. Within this context, the focal area is expected to help countries tackle more complex supply chains. The GEF will provide support in the chemicals and waste focal area and through several integrated programmes, including eliminating hazardous chemicals from supply chains, food, cities, major biomes, and circular solutions to plastic pollution, among others. [Landing page] [Publication: Chemicals and Waste]