April 2019: The third chapter of the Global Chemicals Outlook II (GCO II), published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), looks at a range of science-based approaches, tools, methodologies and instruments to advance sound chemicals management and implement the 2020 goal of using and producing chemicals in ways that minimize the adverse effects on human health and the environment.

The Chapter titled, ‘Advancing and Sharing Chemicals Management Tools and Approaches: Taking Stock, Looking into the Future,’ outlines the contribution made by these approaches, while also addressing concerns over their complexity and flagging the fact that they do not result in sufficient progress. It details opportunities to enhance the approaches’ effectiveness, streamline their use and employ them more systematically, particularly in developing countries and economies in transition (EITs).

The Chapter emphasizes that accelerating chemical hazard assessment and Globally Harmonized System (GHS) classifications is a priority, and acknowledges remaining data gaps in this regard. It argues for new hazard assessment approaches, such as computer-based screening, and sharing and mutually accepting hazard assessments.

Further methodological work is necessary to better understand the nature and magnitude of aggregate exposures across different sources of the same chemical.

While recognizing that exposure assessments are context-specific, the Chapter maintains that they can benefit from international resources. For example, generic exposure scenarios can help with insights into local human and environmental chemical exposure models to estimate specific releases and exposures. However, according to the authors, further methodological work is necessary to better understand the nature and magnitude of, inter alia, aggregate exposures across different sources of the same chemical.

The Chapter recommends refining chemical risk assessment methods to accelerate progress. It notes that screening-level, generic risk-based approaches and grouping of chemicals with similar properties are less complicated and more efficient, and that various guidance tools are available for countries with limited resources.

The Chapter also emphasizes:

  • streamlining chemical risk management decision making, and avoiding “regrettable substitutions,” which occur when addressing one risk causes other adverse impacts;
  • life cycle assessment tools to help increase understanding of broader sustainability considerations, covering all stages of the chemical and product life cycle, and their increasing use by companies to support sustainable supply chain risk management;
  • the use of market-based instruments to advance substitution and innovation, including combining market-based instruments with command and control regulatory measures to accelerate the phase-in of alternatives until a substance is prohibited; and
  • the challenge of reforming market distorting subsidy programmes that create incentives to use chemicals, for example fertilizers to increase agricultural production.

The Chapter calls for preventive risk management to deal with chemical accidents and natural disasters, citing efforts to integrate chemical accidents into broader emergency planning. It calls for more systematic efforts to raise awareness, strengthen oversight, share knowledge and promote good practices to prevent future accidents.

Finally, the Chapter highlights the potential of private sector initiatives across the supply chain to go beyond compliance and address safety gaps, and the importance of such initiatives in countries with weak regulatory structures. It describes opportunities to promote private governance in chemicals and waste management beyond 2020, and suggests that placing such initiatives in a global policy context could enhance their legitimacy.

The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) mandated the GCO II to highlight the important role of the sound management of chemicals and waste in sustainable development. [Global Chemicals Outlook II] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Chapter I: Overview of the Global Chemical Industry] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Chapter II: Progress on Achieving the 2020 Goal] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Chapter IV: Enabling Policies and Action to Support Innovative Solutions] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Chapter V: Scaling Up Collaborative Action Under 2030 Agenda] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on GCO II Synthesis Report]