April 2019: The fourth chapter of the Global Chemicals Outlook II (GCO II), published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), addresses enabling policies and action to support innovative solutions to reduce chemical pollution and exposures, which complement traditional action to achieve the sound management of chemicals and waste.

The Chapter describes innovations that show the potential of chemistry to contribute to sustainable development, including: chemistry processes that capture and transform carbon dioxide (CO2) into new chemical feedstocks; innovative building materials, such as transparent wood or green concrete; and replacing toxic organic solvents with water solvents in pharmaceutical production. It also acknowledges that some innovations in chemistry, such as DDT, have caused unintended and undesirable effects.

The Chapter calls for, inter alia:

  • shifting mindsets through education, including integrating toxicology, green and sustainable chemistry, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into curricula;
  • strengthening collaborative innovation for green and sustainable chemistry through a robust policy and regulatory framework;
  • public research funding and blended financing mechanisms; and
  • integrating green and sustainable chemistry considerations into enabling policies, subsidy schemes or technology programmes that support innovation consortia.

The authors contend that business models, which focus on sustainability and circularity, can create opportunities. As an example, the Chapter highlights chemical leasing, a service-oriented business model in which suppliers sell services rather than chemicals, creating incentives to minimize chemical use and maximize resource efficiency.

The right to information is critical in the context of toxics.

On scaling up effective corporate governance and sustainable supply chain management, the Chapter highlights voluntary standard-setting beyond compliance and harmonizing chemical management protocols across industry sectors, among other efforts.

The Chapter describes an increase in private sector metrics to assess the sustainability performance of companies and producers in the chemical industry and downstream sectors. It also argues that private sector metrics and sustainability reporting could contribute to measuring progress beyond 2020.

The authors further call for empowering workers, citizens and consumers through information and rights-based approaches, citing, as an example, smartphone apps that enable citizens to access and share knowledge relevant for chemicals and waste.

Another approach highlighted in the Chapter seeks to strengthen the interface of chemicals and waste management and human rights. The authors describe recent research highlighting the prevalence of human rights violations and abuses caused by chemical pollution, emphasize that “the right to information is critical in the context of toxics,” and cite an October 2018 report that explores opportunities to further integrate the human rights dimension of chemicals and waste into the “beyond 2020 framework.” The Chapter also notes that, in 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes (Special Rapporteur on Toxic Wastes) proposed a number of principles that, among other things, address business and government responsibilities, worker access to information, and holding accountable those who violate workers’ rights.

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 III: Chemicals Management Tools and Approaches] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Chapter V: Scaling Up Collaborative Action Under 2030 Agenda] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on GCO II Synthesis Report]