April 2019: The second chapter of the Global Chemicals Outlook II (GCO II), published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), assesses progress made, as well as gaps, in achieving the 2020 goal of using and producing chemicals in ways that minimize the adverse effects on human health and the environment.

The focus of the Chapter titled, ‘Where Do We Stand in Achieving the 2020 Goal: Assessing Overall Progress and Gaps,’ is the goal agreed to by governments at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The Chapter finds that, inter alia:

  • many countries and regions have strengthened their legal and institutional capacities by enacting laws, creating programmes and implementing policies to achieve the sound management of chemicals and waste;
  • countries save resources by aligning and harmonizing their policies with those of other countries or with internationally agreed guidance; and
  • progress towards achieving the sound management of chemicals and waste is uneven, with some developing countries and economies in transition (EITs), in particular, still lacking basic chemicals and waste management systems, pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs), poison centers, and capacities for hazard and risk assessment and risk management.

While noting that the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is a unique voluntary framework with many benefits, the Chapter also points to weaknesses, including: insufficient sectoral engagement; capacity constraints of national focal points; lack of tools to measure progress; limited financing; and insufficient and uneven advances in such areas as illegal international traffic.

An integrated approach to financing requires mainstreaming, industry involvement and dedicated external financing.

The Chapter identifies and details measures to further address eight emerging policy issues, namely: lead in paint; hazardous substances within the life cycle of electrical and electronic products; highly hazardous pesticides; chemicals in products; per- and polyfluoroalky substances (PFASs) and the transition to safer alternatives; environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants; endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs); and nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials.

Emphasizing the need for national capacity development and action, the Chapter discusses the preparation of national profiles through multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder collaboration, which address the status of and gaps in legislation, institutional arrangements and information systems. The profiles have led to the establishment of inter-ministerial committees, the production of country baseline information, and the identification of priority actions.

The Chapter suggests adjusting guidance to support the development or updating of national action plans and further linking them to internationally agreed targets and milestones. It notes that national profiles and action plans that undergo review by stakeholders to provide feedback on potential measures are likely to have the greatest impact. The Chapter further contends that an integrated approach to financing requires mainstreaming, industry involvement and dedicated external financing.

Finally, the Chapter stresses the need for a coherent indicator and reporting framework, explaining that, inter alia: currently, reporting and measuring progress in chemicals and waste is spread across various treaties, voluntary chemicals and waste instruments, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; and a fragmented indicators framework and low reporting make it challenging to develop a global baseline and to systematically track progress. The authors cite the need to: make reporting more useful for national contexts and efforts; ensure follow-up by, and the provision of direct assistance through, the Secretariats; and foster transparency on reporting outcomes.

The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) mandated the GCO II in 2016 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 III: Chemicals Management Tools and Approaches] [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]