by IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub ,

The co-facilitators of the Virtual Working Group addressing Issues of Concern (VWG3) for the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020 have published their final report, providing the co-facilitators’ proposed text on the issue. The proposals are expected to be discussed during the fourth meeting of the intersessional process considering the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste Beyond 2020 (IP4), and the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5).

The group is one of several virtual workstreams aiming to progress work in advance of the meetings.

VWG3 was co-facilitated by Sam Adu-Kumi (Ghana) and Sverre Thomas Jahre (Norway). After convening four times between 16 November 2020 and 2 February 2021, the Group agreed that a process for addressing issues of concern should be: simple, inclusive and transparent; promote greater ownership; enhance implementation; and consider the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The final report released on 8 March 2021 includes proposed text based on the group’s discussions and written submissions, and provides a brief rationale for each proposal.
The definition text proposed by the co-facilitators for an “issue of concern” refers to an issue involving any phase in the life cycle of chemicals and which has not yet been generally recognized, is insufficiently addressed, or arises from the current level of scientific information, and which may have significant adverse health or environmental effects.
On the submission of information, the co-facilitators’ proposed text highlights the need to provide specific information to nominate an issue, including:

  • why the Beyond 2020 instrument is best placed to advance the issue;
  • impacts on human health and/or the environment, considering, inter alia, women, children and other vulnerable populations, biodiversity ecosystems, and any toxicological and exposure data;
  • how addressing the issue can help countries achieve the SDGs;
  • the extent to which the issue is cross-cutting and is being addressed by other bodies at the regional or international level; and
  • existing knowledge and gaps in understanding regarding the issue.

The nomination process would be open to all stakeholders, with nominations submitted no later than six months prior to a meeting of the ICCM. One stakeholder proposed increased horizon scanning functions to help assess the scientific evidence base.
On the initial review and publication of nominations, the proposal is for the Secretariat to: check nominations to ensure they are complete and request missing information, if necessary; compile a list of nominations, annotated with a summary of information from the submission; and cluster similar nominations  together to streamline the process. 

Regarding decision making and adoption of an issue of concern, the co-facilitators’ proposed text notes that new issues should be selected and adopted by a Conference resolution. In adopting an issue, the Conference should: agree to a list of priority actions and related timelines; and establish an ad hoc multi-stakeholder committee to develop and encourage implementation of a workplan, coordinate with other relevant bodies, and monitor and report on progress against indicators, among other tasks.
On implementation mechanisms, the proposed text addresses workplans with clear timelines and milestones, and support and provision of funding to help countries implement their workplans. On tracking progress, the co-facilitators proposed that ad hoc multi-stakeholder committees oversee monitoring and reporting back from stakeholders. 
On determining the need for further work on an issue, stakeholder submissions indicated more discussion was required to consider this issue, particularly regarding the responsible entity for reporting to the ICCM.
Issues not taken up by the VWG and that remain in a Parking Lot for future discussions include linkages to a science policy interface (SPI), reporting under mechanisms to support implementation, and modalities for establishing the proposed ad hoc multi-stakeholder committees.
The VWG that agreed the ICCM is the appropriate body to take decisions regarding the future of current emerging policy issues (EPIs) and other issues of concern. The document highlights the need for flexibility so a decision can be taken to continue, close, revise, or move issues to another forum on an issue-by issue-basis.
Given the delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the VWG supported consideration of approaches that would lead to an omnibus decision regarding the path forward for existing SAICM EPIs and other issues of concern at the ICCM5. 

The final report of VWG3 contains three Annexes: a compilation of stakeholder comments; a diagram of the proposed process; and a proposal by a group of NGOs on a set of “trigger criteria” to review existing issues of concern when voluntary work is insufficient. [Co-facilitators’ final report (SAICM/ICCM.5/VWG3/Final-report)] [SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of previous VWG3 meetings