The resumed first meeting of the ad hoc Open-ended Working Group on a Science-Policy Panel for Chemicals, Waste, and Pollution (OEWG 1.2) continued its task of developing a science-policy panel, which will help scientists and policymakers inform one another on these issues. Delegates agreed on capacity building as a new function of the panel.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary of the meeting notes that dedicated platforms to bridge the science-policy gap on climate change and biodiversity already exist through the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). However, since no such platform exists for chemicals, waste, and pollution, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) decided, in 2022, that a science-policy panel should be established to contribute further to sound chemicals and waste management and pollution prevention. The UNEA resolution sets out four functions: horizon scanning; scientific assessments; information provision and dissemination; and information sharing. Horizon scanning is a new feature for this panel as the IPCC and IPBES lack such a function.

The OEWG is mandated to prepare proposals for the new science-policy panel by the end of 2024, and to consider, among others: institutional design and governance of the panel; its name and scope; principal functions; and rules of procedure and operating principles governing the panel’s work.

During OEWG 1.2, delegates focused on the panel’s scope and functions, agreeing on, among others:

  • a list of elements that will need to be negotiated and adopted prior to the panel’s establishment, including rules of procedure, processes for adopting assessments, and institutional arrangements; and
  • a timeline when each proposed element will be discussed, and how intersessional work will proceed.

Consensus could not be reached on the panel’s objective, although a common understanding emerged to draw from the UNEA resolution’s language, and to specify that the panel will work towards protection of human health and the environment.

With respect to capacity building, some said the focus should be on supporting scientists from developing countries to participate in the panel’s work, while others believed capacity building should also support local scientists in their work to identify research needs, undertake research, and publish their findings, which might require laboratory capacity and specialized instruments.

The outcome document on the organization of ongoing and future work, including an agreed outline of draft elements for the new panel, sets out when discussion on each element will begin – whether at OEWG 2 or OEWG 3 – and the intersessional work needed to prepare for these negotiations.

The ENB analysis of the meeting notes that the intersessional periods will be critical, especially since only two more OEWG sessions remain before formal establishment of the panel. Webinars and other consultations, including on governance, can also help advance the negotiations, as well as improve the quality of the working documents to be developed for OEWG 2, where the majority of the work is expected to be undertaken.

While drawing on experiences of IPBES and IPCC, during the meeting, several scientists and NGO representatives highlighted the distinct characteristics of the chemicals sector and the unique role the chemicals industry plays in holding data, which is often proprietary and confidential, ENB writes. Participants agreed that industry should be involved, and that strong conflict of interest policies would help ensure the panel’s credibility and legitimacy.

OEWG 1.2 convened from 30 January to 3 February 2023 in Bangkok, Thailand. [ENB Coverage of OEWG 1.2]