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Chemicals Working Group Recommends Targets for Beyond 2020 Framework

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By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub , March 1, 2021

A virtual working group has proposed a set of targets for the Beyond 2020 chemicals framework, and issued preliminary recommendations for a process to establish indicators and milestones. Their work built on a set of targets first proposed in February 2020 by a technical working group.

The virtual working group held five meetings between 2 November 2020 and 1 February 2021, and has issued a final report. The recommendations will be discussed during the fourth meeting of the intersessional process considering the Strategic Approach and sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020 (IP4) and the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5). 

The group's meetings took up a set of strategic objectives as follows:

  • Strategic Objective A (preventing or minimizing harm from chemicals throughout their life cycle)
  • Strategic Objective B (knowledge, data and information to enable informed decisions and actions)
  • Strategic Objective C (issues of concern)
  • Strategic Objective D (impacts on human health and the environment)
  • Strategic Objective E (resources and partnerships)

The meetings on 2 November and 23 November primarily focused on Strategic Objectives A and B. On Strategic Objectives A, discussions considered the need for: countries to have basic capacity, legal frameworks, and institutional mechanisms to manage chemicals and waste, including illegal trafficking; other stakeholders, such as industry, to take action to prevent harm from chemicals throughout their life cycle; and whether the target on legal frameworks should be the sole responsibility of governments.

Participants said targets under this Strategic Objective should include developing and strengthening national and regulatory frameworks for chemicals management. They said reference to “preventing and minimizing harm” in targets addressing measures taken by governments and companies should also be linked to biodiversity and climate change. They exchanged views on clarifying which instruments to address during discussions on a target on meeting commitments and obligations under chemicals and waste-related multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), as well as health, labor and other relevant instruments.

Under Strategic Objectives B, participants discussed a target on availability and accessibility of data and information about chemicals on the market, participants raised issues related to: the importance of legacies and comprehensive data and information regarding, for example, contamination of environment, burden of disease, monitoring and chemicals in products; lack of clarity regarding who will provide this information and to whom it will be targeted; and ensuring commercial confidentiality is not used as an excuse to hide chemical properties.

Participants agreed that implementation of the UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) and chemicals registers/inventories (PRTR) should be considered as indicators for this target. Most agreed the target should include information on safer alternatives and substitutes, properties, and chemicals on the global market, and encompass the whole life cycle.

Participants said timeframes should be considered in formulating the target on stakeholders using the most appropriate and standardized tools, guidelines and best available practices for assessments and sound management, as well as for the prevention of harm, risk reduction, monitoring and enforcement. They generally agreed this target could integrate and include concepts on costs of inaction in target formulation or indicators.
 
Regarding the target on stakeholders establishing mechanisms to access information and standardized methods to assess, reduce and prevent health impacts at all stages of the chemical life cycle, participants generally supported also referencing environmental impacts. Some stakeholders reiterated their support for a target on methodologies available for burden of disease and cost of inaction estimates.

Participants suggested the target on the development and implementation of educational, training and public awareness programmes on chemical safety, sustainability and safer alternatives should not only be about generating information, but also address how this information should be used. They also proposed adding chemical benefits and safety under this target. Some suggested adding gender responsiveness and vulnerable groups to the target wording, as well as linking this target to the SDGs.

Regarding proposed new targets under this Strategic Objective, participants generally agreed to include: a target on GHS, although some suggested this be under Strategic Objective A or as an indicator rather than a target; and an EU-proposed target on chemicals in products.

Regarding Strategic Objective C, the co-facilitators underscored the need for coordinated work between this group and the parallel working group on Issues of Concern before moving forward on targets under this Strategic Objective.

Subsequent meetings on 7 December 2020 and 12 January 2021 addressed Strategic Objectives C, D, and E, as well as a Co-Facilitators’ proposal on recommendations for a process to establish indicators and milestones. A final meeting convened on 1 February to discuss a summary of consolidated inputs and proposals on all topics discussed for consideration by IP4 and ICCM5. (These will be summarized in a forthcoming SDG Knowledge Hub article.)

Three other virtual working groups were established to discuss: Governance and mechanisms to support implementation; Issues of concern; and Financial considerations. 

IP4 and ICCM5 were scheduled to convene in person in the first half of 2021, but were recently postponed.