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Experts Call for New Ways to Identify and Address Chemical Issues of Concern

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By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub , February 15, 2021

The Strategic Alliance for International Chemicals Management (SAICM) convened a technical briefing to discuss issues of concern, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals and lead in paint. The briefing highlighted the need for legally binding mechanisms to increase effort in areas where progress has been limited. 

SAICM is holding online technical briefings as part of the virtual events during the intersessional period leading to IP4 and the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5). Another part of the intersessional work is a set of Virtual Working Groups, which are meeting to advance work on the Beyond 2020 process.

The technical briefing on issues of concern convened on 26 November 2020. Presentations were based on the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) publication titled, 'Assessment Report on Issues of Concern: Chemicals and Waste Issues Posing Risks to Human Health and the Environment,' which was mandated by the fourth meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). This publication and the Global Chemical Outlook II (GCOII) identified issues of concern and noted the need for international concerted action to address such issues. Chemicals that are persistent, ubiquitous, and/or have long-range transport potential are among the identified issues of concern.

To successfully address issues of concern, the briefing highlighted the need for:

  • strong leadership with clear roles and responsibilities to coordinate actions;
  • regular monitoring and evaluation of progress;
  • new mechanisms, including legally binding ones, to raise the international community’s efforts in areas where progress has been limited;
  • active knowledge management, including knowledge capture, synthesis and sharing; and
  • strengthened involvement of the scientific community.

Speakers also called for identifying linkages with other environmental and societal priorities, such as climate change, biodiversity, food security, human rights, and labor standards, which they said is critical for achieving greater sustainability and broader environmental and development objectives. 

To identify issues of concern, speakers cited the importance of: tracking national and regional regulatory actions; nominations by countries or other stakeholders; and horizon scanning and early warning through a possible science-policy interface (SPI).

Presentations by Switzerland, Colombia and Argentina highlighted limitations of the current system and the need to elaborate a process for identifying issues of concern in the SAICM successor agreement. They discussed strengthening science-policy interactions by conducting assessments, and informing policymakers and the public to raise awareness and stimulate action. They noted the possibility of establishing subsidiary bodies for each issue of concern, with concrete actions and timeframes for implementation, and the possibility of bringing issues to UNEA to help ensure action is taken.

In the question-and-answer session participants addressed the need for: increased commitment and action by the private sector on capacity building, providing information for an SPI, and concrete action to reduce risk; enhanced action by governments including new legally binding agreements when necessary; and an improved mechanism for Emerging Policy Issues and Issues of Concern that would include financing, cost recovery, and producer responsibility.

Alongside the technical briefings and the VWGs, a drafting group is working to prepare a high-level declaration on the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. The declaration would be presented for adoption at ICCM5. 

IP4 and ICCM5 were recently postponed again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New dates have not yet been announced.  [Publication: Assessment Report on Issues of Concern: Chemicals and Waste Issues Posing Risks to Human Health and the Environment] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Virtual Intersession Process] [Video of the Technical Briefing] [Information on VWG meetings] [Information on technical briefings] [Information on drafting group]