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Working Group Proposes Process to Address Chemical Issues of Concern

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By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub , March 10, 2021

A working group has proposed a process for addressing issues of concern related to the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. The Virtual Working Group on Issues of Concern (VWG3) was also tasked with developing proposals on ways to deal with existing emerging policy issues (EPIs) and other issues of concern beyond 2020.

The group is one of several virtual workstreams leading to 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, and the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5). Four working groups recently concluded their work. 

VWG3 met four times (16 November and 14 December 2020, and 18 January and 2 February 2021) and the Co-Facilitators' Final Report has been posted. The Group's discussions built on Annex B of the SAICM document on recommendations compiled in 2020.

On 1 February 2021, the co-facilitators released their proposed outcome document on the process to address issues of concern based on inputs received through electronic submissions and feedback and interventions made during VWG meetings. This summary provides an overview of the first three sessions and the co-facilitators' proposed outcome document.

During the discussions on Annex B, some participants suggested that the definition of issues of concern should refer to waste. On nominating issues of concern, participants agreed nominations will be allowed at any point, because such issues will arise and evolve over time. They expressed concern the proposed six-month timeline for reviewing nominations would be too short. Some suggested establishing a multi-stakeholder subsidiary body to evaluate nominations. Criteria would include level of interest, available resources, priority, and a possible path forward for each issue of concern prior to ICCM consideration.

On decision making and adoption of new issues of concern, some participants proposed establishing multi-stakeholder committees to guide efforts and implementation on individual issues. The co-facilitators said they envisaged a similar approach to that of the working groups for the Basel Convention Partnerships. However, some expressed preference for one broader scientific body rather than multiple committees. One participant questioned how the committees would relate to existing committees for existing EPIs, such as the Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint.

On mechanisms for implementation, participants said the ICCM should prioritize and adopt workplans for specific, measurable, and time-bound implementation, and ensure funding to implement the workplans. On the responsible entity for tracking progress, participants discussed a range of possibilities, including a lead agency, multi-stakeholder committees, or a Programme Board. Some called for regular progress reports, and said it is the Secretariat’s role to coordinate reporting. 

On existing EPIs and other issues of concern, participants cautioned against jeopardizing current implementation work and called for taking into account available resources. One stakeholder said current EPIs and other issues of concern are already inadequately monitored and assessed. The Group generally supported including existing EPIs and other issues of concern as part of the new instrument but not as a new activity, given concerns over available capacity. The Group also noted the need for: flexibility so decisions may be taken on an issue-by-issue basis; transparent decision-making on the future of EPIs and other issues of concern; and the ICCM to take decisions regarding this issue.

The Group supported a resolution at ICCM5 that: recognizes efforts and progress to date; states the intention to determine and set the future path on existing SAICM EPIs and other issues of concern in the Beyond 2020 instrument at ICCM6; highlights any immediate and specific priority actions to ensure efforts and momentum continue; and requests that the responsible organizations under the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) propose a draft workplan with clear timelines and milestones to ICCM6.

The co-facilitators suggested recommending that the ICCM5 Bureau consider inviting lead IOMC agencies, governments, and other relevant stakeholders to report by 31 May 2021 on: progress in implementing ICCM resolutions on EPIs and other issues of concern; a draft roadmap outlining immediate priorities; and the rationale to continue addressing each issue under the new instrument. 

A group of NGOs proposed a set of “trigger criteria” to review existing issues of concern when voluntary work is insufficient. The trigger criteria would be designed to identify and address issues of concern that require urgent action and increased ambition.

Issues requiring further discussion remain in a "parking lot" for future consideration. These include: linkages to a science-policy interface (SPI); the proposed Strategic Objective C on issues of concern and related targets and indicators; reporting under implementation mechanisms; establishment of the proposed multi-stakeholder committees for addressing issues of concern; and determining the need for further work on an issue.

The working group's recommendations are expected to be discussed during IP4 and ICCM5. The two meetings were scheduled to convene in person in the first half of 2021, but were postponed in February 2021 due to ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other intersessional work includes a series of technical briefings (including one on issues of concern) and consultations to draft a high-level declaration for ICCM 5, on the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. [Update on intersessional work, February 2021]