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The Link between Climate Change and Chemical Accidents


The Link between Climate Change and Chemical Accidents

The Secretariat of the Strategic Approach to Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) have launched a Community of Practice (CoP) on Chemicals and SDGs to bring representatives from different sectors together and to create a learning network around issues related to addressing Chemicals and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is a summary of the discussion on The Link between Climate Change and Chemical Accidents, which took place on 20 April 2022.

Presenters: Marie-Ange Baucher (OECD), Dr. Halshka Graczyk (ILO), Semia Gharbi (AEEFG)

The impact of natural hazards on hazardous installations has been an increasing cause for concern. Natural hazards (such as earthquakes, floods, or storms) can initiate events, which may challenge the safety and operation of hazardous installations and trigger a chemical accident. These accidents are referred to as Natural hazard triggered technological accidents (Natech). Natech risk management needs to consider the possible impact of climate change on the occurrence and severity of Natech events. Data and projections show that the frequency and intensity of natural hazards may increase in the decades to come; and some of them may occur at locations where they have never been observed before. Coupled with a growing human expansion, integration of climate change risks and uncertainties into Natech risk management is essential.

Even as technology evolves and the structure of work continues to shift dramatically, major industrial accidents continue to pose a major threat to the safety and health of workers around the world. Potentially hazardous substances are ubiquitous in many industries and are of strategic importance to many national economies. However, in the absence of sound workplace chemicals’ management, appropriate risk assessment and other preventative actions and policies, these substances may pose a serious and imminent risk for the occurrence of major industrial accidents (MIAs). The world of work and the natural environment are intrinsically linked. Climate change and associated environmental degradation pose increasing risks to workers’ health and safety, particularly when it comes to MIAs. Expanded workplace risk assessments taking into consideration the risk of climate change and its associated impacts are increasingly needed for MIA prevention. The role of tripartism and social dialogue in the face of a rapidly changing planet and world of work are also essential for coordinated preventative action.

The Basel Convention regulates the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and other wastes and obliges its Parties to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The Convention covers toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic and infectious wastes. However, for many years the illegal traffic of waste and hazardous wastes have been impacting the environment and the health.