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UNEP Assesses Eight Issues of Concern for Chemicals and Waste Management

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has published an assessment of eight issues of concern for the sound management of chemicals and waste. The report is intended to support discussions at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in February 2021.

The issues were identified by the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), and other international fora working towards the sound management of chemicals and waste as part of the SDGs.

The eight issues are:

  • chemicals in products;
  • endocrine disrupting chemicals;
  • environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants;
  • hazardous substances in the life cycle of electrical and electronic products;
  • highly hazardous pesticides;
  • lead in paint;
  • nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials (nanomaterials); and
  • per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

For each issue, the report notes the environmental or human health effects, reviews current regulatory and policy frameworks, highlights challenges and opportunities, and considers ways to communicate and scale up existing instruments and lessons learned, particularly for developing countries. 

While progress has been made, the report acknowledges that SDG target 12.4 – which has a 2020 deadline – has not been achieved. Target 12.4 calls for achieving the environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment by 2020.

The report suggests addressing a wider range of issues of concern, including those that have previously received insufficient attention, rather than specific hazardous chemicals or groups of chemicals. This includes issues where sound management is necessary to achieve greater sustainability and wider environmental or development objectives. The authors suggest that countries and other stakeholders could nominate additional issues of concern. Horizon scanning could also be used.

The report also suggests linking to upcoming discussions at UNEA-5 on strengthening the science-policy interface. 

The authors urge addressing issues of concern in an integrated and holistic manner, including using a sector-specific value chain approach, grouping substances by similar intrinsic properties, or considering all life-cycle stages of specific chemicals and products. They also argue for integrating efforts on sound chemicals and waste management with other priorities, such as climate change, biodiversity, human rights, and labor standards.

According to the report, an enabling environment to address emerging issues and issues of concern would include: strengthened leadership with clear roles and responsibilities to coordinate action; regular monitoring and evaluation of progress; new mechanisms, including legally binding ones, to increase efforts on addressing issues where progress has been limited; knowledge management, including knowledge capture, synthesis, and sharing; and increased involvement of the scientific community.

The assessment report was requested by UNEA-4 in March 2019. [Publication: An Assessment Report on Issues of Concern]