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Virtual Working Group Develops Options for Science-Policy Interface

A working group on governance and mechanisms for managing chemicals and waste issued a set of recommendations, including on a possible science-policy interface (SPI). The recommendations will be considered by the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5).

The Virtual Working Group on Governance and Mechanisms to Support Implementation is one of four virtual working groups (VWGs) that convened in the lead up 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 (IP4) as well as ICCM5. All four working groups recently concluded their work.

Between 27 October 2020 and 4 February 2021, the VWG on governance and mechanisms held eight virtual meetings and five rounds of electronic feedback. Relevant sections of the IP3 compilation document (SAICM/IP.4/2) served as a basis for deliberations. A number of pre-session documents facilitated the Group's work. 

The VWG was tasked with making proposals to advance progress on topics including: the policy direction of an SPI; national, sub-regional, regional, international, sectoral, and stakeholder cooperation and coordination; mechanisms for taking stock of progress of and for updating the Beyond 2020 framework; and subsidiary and ad hoc bodies. On 5 March 2021 co-facilitators Karissa Kovner (US) and Teeraporn Wiriwutikorn (Thailand) issued a final report on the outcomes of the Group. The group identified a number of issues for further consideration, contained in a 'parking lot' document.

On a possible SPI, the VWG was mandated with developing a proposal that: articulates the rationale on the need for an SPI for the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020; describes the potential functions of such an interface; recommends the approach to best achieve SPI functions, either within or outside the Beyond 2020 framework. In general, the Group agreed on the need for some form of an SPI, which they said should:

  • be inclusive of all relevant stakeholders and sectors, encouraging new channels to ensure the involvement of academics, industry, scientists, NGOs, labor, health, and other civil society representatives;
  • not be policy-prescriptive; and
  • ensure expertise from developing countries and indigenous communities, and take into account local knowledge and gender considerations.

The VWG also began the process of identifying possible SPI functions, such as: horizon scanning and early warning; scientific assessments; communication and outreach; evidence and knowledge-building; and monitoring. In addition, participants noted the following possible characteristics: intergovernmental, authoritative, independent, comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and transparent.

Regarding scope and placement of an SPI, the two options most frequently highlighted were: establishing a SPI mechanism within the Beyond 2020 instrument (potentially through a subsidiary or ad hoc body); or calling for an intergovernmental SPI body for the chemicals and waste cluster (comparable to the IPCC or IPBES), which would be agreed to at a higher political level within the UN system. 

On a mechanism for taking stock of progress of the Beyond 2020 framework, participants noted the need to harmonize timeframes for the reporting and assessment of information and data provided; the timeframes therefore should be discussed together. A number of stakeholders stressed the importance of a template or guidance to ensure all aspects of the instrument are included in reporting. This would also help ensure that the information provided can be compiled and considered in a standardized, productive, and understandable manner, and the ICCM can use it to assess progress. The co-facilitators suggested that the IP could consider providing further direction on creating such guidance or a template.

The Group discussed making stakeholder data and information available to enable a comprehensive and cooperative review. Participants considered the possibility of an ad hoc or multi-stakeholder periodic review group or process to review progress and prepare a report for the ICCM, which would summarize progress and outline recommendations. Switzerland suggested that voluntary peer reviews could improve implementation efforts and strengthen monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. 

Japan submitted a proposal to use reporting to assess and review progress against the agreed objectives and targets, while avoiding duplicative reporting with relevant agreements and initiatives and reduce stakeholder burdens. Per the proposal, "process monitoring" would monitor the degree of achievement on process indicators through a multi-stakeholder online survey, which can then be used to calculate the results and capture progress on a dashboard, which could be updated annually. "Impact assessment" as envisioned in Japan's proposal would assess progress on impact indicators, using designated custodians (for example, IOMC organizations).

On a mechanism for updating and revising the framework, the Group said that if such a mechanism affects the work and mandates of the ICCM and rules of procedure, the rules should be updated accordingly. One Group member called for ensuring consideration of and consistency with the rules of procedure.

Apart from the four virtual working groups, other intersessional work includes a series of technical briefings and consultations on a high-level declaration on the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. [Update on intersessional work, February 2021] [Creation of Virtual Working Groups]