UN adopts global framework to address the lifecycle of chemicals

2 October 2023 | Muriel Cozier

‘The World Health Organisation tells us that direct chemical pollution of the air, land, water and workplace is causing two million deaths per year.’

A ‘Global Framework on Chemicals – for a planet free of harm from chemicals and waste,’ has been concluded at the Fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), held in Bonn Germany, 25-28 September.

The meeting brought together governments, NGOs, the private sector, academia, intergovernmental organisations and youth, who agreed the framework based around 28 targets and guidelines for key sectors across the entire lifecycle of chemicals. The adoption of the framework also means that pollution and waste are given the same priority as climate change and biodiversity loss, which already have frameworks in place.

The framework calls for, amongst other things, the phase out by 2035 of highly hazardous pesticides in agriculture, the transition to safer and more sustainable chemical alternatives, and the responsible management of chemicals in a range of sectors including industry, agriculture and healthcare.

Among the commitments, governments will establish by 2030, the regulatory environment to reduce chemical pollution and implement policies to promote safer alternatives. Industry has committed to managing chemicals to reduce chemical pollution and adverse impacts, also by 2030. In addition, a dedicated trust fund is scheduled to be set up and managed by the United Nations Environment Programme. Germany has already pledged €20 million to the fund, with governments and the private sector intending to contribute.

‘I call on all parties to start acting immediately,’ said Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, speaking at the meeting. ‘The World Health Organisation tells us that direct chemical pollution of the air, land, water and workplace is causing two million deaths per year. Ecosystems and species are withering and dying. Chemicals and waste pollution are the heart of injustice and inequality,’ Andersen added.

Andersen also called on the chemical industry to ‘get creative and start investing now to replace hazardous chemicals with people and nature-friendly alternatives. The chemical industry must become green and sustainable,’ she said.

Welcoming the outcome of the meeting, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), which represents chemical producers from around the world, said it has developed three ambitions, in transparency; effective chemicals management; and sustainable solutions.

‘Chemistry is essential to achieving many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals[…] we accept that with this prominent role in the future, we have been challenged to be ambitious and innovate beyond what we already provide the world today,’ the ICCA said in a statement.

The meeting also saw the adoption of the Bonn Declaration – a commitment to ‘prevent exposure to harmful chemicals, and phase out the most harmful ones, where appropriate, and enhance the safe management of such chemicals where they are needed’.

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