Tuesday, February 07, 2006

New Global Chemicals Strategy Given Green Light by Governments

9th Special Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme/Global Ministerial Environment Forum

Dubai/Nairobi, 7 February 2006 - A new global initiative aimed at making chemicals safer for humans and the planet was agreed today at an international conference in Dubai.

Called the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management or SAICM, the new initiative covers risk assessments of chemicals and harmonized labeling up to tackling obsolete and stockpiled products.

It also carries provisions for national centres aimed at helping countries, especially in the developing world, train staff in chemical safety including dealing with spills and accidents.

The initiative contained in the Dubai Declaration and agreed to by over 100 environment and health ministers puts the globe on track to meet a commitment made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

Here governments agreed to aim to use and produce chemicals in ways that minimize adverse effects to health and the environment.

It is among the first concrete outcomes of the 2005 World Summit held in New York in September attended by heads of state.

SAICM, a voluntary agreement, comes at a time when global chemical production is set to climb by as much as 80 per cent over the next 15 years.

Between 70,000 and 100,000 chemicals may be already on the market with an estimated 1,500 new ones being marketed each year.

Meanwhile chemical production is shifting from the developed to the developing world.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “I am delighted that governments could agree to this new chemicals initiative which I sincerely believe will be a step change in the way we use and produce chemicals. All kinds of chemicals are vital in the modern world. They have a key role in overcoming poverty and delivering sustainable development”.

“Nevertheless, if the past is our guide, some seemingly benign products can prove to have deleterious impacts. Meanwhile developing countries need help in terms of the better use, handling and disposal of chemicals. So we must use the best science and treat chemicals with respect,” he added.

Over the years a range of chemical-related treaties have come into force including the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. It covers chemicals like the pesticide DDT and substances such as PCBs once widely used in certain kinds of electrical equipment.

Mr Toepfer said: “But it has been clear for some time that simply ticking off groups of chemicals one by one was becoming impractical. A new approach, a new way forward for chemicals management was needed, which is what SAICM now offers”.

The governments, meeting in advance of the 9th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, also gave support to a multi million dollar fund called ‘Quick Start’ Programme aimed at giving financial support to national action plans especially in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.

UNEP, which helped organize the Dubai meeting along with other UN bodies and organizations and which involved participation from industry, business, trade unions and other civil society groups, will house the SAICM secretariat.

Viveka Bohn of Sweden, who chaired the Committee of the Whole of this week’s International Conference on Chemicals Management, praised the President of the Conference: “There are many people that should be thanked for achieving this outcome. But no one more than the Mariano Arana, Minister of Housing, Land Planning and Environment of Uruguay, whose calmness and integrity played an important role in achieving a good result”.

Notes to Editors

Details of the Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/ Global Ministerial Environment Forum including this week’s International Conference on Chemicals Management, can be found at http://www.unep.org/gc/gcss-ix/


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