Chemicals and waste governance is hampered by the inadequacy of international environmental law: hazardous chemicals still cause significant damage to human health and the environment. At the same time, new challenges, such as plastic waste in the seas, have emerged. This is apparent from a recent Nordic report which examines ways to develop global chemicals and waste governance beyond 2020.
The report aims at boosting the negotiations starting in the United Nations and concentrating on the new global framework for chemicals and waste in the post-2020 era. The intergovernmental discussions on the theme will begin in a meeting in Brazil on 7-9 February and culminate, after several other meetings, in the adoption of a new framework in 2020. The framework will replace the present voluntary Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, SAICM.
The report observes that hazardous chemicals and waste constitute a serious threat to enjoyment of human rights in developing countries. In primitive conditions, the management of electronic waste leads to exposure to heavy metals and other harmful compounds present in the waste. Lead-based paints are another example of a serious problem present, especially in developing countries. The health impacts caused by lead in paints are estimated to reduce the world economy by a value of nearly one trillion US dollars per year.
The world’s most comprehensive chemicals legislation to protect human health and the environment has been created in Europe. However, it is estimated that there are 140,000 chemicals in the global market, and most of these chemicals lack a thorough estimation on their impacts to human health and the environment. Besides, the most remote parts of the globe and their habitants are exposed to hazardous chemicals and waste, due to long-range transport through air and water. The Nordic countries and the Arctic are good examples of this. The problem is international and requires cooperation between all countries.
Chemicals and waste at the heart of sustainable development
Environmental pollution is the greatest single cause of death in the world, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), hazardous chemicals cause at least 1.3 million deaths yearly.
In 2015, the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development was adopted. Through several of its goals, the 2030 Agenda is directly linked to the protection of human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and waste. For example, by 2030, the number of deaths and diseases related to hazardous chemicals, and pollution and contamination of the air, water and soil should be substantially decreased.
Therefore, in order to achieve sustainable development, there is a need to develop a new and ambitious framework for chemicals and waste in the post-2020 era. The framework could be similar to the Paris Agreement, and the participating countries should create national action programmes to meet their commitments.
The report will be used as background material in the Nordic seminar that is held 16 to 17 January in Helsinki. The aim is to utilise the results of the seminar in the future work carried out in the United Nations. The report is authored by Tuula Honkonen and Sabaa Khan, researchers of environmental law at the University of Eastern Finland. Both the report and the seminar are funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
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