The world needs a global deal on chemicals say ministers and vice-ministers from eight countries

News 2018-07-13 at 9:27

The sound management of chemicals and waste needs to be recognised as an essential part of sustainable development.

Chemicals are everywhere in our daily lives. Since 1950, more than 140 000 new chemicals and pesticides have been synthesized. Chemical substances have contributed greatly to our prosperity. However, many of them are not without risk.

Everyone should be able to feel safe about the toys they give their children, the water they drink and the electronics they use. When products reach the end of their life cycle, the waste must be managed in a way that is sound and sustainable. In other words, we must strive for a non-toxic environment.

A report published by a Lancet Commission shows that pollution, including but not limited to chemicals, is one of the leading causes of death in the world. It is responsible for three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. The cost of inaction is enormous, and the poor and vulnerable are most affected. Nine out of ten pollution related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Chemicals can also spread through the exchange of goods containing them. Consumers are increasingly buying products online directly from markets in other countries. Trade strengthens our societies, but this development also highlights the need to find new ways of managing the risks associated with chemicals.

The international community has developed conventions on a few substances. However, proactive risk management must clearly be carried out for more than one substance at a time.

The response to the challenges ahead must be a collective political commitment. That is why sound chemical and waste management needs to be recognised as an essential part of sustainable development. The way the world chooses to manage chemicals and waste in the long term will have an impact on human rights, health, climate, water, biodiversity and agriculture. The sound management of chemicals and waste is also a cornerstone in the work for a circular economy.

A global collaboration is in place that we can build upon. The non-binding Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) provides a policy framework for sound chemical management. SAICM is an important framework. But the current strategy expires in 2020, and the road ahead must therefore be decided.

We are seizing this opportunity to make it clear to policymakers, organisations and businesses globally that the world needs an ambitious global deal on chemicals and waste, just as we needed the Paris Agreement on climate.

Several of our countries gathered together with scientists, business, civil society and intergovernmental organisations in Stockholm on 12 March. We held a high-level dialogue to raise the level of commitment and engagement for a non-toxic environment. Our group is determined to spearhead discussions leading up to, and following, 2020. The next step will be taken at the High-level Political Forum in New York on 17 July.

Looking ahead, there is a need for more transparency concerning chemicals in the supply chain and further emphasis on research. Many companies are already engaged in the search for innovative solutions to replace harmful substances with safe alternatives. These initiatives serve as good examples.

The risks posed by harmful chemicals demand action here and now. If we are to achieve the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, strong global cooperation on chemicals and waste is essential. We are now embarking on a mission to ensure an ambitious global deal is reached, and we urge other actors to join us.

Mr. Marc Chardonnens, Director General of the Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland

Dr. Edward Chomba, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection, Zambia

Mr. Ola Elvestuen, Minister of Climate and Environment, Norway

Ms. Brune Poirson, State Secretary for Ecological Transition, France

Ms. Svenja Schulze, Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany

Ms. Karolina Skog, Minister for the Environment, Sweden

Mr. Kimmo Tiilikainen, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing, Finland

Ms. Stientje van Veldhoven, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, The Netherlands