20 Oct 2020
14:00–15:30

Venue: International Environment House II (7-9 ch. de Balexert) & Webex Event

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

This briefing, organized in the run-up to the Fifth Session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), presented and discussed two of the reports on chemicals and waste issues that were requested to be developed at UNEA-4.

About this Session

This session presented two reports developed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in response to formal reporting requests by UNEA at its fourth session (UNEA resolution 4/8 on the sound management of chemicals and waste) for UNEA-5, set to take place in February 2021.

An Assessment Report on Issues of Concern

The report aims to inform the international community about the current situation of specific issues of concern, based on a review of published evidence, in order to support further discussion at UNEA5 and other international forums working towards sound management of chemicals and waste.

The report assesses the eight emerging policy issues and other issues of concern identified under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM): chemicals in products (CiP), endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants (EPPPs), hazardous substances in the life cycle of electrical and electronic products (HSLEEP), highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), lead in paint, nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials (Nanomaterials), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). It reviews how current regulatory and policy frameworks address them by specific instruments and actions, building on GCO-II findings and highlighting challenges and opportunities

The report also addresses the 11 issues with emerging evidence of risks identified by GCO-II: arsenic, bisphenol A, cadmium, glyphosate, lead, microplastics, neonicotinoids, organotins, phthalates, PAHs and triclosan. It assesses current exposure as well as instruments and actions under current regulatory and policy frameworks, highlighting challenges and opportunities. Background information on environmental or human health effects of the issues are also provided based on existing assessments by national governments and intergovernmental institutions, to raise awareness among governments and stakeholders

A “thought starter” on the identification of issues of concern is presented, including a review of existing approaches, a map of other current relevant initiatives, and considerations of potential areas in which future issues of concern might be identified and possible identification processes. This is followed by an overarching outlook for future international work on issues of concern.

Assessment of Options for Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface at the International Level for the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste

The report seeks to facilitate and inform discussions on strengthening the science-policy interface for chemicals and waste management and thus support and promote science-based local, national, regional and global action on sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. It also aims to provide elements for bringing agendas together, and how science-policy platforms need to interact and inform each other.

The report reviews a variety of existing SPI platforms and discusses lessons learned from the development of the GCO-II. It examines the impacts of- and outputs from a strengthened SPI platform, including how such platforms can inform different stages of the policy-making process. The report discusses the institutional design of SPI platforms and outlines options for strengthening the science-policy interface. Following a brief description, each option is assessed according to their potential strengths, potential weaknesses, and potential implications, including budgetary considerations.

Speakers

Monika MACDEVETTE

Head, Chemicals and Health Branch, UNEP

Jacqueline ALVAREZ

Head, Knowledge and Risk Unit, Chemicals and Health Branch, UNEP

Marcos A. ORELLANA

UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes

Rolph PAYET

Executive Secretary, Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

Monika STANKIEWICZ

Executive Secretary, Minamata Convention on Mercury

Nalini SHARMA

Senior Coordinator, Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)

Felix WERTLI

Head, Global Affairs Section, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment

Summary

Presentation of the Reports | Jacqueline Alvarez | UNEP

View the presentation.

Discussion on the Reports | Marcos A. ORELLANA | UN Special Rapporteur

The science policy interface is particularly important for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, which is turning 25 years this year. It was born out of the concern of growing environmental concern of environmental justice of hazardous waste generate in Europe being dumped in Africa. It was expended in 2011, by consensus, by the Human Right Council to address the lifecycle of hazardous stances and waste. At the last Human Right Council, the mandate was renewed by consensus. It explicitly introduced in its resolution language on the science policy interface.

The right to enjoy the benefit of scientific progress is particularly important as we have seen around the world  disinformation campaigns during elections. There are actors that believed that any regulation adopted for the protection of health, the environment or safety is an assault on the free market, the national sovereignty or for profit. Against these abuses the right to science offers a critical safeguard. Scientific information is particularly important on chemicals and waste to prevent risk and exposure, and secure remedies. Information is essential.

For many years the right to science was not adequately studied in the human rights field, but it finds its anchor in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. Article 15, protects the rights to benefit from scientific progress.

In April 2020, the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights released a general comment on this right,which offers important guidance. It talks about the critical importance of the use of scientific evidence in decision making and policy. It also affirms the precaution principle regarding the risk of the scientific process. The Committee lays out obligations in its general comment, for example:

  • Participation and transparency in the scientific process
  • Accessibility, the explanation of science and dissemination of findings
  • Participation in international cooperation programs because risk are transnational and there are deep international disparities among countries in scientific capacity
  • Refrain from misinformation
  • Insure the private investment in scientific institutions is not used to influence the orientation of research

The options paper should be read. It does a really good job in laying out criteria for access to science and policy platform, notably credibility and transparency. Credibility highlights the issue of independence, and transparency raises the question of conflict of interest. When it comes to conflict of interest, the options paper should be further refined. There is a prominent role of the private sector in the work of existing science policy platforms in chemicals and waste. It identifies the disclosure of existing conflicts versus the management of conflicts, which may require experts to recuse themselves from the platforms’ work. It also implies a preference for disclosure. But simply disclosing funding sources or ties of experts may not be sufficient to safeguard undue corporate influence.

One example of the WTO dispute on the hormones’ case is the use by the panel of two experts that had participated in earlier assessments of hormones in beef that had been conducted by the Joint FAO and WHO experts Committee on food additives, compromised the adjudicative independence and impartiality of the panel.

Another example in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is that the Parties commit to act to protect public health policies from the interest of the tobacco industry.

There is an all product defense industry set up to seed doubt and uncertainty to delay, to divert attention from meaningful actions. Which option can best address the challenge of conflict of interest from the options paper?

The IPCC model is high in the criteria of transparency and credibility. That is because it preserves the integrity of the scientific debate, it keeps the scientific debate discussion transparent to all, and it secures access to the scientific evidences in which the assessments are based.

There is a need for international science based assessment of plastics and chemicals. The assessment should cease cross cutting issues and should increase the visibility of the urgency for action, in a timely way. At the same time, scientific assessment should not delay implementation because we already have robust science on hazardous substances and waste and action is needed now.

Discussion on the Reports | Rolph PAYET | Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

The reports underline the central role of the MEAs, and the importance they have played in advancing the issue.  

Examples:

  • The dirty dozen, 12 initial pesticides – POPs – under the Stockholm Convention, recognized as causing adverse effects on humans and the ecosystem. The convention with various stakeholders managed to eliminate these chemicals from our environment. Except for DDT, for which there are still permitted uses, but we hope to also eliminate it soon.
  • A target which has been agreed by the Parties the Stockholm Convention on the elimination of PCBs by 2025 and 2028. This has been achieved in collaboration with many stakeholders. Significant work remains for the implementation of the phase-out.
  • Successful elimination and management of PFOS. The challenge was that the alternatives proposed by industry also included POPs.

The Conventions have a really strong collaboration with the international customs organization. For example on plastics, BRS is working developing proper codes for plastics. Also working on with customers at the national level to build capacities, in cooperation with other MEAs.

On the science policy interface, they already have mechanisms already embedded in the conventions. For example, the POPs review Committee that deals with the consideration of listing chemicals by Parties. This is a very important process which supports the implantation of the Stockholm Convention and all the chemicals that are listed in the Convention in different annexes have been through that process. The process is not entirely scientific because there are representatives and experts from governments, stakeholders and industry. They present not only scientific data but also consideration on socio-economic data. This is really important as all countries are not equal and don’t have the same capacities and technologies to implement actions, or to have a management of chemicals at the national level. One of the challenges of these committees is the alternatives: looking for sound alternatives is not easy and attracts a big discussion within policies in countries where there is a lot of jobs depending on the industry, where there is a lot of economy around this industry, where there can’t be a sustainable phase out. But there is a need to look at these alternatives to have a green management of chemicals and waste.  

Under the Basel Convention, they have different expert working groups, for example on plastic and on e-waste. These working groups have government experts, officials, stakeholders and other groups involved. They look at the different challenges and opportunities as well in addressing those issues.  

The BRS Secretariat has for many years been championing a science to action program which has been adopted and endorsed by the Parties of the three conventions, where we have conversation and capacity building at the local level. The role of the academia in these discussions is important.

Discussion on the Reports | Monika STANKIEWICZ | Minamata Convention

Science can make a major and positive impact on policy making. The report identifies different policy making stages that can be supported by science. The Minamata Convention was created in response to scientific evidence of the effect of mercury on the environment and human health at the global level. The Minamata Convention has entered into force and it is in its early stage of implementation and the focus is less on agenda setting but more on implementation and evaluation.

Science policy interface is not necessary limited to a single process of producing an assessment or a single expert group, but it is a continuous process of interactions between science and policy making, with input from stakeholders. It is important to seek that the results are used and have maximum impacts in real life on the ground. This ultimate goal should be kept in mind when designing a science policy interface.

The report provides different options for Parties and stakeholders to consider. It states that a strong science policy interface should yield authoritative outputs.

Science policy interface should be a flexible process to proceed development and to draw on the past work to improve content, methods and organization of work to even better results in the future.

Strengthening of science policy interface is an opportunity for continuing the important work to integrate social and economic analysis into evaluation and to work in an interdisciplinary way. Environmental economy allows to evaluate costs and benefits of implementing actions to demonstrate the benefits of international regulations and policy in chemicals and waste to society.

Strengthening of science policy interface is an opportunity for capacity building even for many developed countries it is challenging to support science. By working together, scientists and experts from various countries can pool their expertise and work in an interdisciplinary way to consolidate the scientific results and get a deeper understanding of policy need.

UNEP draft middle term strategy 2022-2025 is currently considered by member states. Science policy interface is one of the two foundational programs underpinning all of the UNEP’s work. The use of digital tools are also important for science policy interface to have maximum impact.

Discussion on the Reports | Nalini SHARMA | SAICM

Due to the current pandemic, the post-2020 chemicals framework process results are not available and the SAICM ICCM5 have been postponed to July 2021.

In September, it was agreed to establish virtual working groups to not loose momentum and continue discussing these key issues. Two of them are related to today’s discussion.

Under the “Governance and mechanisms to support implementation” working group, there will be a discussion around the science policy interface. The mandate that was agreed by the bureau on further discussions around the science policy interface is really to articulate the rational and need for science policy interface for sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. To describe the potential functions of such interface and the establishment it for consideration at ICCM6.

The second working group that will take place is on issues of concern. It aims to identify possibilities and compromise or alternatives around the procedures for identification, nomination, selection, review, prioritization, organization of issues of concern, to determine what further work needs to be done on issues of concern, the duration for considering the issues, and  deal with current policies.

SAICM is a voluntary framework. The interdisciplinary approach is key and needs to be strengthened.

First technical briefing providing an overview of next steps for the intersessional process is taking place on 22 October 2020.

Discussion on the Reports | Felix WERTLI | Switzerland

The two reports presented today have been mandated by UNEA and are also relevant to the ICCM5 process for the post-2020 chemicals framework, and other intergovernmental processes on chemicals and waste.

We will fail to achieve the global goal to minimize adverse impacts of chemicals and waste by 2020 as we had hoped, and aimed for, and progress is not sufficient. The identification of issues of concerns is really relevant for policy makers to know the challenges and the possible actions.

Some take-away of the reports:

  • The identification of the issues of concerns identified under SAICM remain relevant and we have to continue to work on that, and there are other issues we need to work more on.
  • In the current cluster, we lack of a good procedure to identify issues of concern. This has been done be the SAICM but not in a holistic and systematic way. A science policy panel or interface can do that.
  • From a cluster approach, from a universal framework approach, we need to ensure work harder and do more progress on the issues we have identified. For that we have a tool under the Post-2020 framework, identifying not only issues of concern but defining objectives, indicators and actions we want to take. This could allow to have more resources because it is clearer what we want to achieve. It allows to measure the progress we do, and also to reflect and think further if not enough progress is done.
  • Policy options are indicated for different needs as not all issues of concern have the same needs.
  • These two reports are particularly relevant, however they might not get the attention they deserve. If such report would have been published by an institution like IPCC or IPBES, the attention would be bigger.
  • Need more methodology to identify issues of concern
  • Need policy options to address issues of concern

These are the potential function of a science policy platform.

Option A seems the most effective solution for Switzerland:

  •  We have to strengthen dialogue between policy makers and academia. A panel can allow this dialogue: the policy makers address the questions to the panel and they can respond to it.
  • Safeguards of conflict of interest, we can also learn from other science policy platforms (IPBES, IPCC)
  • An intergovernmental panel will increase visibility.
  • An intergovernmental panel can adopt and discuss conclusions that are agreed on by governments, that keep the integrity of science.

We need to enhance dialogue between science and policy makers. The current model of the Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO), only adopted at UNEA, is not sufficient. The platorm would allow to have more actors involved, cover the all sectors and cluster and provide enhance credibility and importance.

In the next steps, we have ICCM5, before considering substantive resolutions at UNEA. It is important that we are able to consider those two reports at ICCM5. ICCM5 has not the mandate to establish an intergovernmental policy panel, however, ICCM5 can provide a lot of insights information, clear indication on what is needed for the cluster and what is important. ICCM has to consider how to deal with issues of concern, how to identify them, objectives, indicators, to be sure the action is taken.

Q&A

  • Question by Eva Kumar: How manufactures can be made to disclose information earlier rather than after the damage in done?
    Answer by Marcos Orellana: The navigation of intellectual property rights in relation to the right to science is complex. If we look back at the negotiating history of what is now article 15 of the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights this was a dividing factor. The road that article 15 traverses is to find a balance in affirming the benefits of scientific progress while preserving intellectual property rights. Confitential business information should not be an obstacle. For example, Information on health impact, on emissions, on hazards must be available to the public and scientists in order to carry out scientific work. That is where governments acting by themselves and jointly through international cooperation should establish regulatory mechanisms to ensure the access to information. There are real risks that platforms may be captured by special interest pushing for their own agendas rather than for the global public interest involved in the sound management of chemicals and waste.
  • Question: At the office of the special rapporteur there are some issues on which you can be called upon to encourage the manufactures to disclose the information earlier?
    Answer by Marcos Orellana: The special rapporteur mandate has the ability to engage governments and companies in communication. That communication can focus on abuses and human rights violations regarding the denial of access to information or the obstacles for the realization of the right to science. When it comes to information about hazards or consumer products, occupational health, the mandate has a role.
  • Question by Mahmood Khwaja: Why mercury is not included in Chapter 3 and why hazardous wastes issues are not included Chapter 4? What are the options for strengthening the SPI? Are there any pros and cons analyses of the 3 proposed options, including strengths and weaknesses?
    Answer by Jacqueline Alvarez: It was pre-agreed that Chapter 3, because of the UNEA Resolution, will include emerging policy issues that have been identified for example, chemicals in products. The other 11 elements identified were part of the GCO outputs. Mercury is not there because for mercury we have already the Minamata Convention in place and the Global mercury partnership addresses other issues that are not yet under a legally binding instrument.Regarding the question on pros and cons, the science policy interface assessment highlights all the potential pros and cons but also implications of one versus the other options that have been described. In reality, the report really tries to bring up questions to be answered and the functions that are needed for consideration of a science policy interface.
  • Question by Ginger Hervey: Which is more important for the post-2020 instrument: the high-level, research/policy-oriented aspect, or the on-the-ground efforts to manage issues that are already identified as of concern? How should funding balance be struck between the two?
    Answer by Monika Stankiewicz: When there is enough science, how much science actually we need? Even if it’s a rare case where there will be too much science to absorb, there is a point there that whatever which scientific results we are producing we have to make sure that we have a process that can absorb it. There has to be an impact at the end. We do recognize that there are scientific gaps and that there is not too much science but we have to make sure that there are corresponding policy processes and that the actors in those processes can absorb and act on it.
  • Question by Paul Ngaruiya: How do we ensure that undue influences by activists do not lead to policy decisions based on emotions rather than based on scientific evidence. This may lead to withdrawal of potentially good pesticides, which may be useful to management of unique pests.
    Answer by Felix Wertli: when we have a science policy platform that is established with clear structure and transparent processes this will help to do so. When there is a good dialogue between policy and science, this can help to achieve the decisions. Also, it also important that science output is not getting misused to prevent further action when we don’t know enough. It is clear that for example, on long standing issues like lead we actually know a lot about it, it is not about having the basic science that we know it can be or it is harmful to the human health and the environment but it is more about appropriate actions to take.
  • Question by Yves Lador: What will be the fate of these reports as UNEA5 will not consider in February substantial discussions? How can the point made by the Special Rapporteur on conflicts of interest, so highly crucial, be considered? To Mr Wertli. If ICCM5 is not the body creating such an international panel on chemical science, which will be the body doing it and when?
    Answer by Felix Wertli: About the timing of the science policy platform and the process. ICCM can’t established an intergovernmental body however, the report was requested by UNEA so the reports of the science policy platform go back to UNEA. Additionally, the outcomes of ICCM5 could be considered not only by UNEA but also by other intergovernmental bodies for example, WHO. Those bodies have the possibility to launch a process to negotiate and launch such a body. That will be the next step.
  • Question: Technology transfer and the developing countries options and needs that they have are different from perhaps the countries in Europe, North America and in parts of Asia, can you give us some feedbacks on technology transfer and institutional strengthening?
    Answer by Monika MacDevette: We do have a programme called a special programme on institutional strengthening and that’s where you find that there is an opportunity for developing countries to access funding and to develop sound plans for management of chemicals and waste with the help of the knowledge above the SAICM Secretariat, UNEP and also from BRS and Minamata Conventions. You can find more information on the special program website.

Conclusion

It is important to keep the momentum and the visibility of the importance on how we move forward on the sound management of chemicals and waste. There is a need to provide the information that we are engaged and that we move forward.

Video

The event was live on Facebook.

Documents

Links