On the Road To UNEA 5.2 | Establishing a Science-Policy Panel (SPP) for Chemicals, Waste and Pollution
14 Dec 2021
Venue: Online | Webex
Organization: Albania, Mali, North-Macedonia, Switzerland, Uruguay, UNEP Chemicals and Health Branch, Geneva Environment Network
This session, organized within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network, is part of a series of webinars, co-convened by Albania, Mali, North-Macedonia, Switzerland and Uruguay with the support of UNEP, to inform stakeholders of the key findings from the UNEP Assessment Report and draft resolution, in preparation for discussions expected to take place at the second segment of the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2).
About this Session
The fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), in its resolution 4/8 adopted in 2019, recognized that science is needed to set priorities, for policymaking and to monitor progress: science-based decision-making should be promoted at all levels, and that the science-policy interface (SPI) needs to be strengthened. UNEA-4 further requested the Executive Director of UNEP to prepare an assessment of options for strengthening the science-policy interface at the international level. The assessment report reviews a variety of existing SPI platforms and examines potential impacts of and outputs from a strengthened SPI for chemicals and waste.
A series of webinars is co-convened by Albania, Mali, North-Macedonia, Switzerland and Uruguay with the support of UNEP to inform stakeholders of the key findings from the UNEP Assessment Report, in preparation for discussions expected to take place at the second segment of UNEA-5.2, to be held from 28 February to 2 March 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya. These multi-stakeholder events aim also at briefing participants on the proposal for a draft resolution for UNEA-5.2 on the establishment of a science policy panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution. The events seek to provide attendants with a platform to exchange and reflect on the need to strengthen the SPI for chemicals, waste and pollution. The Geneva webinar is organized within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network.
- 1 December 2021, 10:00-11:30 CET | Africa Region | Join on Kudo | English/French interpretation
- 2 December 2021, 9:00-10:30 CET | Asia Region | Join on Webex | English
- 2 December 2021, 16:00-17:30 CET | Latin America and Caribbean Region | Join on Kudo | English/Spanish interpretation
- 6 December 2021, 14:00-15:30 CET | Central and Eastern European | Join on Kudo | English/Russian interpretation
- 14 December 2021, 14:00-15:30 CET | Western European and Other States Group, jointly organized with the Geneva Environment Network (GEN) | Join on Webex | English
- 15 December 2021, 11:00-12:30 CET | Permanent Missions in Nairobi | Join on Webex | English
By order of intervention.
Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva
Sir Robert WATSON
Co-author of Assessment Report, former Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) & former Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Head, Chemicals and Health Branch, UN Environment Programme
Deputy Executive Secretary, Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions & former Deputy Secretary, IPCC
Executive Director, Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP)
UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights
Waste and Chemicals Focal Point, Global Affairs Section, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland
Joint Head of International Chemicals, Pesticides and Hazardous Waste Hub - Environmental Quality, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom
Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom
John ROBERTS (Moderator)
Former Co-Chair and Chair of Working Groups, Contact Groups, and Expert Groups related to the Development of the Minamata Convention, and the Implementation of the Stockholm Convention
Valentina SIERRA, Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva
In 2019, UN Environment Assembly recognized that science was needed to set priorities for policy-making and to monitor progress. It also stressed the urgent need to strengthen the SPI at all levels, to support and promote science-based local, national, regional and global action on the sound management of chemicals and waste
The urgency to support the establishment of a science-policy panel has been gaining recognition and momentum: to support scientifically robust decision-making processes on chemicals and waste, and allow informed, coherent decision making and actions at all levels; to help shape effective and efficient policies and to ensure scientific evidence is accessible to all relevant stakeholders.
The objective of the co-conveners of this event – the Governments of Albania, Mali, North-Macedonia, Switzerland and Uruguay – is to offer a platform to further reflect on this key issue, ahead of the discussions at UNEA-5.2, to be held in a few months, from 28 February to 2 March 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya.
A group of countries, namely Costa Rica, Uruguay, the UK and Switzerland, are proposing a draft resolution on the establishment of a science-policy panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution at UNEA-5.2.
Introduction of the UNEP Assessment Report & Key features
Monika MACDEVETTE, Head, Chemicals and Health Branch, UN Environment Programme
In 2019, UNEA resolution 4/8 stressed the urgent need to strengthen the SPI for the sound management of chemicals and waste and requested UNEP to prepare a report assessing the options for this endeavor. The report builds upon the Global Chemicals Outlook II (GCO-II), with stated that the global goal to minimize the adverse impacts of chemicals would not be achieved by 2020. It also highlighted that solutions exist, but more ambitious worldwide action by all stakeholders is urgently required.
The UNEP assessment report reviews a variety of existing SPI platforms, presents guiding questions which need to be addressed, examines impacts and outputs from a strengthened SPI, discusses institutional design, and outlines three options for strenghthening the SPI. The report identified some key positive impacts that could arise from a strengthened SPI, including:
- facilitating policy design and decision-making by MEAs, UN Governening Bodies and/or the ICCM;
- supporting awareness raising, capacity building, access and development of policy tools, implementation of actions relation to the sound management of chemicals and waste;
- supporting a wide range of stakeholders, including national governements, MEAs, financial institutions, private sector and civil society;
- widely communicating findings to the public via social media and mass media coverage.
A strengthened SPI would allow science to provide the evidence needed for policy formulation and implementation, and policy needs to spur gathering of relevant scientific date and new research endeavours. Concrete outputs include horizon scanning, scientific assessments, inputs for negotiations of policy instruments, critical information on potential impacts of regulatory action and policies. These should be policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive.
The report highlights the need for involving a large array of stakeholders. It aims to facilitate and inform discussions and bring agendas together, where its success can be measured by its impact and how it allows science to provide evidence needed for policy information and implementation.
Sir Robert WATSON, Co-author of Assessment Report, former Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) & former Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
To deliver authoritative outputs that are policy relevant but not policy prescriptive, the SPI platform must have rules of procedure that ensure its credibility, legitimacy, relevance, and transparency of the platform. These procedures detail a numer of crucial questions such as what is the role of its various bodies, how to definie the scope and conduct assessments, how to conduct peer-review, how to select authors, how to avoid conflicts of interest, what are the rules for accepting money, etc. Strong procedures are essential to guarantee the platform’s legitimacy.
The processes should also be iterative, with an external and internal review of the platform taking place every few years. By reflecting on its procedures, the institution can remain flexible and continously improve its effectiveness. Inclusiveness is also absolutely crucial; this means ensure diversity regarding the participating stakeholders (governments, private sector, NGOs, IOs such as WHO and UNEP, MEAs, and other international assessment processes) and the disciplines included (natural science, social science, humanities, economics, technology, and indigenous and local knowledge).
IPCC and IPBES were both established in response to the need of an independent credible, transparent and open process that provides authoritative state-of-the-art knowledge for evidence-based decision-making. And I would argue that it is the same for chemicals, waste, and pollution.
Such bodies need to be intergovernmental, reflective and responsive to international organizations, while remaining independant of these political bodies – such as conventions and UN agencies. The processes need to be demand driven. The scope of assessments is co-designed by governments, the scientific community and other actors to ensure it responds to the needs. Assessments must be comprehensive: providing an overview of the state of chemicals and pollution, of the environmental, social and economic impacts, and of the response options.
The assessments should be prepared by the world’s best experts in their individual capacity. Once chosen, they would not act as representative of the government, private sector, or scientific organization that nominated them. The panel needs to be geographically-, gender-, and intellectually-balanced. Peer-reviewed by both experts and governments is essential. Finally, short policy-relevant summaries must be made available, and these need to be approved word by word in plenary.
Chemical, waste and pollution is strongly connected to many of the SDGs. An assessment could explore the effects today and in the future of chemicals and waste on human health, water, cities, and every other SDGs. Any assessment on these issues should be well coordinated with IPBES and IPCC, as the linkages between these topics are manifold. We need to strengthen the SPI for chemical, waste and pollution. I know for a fact that scientists around the world would be very eager to work with government and the private sector to ensure we have really good evidence for informed decision-making.
Discussant | Lessons Learned from Relevant Science Policy Panels
Carlos MARTIN-NOVELLA, Deputy Executive Secretary, Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions & former Deputy Secretary, IPCC
Solid science is the foundation for any policy setting and identifying solutions to the environmental challenges that we face. Under the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS), there are already a number of established science-policy platform which guide the implementation of the conventions and/or contribute to the evaluation of the effectiveness of a convention:
- Stockholm Convention | Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC)
- Rotterdam Convention | Chemical Review Committee (CRC)
- Basel Convention | Open-ended Working Group (OEWG)
- Several intersessional working groups established by the Conference of Parties (COP) to conduct specific mandates
While these SPI are extremely important and their contribution is immensely valuable, there are also insufficient. First, these groups are working under the mandates they hold, which are inevitably limited by the mandate of the conventions. For instance, the POPRC can only focus on persistent organic pollutants (POPs): any other chemicals, no matter how hazardous for humans and ecosystems, falls outside of its mandate.
Secondly, hazardous chemicals are brought to the table in these interface upon the proposal of a Member State. In most cases, the Member State have directly experienced for several years or decades the negative impacts of the chemical they propose. Once proposed, it will take maybe another 10 years for the chemical to be reviewed and listed under the convention. Thus, when the COP takes a decision on a chemical, it’s often too late.
We need more science and much broader science. We need to go beyond the scope of the conventions and establish instruments, which build on the knowledge we have from establishment of IPCC and IBPES and are complementary to the work of the scientific bodies already operating under the conventions.
Discussant | The Health Community
Rachael KUPKA, Acting Executive Director, GAHP
The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) is an international network working to strengthen the global response to the pollution and health issue. Through its work and that of its partners, it has become increasingly clear that pollution is a major under-recognized global issue. Pollution is well-known to adversely impact human health, biodiversity, climate and ecosystem health. Because of that, pollution is now one of the three strategic pillars of UNEP’s mid-term strategy. Yet, pollution is lagging in international attention and resources.
According to the Lancet Commission on pollution and health, pollution is the largest environmental cause of premature deaths on the planet, responsible for about 9 million deaths each year. Air pollution is responsible for about 4 to 5 million deaths, and another 2 million is attributable to chemical exposure. Trends over time indicate that pollution is getting worse. In particular, pollution arising from industrialization, urbanization, ambient air pollution, chemicals and waste is on the rise, while water, sanitation and household air pollution is decreasing. The latter is due to huge investments in response action to address the problem.
The current burden of diseases from chemicals only includes lead and occupational hazard. All other chemicals – mercury, arsenic, endocrine-disruptors, PFAS, etc. – are not included. Clearly, the current chemical burden of diseases is in undercount. An intergovernmental panel for chemicals, waste and pollution can help bring resources to sort these questions out.
Chemicals, waste and pollution also disproportionally affect low- and middle-income countries, those same countries that are the least equipped to prevent and mitigate pollution and its impacts. These countries are also often not the ones setting the agenda on the international scene. A SPI could also help address this issue.
Pollution receives only a fraction of the investment that goes toward major health issues. This needs to change if we are to tackle pollution at scale. This type of investment was absolutely crucial in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. IPCC and IPBES have played an essential role in turning the attention of oversea development aids (ODA) and philanthropic organizations toward these issues.
If we want the world to take pollution as seriously as it does climate change and biodiversity conservation, we truly need an equally important body such as this panel. This would focus public awareness, political will and significant media attention to set targets and translate scientific data into policy.
The Right to Science
Marcos ORELLANA, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights
In September, the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights presented a report to the 48th Human Rights Council focused on the right to science. The report highlights the lack of alignment that exists between regulatory measures and scientific evidence. This lack of alignment is the result of disinformation campaigns and attacks against scientists, amongst other. In that conext, SPI platforms are indispensable to overcome this lack of alignment and overcome the increasing toxification of the planet.
The report also provides recommendations, including international cooperation and the creation of an SPI plateform to transform knowledge into policy. Several arguments are being raised against the establishment of an SPI for chemical, waste and pollution; however, these can be debunked.
Firstly, some claim that the lack of political will is the prolem, rather than the lack of science. Even when SPI exist, decision-makers are not necessarily acting based on the scientific advice. And indeed, the IPCC has not stopped the climate emergency. However, policy can be fostered through the mobilization of an informed population. The right to science plays a key role in that context, and a scientific panel can help build awareness and foster education. When governments have been slow, civil society has used the authoritative scientific assessments as a base for take action in court.
Secondly, it has been argued that the IPCC is not a public relations company and should not be expected to focus on dissemination. However, looking back only a few months, the release of AR6 gathered a huge media coverage. The IPCC reports and summaries are indeed having impacts on the availability of information to people around the world.
Thirdly, some claim that a global SPI would divert resources from implementation, when money should actually be spend on projects to reduce the impacts of pollution. However, the current allocation of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) dedicated 392 million to the Stockholm Convention. This is clearly inadequate on account on the needs that have been estimated at 4.4 billion. In the end, the couple millions that would be necessary to set up this platform would clearly pay off, as the cost of inaction is way bigger.
Fourth and lastly, it has been argued that a new platform has the risk of corporate capture and conflicts of interest. While there is much merit to this argument, this is a matter design. Wisely designed procedures can prevent conflicts of interest and preserve the integrity of the platform.
A global science-policy platform would deliver important benefits for the realization of the right to science, which would enable the international community to have a new tool to fight the toxification of the planet.
Introduction of the proposal for a draft UNEA-5.2 Resolution to establish a Science–Policy Panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution – by one of the co-proponent
Michel TSCHIRREN, Waste and Chemicals Focal Point, Global Affairs Section, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland
The proposal of a decision on establishing an science-policy panel (SPP) at UNEA-5.2 arose from the context of the Global Chemical Outlook, which pointed out the many gaps in knowledge about the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment. Additionally, information about hazardous substances is not always accessible, and when it is, action is nevertheless insufficient. Therefore, there needs to be more science and more science-based action in order to achieve the SDGs.
In 2019, a UNEA-4 resolution – which was adopted thanks to the strong leadership of the African group – underlined the key role of science and science-based decision-making. Most of the work that has been conducted since then is referencing this key decision. Chemical and pollution is also now recognized in UNEP’s new mid-term strategy as a key pillar for action. For the two other pillars – climate and biodiversity -, a robust scientific reference exists – respectively IPCC and IPBES. Clearly, this is missing for the chemical and pollution cluster.
The draft resolution proposed at UNEA-5.2 aims to fill the gap by establishing a intergovernmental and autonomous science-policy panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution. The functions of this panel should include horizon scanning, carrying out assessments of issues, providing up-to-date and relevant information, catalyzing research, disseminating information, and raising awareness. The assessment would address issues brought up to the panel, typically horizontal issues that are cross-cutting to many areas.
The resolution states that a SPP could provide authoritative, independant, credible, and policy-relevant advice, by reviewing policy options and their implications. Decision-making would still remain in the hands of decision-makers. A SPP could support various stakeholders, including international agencies and instruments, countries and the private sector. The resolution proposed to establish an open-ended working group (OEWG) which would clarify the specifics after UNEA. The resolution also invites the WHO to play an important role regarding the organization and content of these meetings.
A few important elements need to be taken into account, and are outlined as such in the resolution. The SPP must be policy relevant without being policy prescriptive. It must be interdisciplinary, with geographical, regional and gender balance. It must be authoritative, credible, legitimate, and transparent. It must complement – and not duplicate – the work of other agencies or scientific bodies. Conflicts of interest must be addressed and confidential information well managed. It needs to be demand-driven, flexible and cost-effective. In the process of establishing an SPP, we can draw on the vast experience gained from IPCC and IPBES.
The OEWG would take up open points remaining after UNEA, for example related to institutional design, process for determining the work programme, how to identify experts, how to agree on reports and administrative issues.
The group of co-sponsors – currently Costa Rica, Ghana, Mali, Norway, Switzerland, the UK and Uruguay – is absolutely convinced that today we need to establish an intergovernmental SPP for chemicals, waste and pollution. This will help fill the current gap in terms of knowledge needed to take the necessary measures to achieve international goals.
The new panel should help identify issues at an early stage, allowing to consider alternatives ahead of time and promote sustainable solutions. It would work with the IPCC; IPBES and other existing SPI and scientific committees. Indeed, we need to work more on the linkages between cluster and foster a more comprehensive knowledge base.
The draft is currently open for comments, questions and co-sponsorship. Negotiations will be launched at the OECPR on 22 February.
Question and Answer Session
Q: Is there a risk that creating a new panel would be a cause for delay rather than action?
Robert WATSON: There is no doubt that existing panels stimulate rather than delay action. Bringing these panel together actually raises a political profile and I would not be worried about slowing down policy processes under the MEAs and other institutions. An SPP would focus the attention that we need to act.
Carlos MARTIN-NOVELLA: How can we delay something that is not currently moving? For example, if the POPCR’s analysis of a chemical concludes that its long-distance transportation is not long enough to be qualified as a POP, this chemical goes into the limbo, even if it was proved to be harmful and persistent. A panel could identify these problems in advance and suggest a course of action that is outside of the scope of the Stockholm Convention.
Rachael KUPKA: The panel will help spur action and convince donors to open their wallets. And it will definitely not prevent any initiatives, such as those carried out by the GAHP, to keep working on these issues.
Marcos ORELLANA: The issue of delay is a very real risk at the national level – the so-called “paralysis by analysis”. UNEP has documented from than 350’000 chemicals in the market: proceeded to chemical-by-chemical analysis would take forever. Even when a scientific assessment would identify areas of uncertainty, it would enable precisely the change of paradigm that is needed to move to a precautionary approach to hazards. Assessments could also include classes of chemicals, thus overcoming the chemical-by-chemical approach.
Q: How can we avoid the risk of duplicating efforts?
Carlos MARTIN-NOVELLA: The risk would only exist if the panel is badly designed. But the delimitation of responsibilities and rules of collaboration between panels could easily be designed to establish complementarity.
Rachael KUPKA: Based on the information we have from the health perspective, there will be no duplication of efforts with any of the existing panels.
Robert WATSON: taking the example of biodiversity, the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) works very closely with IPBES when preparing the Global Biodiversity Outlook to make sure these efforts are complimentary. Very simple processes can bring together big scientific assessments.
Q: How can we create opportunities for the involvement of scientists from low- and middle-income countries? And how do we ensure that local and indigenous knowledge is captured and used in scientific assessment?
Robert WATSON: Processes in IPBES ensure that there is really good scientific expertise coming from all of the five regions, in all the bodies of the panel and both in the preparation of the assessment and in the peer-review. This is absolutely crucial to ensure we get knowledge from all regions, and to give scientific legitimacy to the process. Regarding indigenous knowledge, IPBES also has a whole range of processes to make sure knowledge is taken into accounts at three levels: knowledge holders themselves (indigenous peoples), experts (non-indigenous people who are working with indigenous knowledge), and indigenous people who hold a ‘western’ education. Bringing indigenous knowledge and having their consent for using their knowledge is absolutely critical to the success of these scientific assessments.
Q: Is the situation for chemicals and waste different compared with the other cluster? The multilateral landscape in the chemical and waste cluster is more factured, with several MEAs and processes. Does this make have a panel more difficult or more essential?
Robert WATSON: More essential! For biodiversity, there are five related conventions (CBD, CITES, CMS, Ramsar, and CCD). In some respect, this is rather similar with regards to the need to reach out and make sure that any new process is fully inclusive of all others. There is, however, one big difference with the climate and biodiversity issue: a lot of the information on chemicals and waste is held by the private sector. Thus, the principles of procedure must really clarify how to deal with knowledge that is held by the private sector. The only way to get that knowledge in an assessment is if it is open and transparent.
Michel TSCHIRREN: The effort to better connect the various conventions and processes within one cluster is something we need to do anyway. Similarly, we need to better consider the links between the different cluster. Such a panel would help in that endeavor. If something needs to be sorted out in terms of governance, the OEWG could work on this.
Marcos ORELLANA: The question of who holds the information will be key for the design of the platform. It raises several issues, such as what duties of disclosure does industry have regarding the risks associated with its products. Obligations at the national level in this regard are often insufficient or ignored. Additionally, settlements often deprive society from information regarding risks posed by chemicals or waste. Corporate-funded studies are also often tools for disinformation, in order to influence regulatory processes. Thus, the design around conflicts of interests is crucial. More could also be done in terms of duties of disclosure, and other tools that go beyond the design of a SPP.
Ellie BATES, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is very pleased to be a co-sponsor of the draft resolution which was presented earlier. Speaking honestly, when we began thinking about this issues in the UK a few years back, we were not convinced that a new science-policy platform for chemicals and waste was needed. However, as we reflected upon with our colleagues from the Royal Society of Chemistry, we became convinced that the current patchwork is not sufficient. We recognize the importance and effectiveness of the IPCC and IPBES, but at the moment nothing of that sort exist for chemical, waste and pollution.
We need an authoritative and multisectoral body which can bring together governments, civil society and experts to provide considered, credible, and scientific basis for international bodies – like UNEA, SAICM, or the MEAs – to tackle pollution effectively and to promote the sound management of chemicals and waste.
We will need to design a structure that serves specific needs, but fortunately we have good examples to start from. We look forward to the first steps toward creating a new panel at the UNEA-5.2, and we welcome your comments, questions, and support to the draft resolution.
In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video is available on this webpage.
- Presentations made during the event
- An Assessment of Options for Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface at the International Level for the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste | UNEP & co-authors | 2020
- Draft resolution to establish a Science–Policy Panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution | Costa Rica, Ghana, Mali, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Uruguay | 10 December 2021
- Global Webinar Series Invitation
- Invitation 14 December 2021
- Draft resolution on Establishing a Science-Policy Panel on chemicals, waste and pollution | Proposed by Costa Rica, Ghana, Mali, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Uruguay | 11 December 2021
- The right to science in the context of toxic substances | UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights presented at the 48th Human Rights Council | September 2021
- HRC48 Side Event | The right to science in the context of toxic substances | 22 September 2021
- Developing a Global Science-Policy Body on Chemicals and Waste | GEN Update
- Chemicals and Waste | From Science to Policy, Global Issues of Concern, Challenges and Opportunities | GENeva UNEA Briefing | 20 October 2020
- UNEA resolution 4/8 on Sound management of chemicals and waste | 15 March 2019