This online event is part of the "Road to OEWG 2 Series", co-organized by the Secretariat of the OEWG to prepare proposals for the Science-Policy Panel to Contribute Further to the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste and to Prevent Pollution webinar and the Geneva Environment Network. The webinar aims to take a deep dive into procedures employed under existing science-policy interfaces to address potential conflicts of interest. By inviting reflections on lessons learned from those with first-hand experience with existing procedures, this event will inform and prepare Member States and other stakeholders for the discussion on this substantive matter at the second session of the ad hoc open-ended working group in December 2023.  

About this Event

This webinar aims to take a deep dive into procedures employed under existing science-policy interfaces to address potential conflicts of interest. By inviting reflections on lessons learned from those with first-hand experience with existing procedures, this event will inform and prepare Member States and other stakeholders for the discussion on this substantive matter at the second session of the ad hoc open-ended working group in December 2023.

Road to OEWG 2 Series

In preparation for the second session, the Road to OEWG 2 | Science-Policy Panel to Contribute Further to the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste and to Prevent Pollution webinar and event series, co-organized by the OEWG Secretariat and Geneva Environment Network aims to build bridges between and among stakeholders, and promote collaboration and knowledge sharing in preparation for OEWG 2 in December 2023.

Previous webinars and events in the series have focused on the process for establishing a science-policy panel, its scope and possible structure (24 January 2023); lessons learned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), International Resource Panel (IRP), Montreal Protocol, and World Health Organization (WHO) (5 October 2022); the scope of the panel (25 July 2022), operating principles of existing science-policy interfaces mentioned above, (26 April 2023); building bridges between and among stakeholders and raising awareness about the OEWG process (2 May 2023 as a side event to the 2023 BRS COPs); and how members of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) can contribute their scientific expertise throughout the process (1 May 2023, during the European Special Session of SETAC Annual Meeting).


By order of intervention.


Chair, OEWG on a Science-Policy Panel on Chemicals, Waste and Prevention of Pollution | Deputy Permanent Representative to UN Environment Programme, Netherlands

Richard MIESEN

Project Management Officer, Secretariat of the OEWG on a Science-Policy Panel on Chemicals, Waste and Prevention of Pollution, UNEP


Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Seventh Assessment Cycle


Co-chair, Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) of the Montreal Protocol & Co-chair, TEAP’s Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC) | Colombia


Technical Officer (Legal), Public Health Law and Policies Unit, Department of Health Promotion, World Health Organization


UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights


Principal Officer, Secretariat of the OEWG on a Science-Policy Panel on Chemicals, Waste and Prevention of Pollution, UNEP | Moderator


Tessa GOVERSE | Principal Officer, Secretariat of the Science-Policy Panel on Chemicals, Waste and Prevention of Pollution, UNEP | Moderator

Gudi ALKEMADE | Chair, OEWG | Deputy Permanent Representative to UN Environment Programme, Netherlands

  • At its second session, the OEWG will engage in substantive discussions to make proposals for the establishment of a science-policy panel. In particular on the issues outlined in paragraphs 5 and 6 of UNEA resolution 5/8 where conflict of interests policies will be one of the issues that will be discussed.
  • In the realm of science policy interfaces maintain the Integrity of information and decisions in paramount.
  • Understanding and implementing effective conflict of interest policies is instrumental in ensuring the legitimacy, credibility and inclusivity of the process.
  • Hopefully, this webinar will help to provide member states and stakeholders participating in this process with practical insight and strategies for how potential conflicts of interest may be identified, assessed, and mitigated in science-policy interfaces to foster a culture of trust, credibility, and inclusivity .
  • While being guided by the extensive experience in different science-policy interfaces, active participation and engagement through the Q&A and chat functions as your questions and perspectives will be vital in comprehensively addressing the topic of potential conflicts of interest in the context of our work ahead.

Richard MIESEN | Project Management Officer, Science-Policy Panel on Chemicals, Waste and Prevention of Pollution Secretariat

  • UNEA Resolution 5/8 decided that a science-policy panel should be established to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and prevent pollution.
    • It further decided that the ad hoc open-ended working group shouldtake into account the need to ensure that the panel:
      • (f) Has the ability to address potential conflicts of interest and safeguard commercially sensitive information;
    • A working document on work-related processes and procedures has been prepared, with a section dedicated to conflict of interest.
  • At the resumed session of OEWG 1 which was held in Bangkok, Thailand, Member States had an opportunity to discuss some of the key aspects of the future SPP and key issues to be considered at the second and third sessions of the OEWG.
  • At the meeting, an understanding was reached that several issues would be taken up as appropriate in the documents to be developed for the second session of the ad hoc open-ended working group, including the conflict of interests.
  • In preparation for the second meeting, the Secretariat  has conducted a desk review of some of the existing science-policy interfaces and their conflict of interest policies and procedures. These include: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES); the Global Environment Outlook (GEO); Montreal Protocol Assessment Panels; and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • It has prepared a working document that discusses conflict of interests, and which will be supported by an information document with additional information on the existing conflict of interest policies.What is a conflict of interest and what does it do? 
  • The ability to address potential conflicts of interest is a key component of legitimacy, independence and credibility of science policy interfaces.
  • The purpose of conflict of interest policies is to protect the integrity, credibility transparency, trust and independence of their associated interface. These policies define what constitutes a conflict of interest and to whom the policy would apply to.
  • Conflict of interest policies define who it would apply to. This would typically include senior leadership, members of subsidiary bodies and those who are involved in the production of deliverables in addition to the secretary staff.
  • The wide application of the policy is also important given that, according to resolution 5/8, the OEWG should ensure the panel is interdisciplinary and includes contributions from experts from a broad range of disciplinary expertise.
  • Some of the existing conflict of interest policies establish a dedicated group to address potential conflicts of interest and implement the policy itself.
  •  Conflict of interest policies establish a procedure for when actual or perceived conflicts of interest arise. This process typically includes the submission of a conflict of interest disclosure form generally made available online to the dedicated group,  sometimes called the conflict of interests committee.
  • Identifying a conflict of interest does not necessarily mean that a conflict of interest exists. Where conflicts are identified the relevant body will try to resolve the conflict in consultation with the individual in question.
  • If a conflict of interest cannot be resolved the subject of that conflict may not be eligible for appointment to a certain position or may need to be recused from a defined area of work.
  • Types of conflicts covered by these policies could include financial, professional (e.g. employment and consulting arrangements); intellectual property; sources of research support; or past or future potential conflicts but there is variation as to how this is defined amongst the various policies.
  • A review of the existing policies from some of the existing science-policy interfaces has illuminated several similarities between these policies and those of the existing science-policy interfaces.
    • For example, the protection of legitimacy and integrity are themes that emerge out of most of the existing conflict of interest policies, all existing policies use similar language to express the importance of trust transparency confidence or credibility of the interface similar language for the scope.
    • Policies also refer to a similar group of stakeholders to whom these apply to: those in leadership positions this could include chairs, co-chairs, Bureau members or task force members. It could include members of subsidiary bodies such as working groups or co-chairs, of multidisciplinary expert panels members of multi-disciplinary expert panels, and it also applies to those who are involved in the production of deliverables. It also applies to the staff members of the interface itself.
  • The exact language for the definition used by existing bodies is also very similar. According to IBPES a “conflict of interest” refers to any current interest of an individual that could:
    (a) Significantly impair the individual’s objectivity in carrying out his or her duties and responsibilities for the Platform;
    (b) Create an unfair advantage for any person or organization.
  • The existing interfaces establish an advisory body to oversee the implementation of the policy. The name differs from entity to entity, some will call this a conflict of interest committee others a conflict resolution advisory body. Another option is to delegate the authority to the Secretariat, as done by GEO.
  • While noting the similarities these existing policies show, differences include:
    • For example, the technology and economic assessment panel of the Montreal Protocol posts declarations of potential conflicts of interest online, while the other interfaces do not make the declaration forms available to the public.
    • In addition some examples include the language which refers to the significant financial interest of close family members and not only of the individual in question.

Jim SKEA | Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Seventh Assessment Cycle

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put a conflict of interest policy in place around 2010, following the so-called ‘Himalaya Gate’ and email issues around IPCC.
  • These issues were referred to the inter-academy council to conduct a review of IPCC processes and offered recommendations about innovations, including the establishment of a formal conflict of interest policy and of processes for dealing with alleged errors in IPCC reports.
  • While witnessing its development as IPCC Working Group-3 vice-chair appointed as rapporteur for the task group that developed IPCC conflict of interest policy, then as an enforcer of the policy during AR-5 and responsible for running it in Assessment Report-6 (AR-6) in WG-3, I can provide an overview on its development. It is also notable that IPCC WG-3 is the body most similar to the negotiated SPP-CWP.
  • In developing the policy, a frequently debated topic was the rigor of the policy.  IPCC’s parent organizations WMO and UNEP  both operate under the UN system, and there was an inclination on their part to base everything on the UN ethics policy to which all employees are subject.
  • There was a great nervousness within the task group that the rigor of these ethics policies which were intended for employees and for a different purpose could put off people participating in IPCC if it was perceived to be too rigorous. There was a debate about the rigor of the policies and the degree to which it would continue to engage volunteers to support IPCC activity.
  • We are very careful to distinguish between bias and conflict of interest – simply having an opinion is not enough – and to carefully distinguish between potential conflicts of interest and the process by which they are examined to see whether they turn out to be actual conflicts of interest.

IPCC Conflict of Interest Policy 

  • The policy is applied more rigorously the more senior the person is within the organization.
  • For an author doing one particular part of a chapter in IPCC, the standards would be applied less rigorously because there are other ways of dealing with that within an author team. Whereas, for the working group co-chairs, vice-chairs and chairs of IPCC, the process has to be implied more rigorously.
  • In terms of the kind of issues that have come up in the IPCC conflict of interest policy,  three areas where there have been sensitivities are worth flagging up:
  1. If IPCC authors or bureau members also have a role within other UN bodies or government initiatives – like being part of a delegation to the UN framework convention on climate change. We aim to avoid that because if people are involved with other UN organizations, whose activities are adjacent to climate change, their participation in IPCC is often forbidden on their end as perceived to be a conflict of interests. The question of other international bodies’ membership of government delegations is an issue that has come up a lot with our academics.
  2. Coding editorial roles in key journals might be judged to be gateways to the scientific literature, that is something that has varied quite a lot. People say working group co-chairs have recused themselves from such roles because they perceived there would be a conflict of interest in terms of acting as a gateway for scientific research into the accessible literature. That depends on where the science is there are some areas of science and some journals that are key to the literature because of the high esteem in which they are held. There are other areas in which there are many journals out there where having an editorial role might not be sufficient to influence the state of the literature.
  3. Commercial relationships and employment and whether people have other kinds of financial interests that might be of relevance. While being very efficient in identifying them, IPCC policy is largely silent on what to do when a conflict of interest is identified.  According to the text,

[…] in exceptional circumstance, a conflict of interest on the part of an author which cannot be resolved but may be tolerated where the individual is deemed to provide a unique contribution to an IPCC product.

  • One of the things that you know when things have been referred up to our conflict of interest committee we have to say it has taken in general a fairly liberal view of what to do to manage a conflict of interest, being very reluctant to exclude people completely from the process and it is much more being resolved by asking people to be transparent about what their interest is and declare it to fellow members of the author group.
  • There is only one case of somebody being actively removed from an IPCC role because of a conflict of interest.  and all about it. The IPCC assessment of the individual concern was quite open about it and when it was discussed with the person they stepped away from the actual process.
  • We do have authors from the business sector, from oil and gas companies, we have had authors from insurance companies, and infrastructure and architecture. These positions have been tolerated because on the ground it is perfectly transparent about where the people are coming from they have not played a critical role in the chapters. The interpretation of the policy is at least as important as what is written down on a piece of paper.
  • IPCC needs to review its principles and procedures in the coming cycle and it will be up to governments to decide whether or not the conflict of interest policy needs any revision or not. In my opinion, it is working at the moment and not causing any difficulty, and this is supported by a lack of suggestion that the work is being compromised by the framing and functioning of the conflict of interest policy.

Marta PIZANO | Co-chair, Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) of the Montreal Protocol & Co-chair, TEAP’s Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC) | Colombia

  • As Co-chair of the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) of the Montreal Protocol since 2010 and of  TEAP’s Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC) since 2005, we have encountered many issues related to conflict of interests.
  • There are many commonalities between the IPCC’s and our development process and content of the policy on conflict of interests.
  • We went through a very detailed process of reviewing our terms of reference around ten years ago.  We set up a task force and engaged a lawyer and went through a test-like exercise, assessing every possible conflict of interest situation that could arise. What prompted was that there were problems even with the TEAP co-chairs and the membership, which allowed us to move things forward.
  • The TEAP  worked on declaration of interest forms that are shared with all members and co-chairs.
  • With about 150 members in all TEAP’s technical options committees,  TEAP it is composed of the co-chairs of those committees plus some senior experts who bring into the TEAP expertise.
  • The first step when one joins one of these groups – or subsidiary groups that are formed temporarily to address specific issues – is being briefed on the role covered. People join as experts and never as country representatives.
  • We strive to keep politics out, despite being hard for parties themselves to understand because of nominations to these committees.  In the case of TEAP, only parties will appoint, while in the case of committees, the co-chairs can also appoint. TEAP co-chairs can appoint or suggest a member but in any of these cases,  parties must be consulted, informed, and made aware of members joining in whatever capacity. In order to join and participate in any meeting, filling a declaration of interest is mandatory.
  • These Declaration of Interests (DOI) are available online publicly. These forms include information on people’s work, employers, what shares one holds in a big company, or if one works for research institutions. Declaring this does not mean you are conflicted, it just provides background information.
  • It is important to not only talk about the conflict but also the appearance of conflict. One can have personal opinions without necessarily being conflicted. Just because someone declares this kind of information it does necessarily have to be perceived as a conflict of interest.
  • TEAP’s code of conduct demonstrates we are striving for transparency and credibility. In the past years, this served to resolve problems with people who wanted to impose an agenda or similar.
  • With a broad membership of scientists, industry members, and consultants,  and the Montreal Protocol working voluntarily,  it is possible for people to have a specific interest in being there.
  • We do have some guidelines as to what to do when a conflict arises, which divides the cases in different levels.
    • When a member who is a researcher has a conflict of interest that could impact the funds that they receive for this research program. The ideal would be for that member to recuse themselves, if that does not happen, the co-chairs have the power to recuse a member according to the TOR.
    • Sometimes we go as far as having members from a certain country recused because a specific scenario is being evaluated involving that country. That is not a requirement but it looks better as transparency and credibility are enhanced.
    • Members themselves can recuse even if the rest of the committee and the co-chairs do not feel it is necessary or they can be recused by the co-chairs if that were the case.
    • There is also provision for stronger conflict of interest that will go up to a committee or a group of wise persons (name used in the TOR). Three persons at the moment are selected to evaluate that case if it is brought up or scaled up to that position and the president of the parties of that particular year will participate in the decision.
  • We also are very strongly against having members who are part of delegations, we feel that is a conflict of interest. In the past, we had members like that, but presently we will not allow members who are also a part of a delegation.

Kate ROBERTSON | Technical Officer (Legal), Public Health Law and Policies Unit, Department of Health Promotion, World Health Organization

  • To consider conflict of interest from the perspective of WHO, it is a directing and coordinating authority for health within the UN system. As such. it has functions and responsibilities including shaping the health research agenda, setting global norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, and providing technical support to countries. All of which are based on the collection and analysis of data, and on reliance on the best available science. Addressing conflicts of interest is an important issue, not just for a specific science-policy panel of which there are a number within, but also for WHO’s works more broadly.
  • Looking specifically at the science-policy interface, including at the most recent World Health Assembly there was a recognition of the importance of the reliance on the best available science and risk-based assessments to inform the development and implementation of policies to address public health issues.
  • To ensure that these policies are well-supported, that they are going to be trusted, and that they are going to be implemented effectively and fairly, it really is important to avoid potentially biased information: any actual or perceived conflict of interest, as well as, to ensure the quality of the scientific and technical analysis, and advice that has been given by that panel of the body.
  • Because any conflict of interest has the potential to unduly influence policy, an actual or a perceived conflict could compromise the integrity, independence and credibility of a panel, it is important, in that context, that conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest (it is important also to differentiate between those terms) are appropriately disclosed, identified and either managed or avoided.
  • Just to speak briefly to the broader WHO approach to conflict of interest: it has a Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) which does not just include commercial or private sector actors: it is really anyone who is not a State.
  • FENSA guides the interactions and the engagements of the organization with non-state actors. In a broad sense, there are some quite strong principles in engagement under FENSA which are a helpful guide to the considerations that need to be had in putting together any engagement. One of the principles is to support and enhance without compromising the scientific and evidence-based approach that underpins work and not to compromise WHO’s integrity, independence, credibility and reputation.
  • With the FENSA approach, WHO looks not just at individuals but also so institutional potential for conflicts of interest. Importantly, it also looks at a risks and benefits kind of analysis, looking at what the benefits might be of a particular engagement.
  • There are many occasions in which public health can be assisted by input from non-state actors. There are also risks, and one of the risks identified is conflicts of interest. The general process proposed on FENSA for conflict of interest is for WHO to undertake a due diligence exercise. Not just to look at what is produced but also to inquire a little more broadly, particularly where we are looking at an institutional engagement. (By institutional engagements, we also speak about funding arrangements partnerships, co-hosting arrangements that sort of thing to undertake a risk assessment, and to have a coherent communication within the organization across all three levels about the risks.
  • An important part of management is to ensure that there is oversight, and transparency over the engagements that are undertaken the people who are engaging with and also that there is the opportunity for member State oversight of the various engagements that undertake important internal WHO policies that need to align with FENSA. Relevant in this context are the regulations that WHO has in place for expert advisory panels or committee guidelines on declarations of interest for WHO experts, staff rules and regulations, regulations for study and scientific groups, and financial rules and regulations.
  • FENSA acknowledges that there are several different types of engagements and that some engagements from a public health perspective will never actually be acceptable. For example, under FENSA, there is no engagement by WHO with the arms industry or the tobacco industry, or those representing its interests. This is because those industries in the sale of lethal products have a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interest with public health and therefore engagement for WHO is not possible. However, it also acknowledges that there are a range of different ways in which engagements might be relevant and also different stages, ways and contributions through which a conflict of interest once identified might be managed.

Marcos ORELLANA | UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

  • The right to science, for many years, has been a rather neglected right in the catalog of human rights instruments.
  • As we celebrate 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year, the right to science figures in that instrument, and then is later codified in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) and among other instruments at the international level.
  • The right to science in the context of chemicals and waste requires alignment between protections among regulatory measures and the best available is science. That is why science-policy interface platforms are important to enable dialogue and alignment. However, what we see is a wide distance between what we know and what we do about it. This distance has the result of exposure of countless individuals and groups which has a negative and adverse effect on the enjoyment of human rights. There are three elements that are worth highlighting that explain such distance.
    • Disinformation, so product defense firms — sometimes called conflict scientists, mercenary scientists, or scientists for hires – are firms whose business is to spread doubt and to spread confusion. The democratic systems are unable to act.
    • Attacks against scientists. There are documented situations where scientists who have come out with certain studies have been attacked in their funding sources in some countries, have documented how the boards that define or approve certain funding trajectories are composed of members of industry, and so they have blocked any studies that could impinge on their interest, for example, on pesticides. There have been a number of cases of attacks against scientists on university promotions for example. There are also cases where scientists have been harassed in court by criminal proceedings or civil proceedings.
    • Conflicts of interest. Within science-policy interface panels, there exist, especially at the national level, conflicts of interest that can undermine their legitimacy or their ability to deliver advice that can then be acted upon. These are actual or perceived conflicts, often due to some financial elements.
  • All of this goes to highlight the importance of the right to science in the design of the SPP, and especially conflicts of interest. There are issues of conflict management, conflict avoidance, transaction cost, and the need to build public trust; there is a range of issues that other panelists earlier today have discussed.
  • In reflecting on those practices, among the procedures that exist at the Human Rights Council, to ensure the independence and integrity of Special Procedure mandate holders like myself who are not conducting scientific assessment, but are similarly engaging facts, assessing them and then reporting on them. How do we ensure the impartial assessment of facts based on internationally recognized human rights standards? That is a big one for Special Procedure mandate holders, and that is where there are a number of procedures that have been put in place to address actual or perceived conflict of interest:
    • Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations
    • Regulations Governing the Status, Basic Rights and Duties of Officials other than Secretariat Officials, and Experts on Mission
      • These two among others make the point of disallowing gifts or remuneration, they make the point of disallowing having a management role or having an interest in a business, if the business is to benefit from the position.
    • Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, adopted by the Special Procedures themselves.
      • In a way, there is this process of self-regulation and the conflicts of interest have been an element in that process. In the annual meetings of Special Procedures for many years, it is well known that mandate holders are selected on the basis of their expertise, experience, independence, impartiality, integrity and objectivity. In order to maintain those, this manual of operations speaks to the incompatibility with positions in governments or any other positions giving rise to conflicts of interest. It is a very clear that Mandate Holders are not staff of the United Nations, we do not receive a salary from the United Nations.
    • That process of self-regulation of Special Procedures is further reinforced by Human Rights Council resolution that sets out a Code of Conduct for Special Procedure Mandate Holders.
      • Conflicts of interest procedures and modalities for the Special Rapporteur is to make sure that mandate holders can act in an independent capacity free from any kind of extraneous influence, incitement, pressure, threat, or interference. Those issues of independence and integrity are really at the heart of what these procedures are intending to achieve.
      • Another element is neither seek nor accept instructions from any government, individual governmental or non-governmental organization or pressure group whatsoever. Two or more refrain from using their office or knowledge gained from their function for private gain, financial or otherwise.
      • Finally, not accept any honor decoration favor gift remuneration from any government or non-government for the activities carried out in pursuit of the Mandate.
      • There is also a process by which the standards are given in the actual experience, so applications for example, any person can apply to become a Special Rapporteur, a special procedure mandate holder. There will be a process of selection, wherein the applications include written questions on the issue of conflicts of interests. All applications are posted online.
    • The Consultative Group is established to assist the president of the Human Rights Council in the selection process. The Consultative Group is composed by the ambassadors that are chairing each of the regional groups at the Human Rights Council. They conduct interviews, written follow-up and in addition, there is self-selection.
    • The Special Mandate holders have a Coordination Committee that can provide guidance and advice in situations where there may be questions, and situations that may emerge.
  • Conflicts of interest are not a mathematical formula. They involve considerations, and valuations weighing. They even involve judgment appreciation. It is a case-by-case basis.
  • Conflicts of interest are not a one-off. It is not when a person joins a platform or a position, but it is an ongoing process in that regard. Special Procedure mandate holders have tools and standards to address the issue without external intervention.


Q: What is the rationale behind IPCC tolerating relationships with large commercial entities while going down heavy on SMEs?

Jim Skea:

  • It is just a matter of practice. When issues have gone to the conflict of interest committee, some employment with a large multinational company has been noted as a potential conflict of interest but it has been deemed sufficient that the transparency of the declaration and when the person is diluted within an author team that might be 15 or 16 people,  that conflict – if there – can be handled in that kind of way.
  • It is a diffuse kind of relationship because the activities of the multinational may be quite diverse. It was not a general comment about SMEs, we have only had this one case where somebody was involved with a startup company and the focus of that startup company was so narrowly focused and so relevant to the question under consideration in the chapter that the conflict of interest appeared to be acute to the conflict of interest committee.
  • There may be a difference between international bodies that have an advisory function and those that have a more executive or action-oriented role. The examples we have heard from the Montreal Protocol and WHO are quite different from IPCC or IPBES, which have separate mandates from their analog bodies, the UN  Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The people involved in the mandate may have a slightly different policy.
  • As for forbidding remuneration, a working group cannot work without paying somebody. That money is allocated through funding from the organization. The country that nominated them for the position within IPCC and there are financial resources applied to support technical support units in the specific countries. Without that IPCC could not operate, making it a different situation compared to those of special rapporteurs.

Q: How do you act when a conflict of interest is identified and impacts on independence? Does the conflicts of interest policy work in tandem with an existing code of conduct policy?


  • In the WHO context, we talk about disclosure of interests as an important first step. This includes both individual and institutional interests.  Then the importance of following that of some due diligence to be clear about what those things are the extent of those interests and how they may sort of fit or not.
  • A risk assessment should look at what a conflict of interest has been brought up and what could be done to avoid or mitigate it.
  • Code of conductst can set some standards, some kind of guidelines around behavior that can either be used to sort of identify the conflict or even toward management of the conflict.
  • There are also processes and procedures that a panel could have in place to make sure that as an ongoing thing, there is an appropriate management of any potential conflict, that could include sort of involvement in certain aspects of a panel’s activities but not in others.
  • We could look at sort of standard even boardroom policies that require recuse of certain points where there is a direct conflict of interest or a lack of involvement in some contexts.
  • Some of the really important things structurally around ensuring adequate kind of protection from either an actual or a perceived conflict of interest is firstly this need for very clear disclosure and the ability to seek more information, if the disclosure is not complete or if there is this further questioning and also transparency. There are needs to be transparent in the way the panel operates and can function independently of the governing body, parties and all other stakeholders.
  • We need robust processes that require transparency of data and methodologies: for example, with WHO guidelines, the development of all the methodologies and all of the data on which a guideline is based have to be published, so it is all out there in the public domain.
  • There must also be ongoing opportunities for an independent review of the functioning of the panel, and also for the advice recommendations, and analysis that it is giving.

Q: A large number of the scientific data and experience are in the hands or produced by powerful private actors. Can transparency on individual researchers and experts be enough when one of the issues is how knowledge has been produced?


  • Transparency is critical but it may not be sufficient. It involves high transaction costs and it may not be sufficient to secure the public trust needed for the effectiveness and legitimacy of a science-policy interface platform.
  • When it comes to managing certain conflicts of interest, it seems that some conflicts need to be avoided altogether, that there are situations that are simply unable to be managed. Some conflicts may not be possible to mitigate, but should be prevented.
  • In practice, a similar procedure as the one envisaged by the WHO of excluding certain industries or sectors deemed incompatible with public health could be adopted in the chemicals and waste field. An alternative could be a possibility where scientists affiliated with industry would have a specific role and be designated as such and different from other elements of the science-policy interface platform.
  • Speaking about the debates that have taken place at the UN Environment Assembly on how to organize public input where scientists are lumped together within a major group’s approach, scientists often argue that businesses are not civil society but all of them going together in a confused way.
  • There should be a way of differentiating the voices that are coming in with information and so if there is a scientist or person that is working in a company and for that reason has privileged or other otherwise specialized knowledge there could be a role for that individual in a specific capacity that could be understood as such.
  • Dealing with the issue of remuneration, in the system of special procedures mandate holders there is no remuneration for special rapporteurs. It is expected that the work of special rapporteurs takes about a third of the time. Most of us have day jobs that do not interfere or pose a conflict with the work but that means that the profile of special procedures or special rapporteur is quite often slanted towards academicians. There is not a wide variety. This is the way that the system is set up and it does not mean that it has to be set up this way but there are a lot of discussions on whether remuneration would affect the independence or integrity of the special procedures. Some voices are saying that we need to rethink the system of special rapporteurs and subsidize the United Nations, but to have a professional and efficient system of special procedures should not necessarily be remunerated.

Q: Are the provisions then for voting that would need to be applied in extreme areas of divergence?

Ashley Woodcock | Montreal Protocol:

  • There is a provision for one extreme position to be taken and to be published alongside the consensus.
  • There was an extreme case in methyl bromide some years ago but since then for the last decade we have always come to a consensus, that it is a real skill to weld the decisions and it is one of the great things to do to avoid conflict of interest.
  • Pharmaceutical companies for example, publish the number of dollars used to do clinical trials,  so it is very clear, very transparent and that is also present on the web the access to that is provided.
  • Nevertheless, it could be a perceived conflict and so it is a thing that we have done in medicine for many years now. The declaration needs to be gone through at the beginning of the meeting for all the attendees. It is all repeated and gone through so that everyone can maintain that diligence.
  • Managing conflict is a better avenue than excluding people based on perceived conflicts as it would cause employment of people will too little experience in the topics. Thus, making sure those declarations are done and transparent is fundamental.

Q: Considering that the conflict of interests is a case-by-case issue, there is also a lot of gray area, how can one secure the public trust and confidence that procedures are indeed trustworthy if no clear lines in the sent can be made?

Jim Skea: One thing the IPCC conflict of interest committee does is having legal representatives from both WMO and UNEP, the parent organizations, that are also on the conflict of interest committee to make sure that we are honest and in a way that replaces the oversight of the of a conflict of interest committee.

Closing Remarks

Jim Skea

  • The difference between advisory bodies, like IPCC and IPBES, and other bodies that cover convention agreements or really large organizations is the institutional and bureaucratic capacity to run a conflict of interest policy.
  • IPCC has a Secretariat of only 15 people and 13 members of the executive committee are elected: it is very light and meaning it is very difficult to run complex processes where you have both a conflict of interest committee and a mechanism for oversight of that committee.
  • That might be a consideration for a chemicals panel depending on what kind of size of effort it has to back it up and if it is separate from other institutions like the Montreal Protocol.                                                                                   

Ashley Woodcock:

  • TEAP does technology assessments, not policy. We are very disciplined about not recommending one policy or another. Parties make policy and that somehow protects.

Kate Robertson

  • It is important to reflect on the aim of the panel and consequently on the ways in which the panel’s work might be impacted by conflicting interests and how it might appear to be: bearing in mind which actors you might engage, which role for which policies and in which phases of the policy cycle.
  • There are important roles to play by different actors. Sometimes those engagements, those sorts of conflicts cannot be mitigated. They can be managed just through the process, bearing in mind the diversity of the stakeholders that you are considering as well as the policies and the outputs of the panel that you intended to produce.


  • Looking back at the road to the UN Environment Assembly that decided to move forward with an SPP, we can recall that there were voices that expressed concern about a new platform that could be captured by industry. In that regard, it is important to highlight that conflicts of interest and addressing and dealing with them effectively is the best antidote to that possible capture.
  • Recognizing the differences in the chemical, waste and pollution sector, there is a lot of experience that can be used to build a robust and effective conflict of interest mechanism.




Live from Webex. 

Written content of the initial part of the video: Excellencies, dear colleagues, Good morning, good afternoon or good evening to those who have joined us on Webex or are now watching the video of the event.  Today’s session is part of a series of events co-organized by the Geneva Environment Network and the Ad hoc open-ended working group on a science-policy panel on chemicals, waste and pollution prevention, on the road to their second meeting that is planned to take place in Jordan, in December this year.

Last year, the United Nations Environment Assembly made history by adopting a series of landmark resolutions, including the one that decided to convene the ad hoc OEWG.

In the context of the triple planetary crisis that the earth is facing – of climate disruption, nature and biodiversity loss, as well as pollution and waste – two independent, international, intergovernmental bodies to help policy makers taking the right decisions have been set up for two of these crises, namely: for climate change we have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up 35 years ago. And we are delighted today to be joined by the new Chair of the IPCC. For biodiversity loss – we have the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), set up 13 years ago.

The aim of the UN Environment assembly resolution which is bringing us together today, is to set up a science panel for the third crisis, on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention.