Chemicals and waste pollution is a global threat that warrants global action. According to scientists, the lack of a science-policy interface is limiting decision makers ability to identify and address the related threats in a timely manner. Mobilizations are ongoing to establish a global science-policy body on chemicals and waste.
Chemicals and Waste
As indicated in the Global Chemicals Outlook II (GCO-II), published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2019, the size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion USD in 2017, and is projected to double by 2030. Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies. Global supply chains, and the trade of chemicals and products, are becoming increasingly complex. Similar trends are true for waste generation. The World Bank estimates that waste generation will increase from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.40 billion tonnes in 2050. At least 33% of this waste is mismanaged globally today through open dumping or burning.
Hazardous chemicals and pollutants, such as plastic waste and pharmaceutical products, continue to be released in large quantities. They are ubiquitous in humans and the environment and are accumulating in material stocks and products, highlighting the need to avoid future legacies through sustainable materials management and circular business models.
Scientific studies have been and are being conducted to understand the impacts of the increasing production, diversification and management of chemicals and waste. However, international policy-makers do not have yet a global mechanism to stay informed regarding the up-to-date scientific evidence, limiting their ability to identify and address these threats in a timely manner.
Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface
GCO-II concluded that the global goal to minimize adverse impacts of chemicals and waste would not be achieved by 2020, and called for urgent ambitious action at all levels, including strengthening the science-policy interface through enhanced collaboration of scientists and decision-makers.
As international policy-makers do not have a global mechanism to stay informed regarding the up-to-date scientific evidence, various stakeholders, including civil society organizations and leading experts, have been calling for the establishment of a global science-policy body on chemicals and waste.
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.
Marcos ORELLANA, UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
A decision about strengthening the science-policy interface on chemicals and waste will be made at the second part of UNEA-5 in February 2022. Ahead of this important discussion, the International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP) is hosting a workshop to create new momentum on recognizing the global threat of chemical pollution and inspire ambition to take immediate actions on grand challenges.
The Right to Science in the Context of Toxic Substances
The Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes (SR toxics) presented the report « The right to science in the context of toxic substances » (A/HRC/48/61 ) at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, in September 2021.
- HRC48 Side Event | The right to science in the context of toxic substances
- Toxics exposure: ‘Follow the science’ to protect lives – UN expert | SR Toxics | 21 September 2021
- NGOs affirm the Right to Science is Critical for Protecting the Range of Human Rights | CIEL | 21 September 2021
- UN expert slams chemical industries for spreading fake news about risks | Michelle Langrand | Geneva Solutions | 22 September 2021
Options for Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface
The report « Assessment of Options for Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface at the International Level for the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste » was developed by 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-5.2. It was presented and discussed in a briefing organized by the Geneva Environment Network in October 2020.
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.
The options reviewed in the report:
- A | An independent platform
- B | Institutionalizing the Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO) and Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO) processes
- C | Thematic subsidiary panels with specialized task forces
Voice Your Support
The International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP) issues recommendations for the establishment of a global science-policy body on chemicals and waste, akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). A campaign has been launched to encourage to voice support for the initiative.