EEP European Environmental Press

Brussels Update - First Global Agreement on Chemicals

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Source: EEP European Environmental Press

The European Union warmly welcomes the global agreement on a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAIM) reached this month in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, under the auspices of the UN. This is the first global process promoting the sound management of all types of chemicals and not just specific groups of substances, as is the case in the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances. The European Union, represented in Dubai by Presidency Minister Josef Pröll and Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, is convinced that the agreement will make an important contribution to ensuring that mankind is able to benefit from the use and production of chemicals while risks to human health and the environment are minimised. The agreement, which will be of particular benefit to developing countries, is made up of a Global Plan of Action envisaging 271 activities, an Overarching Policy Strategy setting out objectives and a High-Level Declaration embodying a strong political commitment to the Strategic Approach.

Global action to achieve sound chemicals management is of increasing importance. In 1998 the global chemicals industry employed 10 million people, generated 7% of global income and 9% of international trade and there has been considerable growth since then. While 16 countries accounted for 80% of global chemicals production in 1998, production of high volume basic chemicals is increasingly moving out of industrialised countries towards developing countries.

The SAICM aims to ensure that chemicals management all over the world is done in a manner that will help reach the target set at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development 'to achieve, by 2020, that chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to a minimisation of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.' As the High Level declaration puts it, SAICM represents a commitment “to achieving chemical safety and thereby assisting in fighting poverty, protecting vulnerable groups and advancing public health and human security”.

The SAICM Global Plan of Action sets out nearly three hundred different activities that will help countries reach the goal. Strong emphasis is put on capacity-building and technical assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition in order to help them manage chemicals safely. This will help to close the gap that exists between developing and developed nations in relation to sound chemicals management. Acting on a proposal from the EU, governments agreed on a “Quick Start Programme” for SAICM that will mobilise seed-money for the initial phase and enable countries to start implementation especially through capacity-building. It was extremely difficult to reach an agreement and until the last hour it was unclear whether a deal could be struck. Developing countries were keen to maximise pledges of support and wanted to condition national action to implement SAICM to the provision of external assistance. They welcomed the EU proposal for a Quick Start Programme but remained worried about the availability of resources for implementation over the longer term. In Dubai, Commissioner Dimas also explained how the new EU chemicals regulation, REACH, will help the EU to fulfil the objectives of SAICM.

The agreement on SAICM was reached at the International Conference on Chemicals Management organised by the United Nations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and a number of other UN and non-UN organisations dealing with the sound management of chemicals as such or as financing bodies, from 4-6 February in Dubai. Now it will be endorsed by the Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum, which is beginning in Dubai on Tuesday.

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