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Urgent Action Needed to tackle Chemical Pollution

Countries will not meet the internationally agreed goal to minimize the adverse impacts of chemicals and waste by 2020.

 

Urgent action is therefore required to reduce further damage to human health and economies, according to a UN report released this week.

 

“The second Global Chemicals Outlook,” presented during the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi says, the current chemical production capacity of 2.3 billion tonnes, valued at Sh500 trillion [USD 5 trillion] annually, is projected to double by 2030.

 

Acting Executive Director of UN Environment Joyce Msuya, said whether the growth in chemicals becomes a net positive or a net negative for humanity depended on how we manage the chemicals challenge.

 

“What is clear is that we must do much more, together considering that the benefits of action to minimize the adverse impacts of chemicals have been estimated in the tens of billions of dollars annually,” she said.

 

According to the report, despite commitments to maximize the benefits and minimize the impacts of this industry, hazardous chemicals continue to be released to the environment in large quantities.

 

They are ubiquitous in air, water and soil, food and humans. The world thus must take advantage of the many solutions that already exist and are highlighted in the report.

 

A member of the report’s steering committee, from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency David Kapindula said the report highlighted the uneven implementation of chemicals and waste management and points to opportunities for enhanced knowledge sharing, capacity development and innovative financing.

 

“The findings of the second Global Chemicals Outlook are very important for developing countries. Although International treaties and voluntary instruments have reduced the risks of some chemicals and wastes, progress has been uneven and implementation gaps remain,” he said.

 

For example, Kapindula noted that as of 2018, more than 120 countries had not implemented the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

 

The World Health Organization estimated the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016.

 

Chemical pollution also threatens a range of ecosystem services from pharmaceuticals to plant protection; chemicals play an important role in modern society and in achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 

Driven by economic development, population dynamics and other global megatrends, the chemicals market across a range of industry sectors is growing with the chemicals market in the construction sector expected to grow by 6.2 per cent annually, between 2018 and 2023.

 

Chemical production and consumptions is further shifting to emerging economies especially China according to the report and the Asia-Pacific region is projected to account for more than two-thirds of global sales by 2030.

 

Pesticides, excess use of phosphorus and nitrogen in Agriculture has also been found to negatively impact while chemicals used in sunscreens put pressure on coral reef ecosystems.

 

Studies also indicate that releases of some antimicrobials, heavy metals and disinfectants contribute to antimicrobial resistance.

 

Solutions exist however according the Global report Chemicals Outlook II. It finds that governments are taking regulatory action on many chemicals with companies advancing standards beyond compliance and sustainable supply chain management and consumers driving demand for safer products and production.

 

Opportunities also exist for key influencers such as investors, producers, retailers, academics and ministers to scale up these initiatives. This would not only protect human health and the environment, but also deliver economic benefits in the high tens of billions of United States dollars annually, the report said.

 

The development of a future global platform for the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020 provides a window of opportunity. As the report highlights, this framework needs to bring together all relevant sectors and stakeholders and foster collaborative, ambitious action.

 

The Global Chemicals Outlook II: From Legacies to Innovative Solutions – Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been prepared by UN Environment Programme over the past three years through a process involving more than 400 scientists and experts around the world.

 

The Summary for Policymakers was made available as a working document during the ongoing fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly with the Synthesis Report launched in Nairobi.

 

The full report which was prepared in response to Governing Council decision 27/12, adopted in 2013, and United Nations Environment Assembly resolution 2/7, adopted in 2016 will be released on 1 April 2019 at the third meeting of the Open-ended Working Group for the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management in Uruguay.

 

By Wangari Ndirangu 

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