500 delegates will look at ways to improve chemical safety
BANGKOK, 5 November 2003 - A major new effort to improve the way the world deals with chemicals begins this weekend in Bangkok, Thailand. More than 500 delegates from environment, health, agriculture, industry, labour, foreign affairs and development sectors will participate in the meeting from 9 to 13 November. It aims to develop a "strategic approach to international chemicals management" (SAICM), initiated last year by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and endorsed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
"While much has been achieved since the Rio Earth Summit 11 years ago, a lot more is needed to protect the environment and human health from the unintended effects of chemicals," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, who will make an opening statement at the meeting. "Chemicals are found in virtually every man-made product. While their contribution to modern society and economies has been vital, we have become increasingly aware of the risks posed by certain hazardous chemicals."
Global chemical sales have increased nine-fold since 1970 and will continue growing, with production shifting increasingly to developing countries. In 1998 the industry generated $1,500 billion in sales, accounting for 9 per cent of international trade and employing over 10 million people, according to 2001 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A World Bank study in 2002 has also underlined the strong link between toxic exposure and poverty.
"One of the key objectives for SAICM is to position chemical safety as a mainstream sustainable development issue," Mr Toepfer said.
UNEP has been instrumental in the adoption of two major new chemicals treaties in recent years: the Rotterdam or "prior informed consent" Convention governing trade in hazardous chemicals completed in 1998 and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) adopted in 2001. Both treaties are expected to enter into force next year. The Stockholm Convention is supported by a $250 million POPs fund from the Global Environment Facility. Other bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO) have also been active in improving chemical safety.
Achievements have included the development of a pesticides code of conduct and a globally harmonized system of classification and labelling. The SAICM initiative will also build on other international coordination mechanisms such as the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS), which finishes its weeklong "Forum IV" meeting in Bangkok this Friday, and the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals. UNEP has brought together a broad partnership of international organizations to oversee planning for the SAICM process. The steering committee comprise UNEP, IFCS, FAO, ILO, OECD, WHO, the World Bank, as well as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.
Mr Toepfer said the breadth of participation in this first Bangkok 'PrepCom' was very encouraging, with delegates expected from 150 governments, as well as nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations representing many sectors. The consultation meeting is expected lead towards a high-level international conference in late 2005.
For more information please contact: Tim Higham, Regional Information Officer, UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, telephone +66 2 288 2127, mobile +66 9 1283803, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Michael Williams, UNEP Information Unit for Conventions, Geneva, telephone +41 22 917 8244/196/242, e-mail Michael.Williams@unep.ch; or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, telephone +254 20 623 084, +254 733 632 755 (mobile), e-mail email@example.com
Further information on SAICM can be found at the web site www.chem.unep.ch/saicm
The OECD Environmental Outlook for the Chemicals Industry (2001) is available athttp://www.oecd.org/document/21/0,2340,en_2649_34365_1862357_1_1_1_1,00.html
The World Bank's report on Toxics and Poverty (2002) is available athttp://lnweb18.worldbank.org/ESSD/envext.nsf/50ByDocName/ToxicsandPovertyTheImpactofToxicSubstancesOnthePoorinDevelopingCountries/$FILE/TOXICS+text+9.17-w.pdf