BRS Executive Secretary’s opening remarks to the International Chemical Safety and Security Summit (Kielce, Poland, 18-20 April 2016)


Ladies and Gentlemen

As we entered the third millennium, our world had become more globalised and interconnected. We can today manufacture to bespoke needs in one part of the world and ship to anywhere within days. However, those great transformations have exposed millions of people and biodiversity to hazardous chemicals and wastes. 

New estimates from the World Health Organization indicate that at least 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012, primarily from environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation. The situation is far worse in the developing world, the WHO report finds. Low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions had the largest environment-related disease burden in 2012, with a combined total of 7.3 million deaths, most attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, whilst there were also 2.2 million deaths in the African region, 1.4 million deaths in the European region, 854,000 deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region and 847,000 deaths in the region of the Americas. Furthermore, the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, estimated that 41 million tones of electronic wastes are generated per year, growing to 50 million tons by next year.

Africa and Asia, being the destinations for large-scale shipments of hazardous wastes, has resulted in large areas turned into illegal dumps scavenged by the poor in those countries. Inconsistency in regulations between exporting and importing countries - including what is classified as hazardous or contaminated waste - poses a challenge to effectively combating illegal waste trafficking. Wastes have the potential to pollute and expose millions of people to hazardous chemicals through food chains, water, the oceans and the atmosphere.

Contaminated land is also global issue with chemical safety concerns at hand. In many countries, hundreds of square kilometers of land have a legacy of contaminated land resulting from mining, past industrial activity, intensive agriculture, chemical stockpiles and waste management. Sadly, despite efforts by numerous organizations, such as UNEP, FAO, UNIDO and donors such as the GEF - land contamination is still on the increase especially in the developing countries. Contamination of water bodies, remote communities and also the atmosphere through open burning presents a serious chemical danger to the entire planet.

Chemical Safety, in the context of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions involves all efforts to ensure the protection of human health and the environment through sound management of chemicals and wastes. Whilst our conventions are limited to a few chemicals it provides an international legal framework for the sound management of chemicals and wastes.  Furthermore, many of those chemicals, such as POPs are present in almost all materials and products produced in the last 50 years or so. Their accumulation in the environment in expected to last beyond this century due to their long-term environmental persistence.

The Stockholm Convention lists 26 chemicals that are persistent, toxic, bio-accumulative and travel long distances in the environment for which consumption, production and use, import and export, disposal and/or environmental release must be reduced, prohibited and/or eliminated. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive global agreement specifically targeting hazardous and other wastes. The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade focuses on facilitating information exchange about hazardous chemicals and severely hazardous pesticide formulations, by providing for a national decision-making process on their imports and exports and by disseminating these decisions to Parties.

Against this backdrop of widespread use of chemicals in products, the capacity of countries to implement chemical safety is severely limited in many parts of the world. The Special Programme under UNEP and the Chemicals and Wastes Conventions is expected to support countries in building robust policies, regulations and mechanisms for the sound management of chemicals. However, resources remain limited. Although in 2014, the global chemicals industry earned more than 5 trillion dollars, its contribution to the sound management of chemicals and wastes is but a pittance. The current contributions to the UNEP Special programme are about 14 million dollars, which is about 0.0028%. The GEF Chemicals and Waste Portfolio, which includes partnerships with industry, at 2.7 billion USD, does not even come close to 1%. Indeed, there are numerous efforts and initiatives by industry but we cannot achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals with this level of support from the industry.

For example, in a report to the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention indicates that there are at least 11,000 Tons of DDT stockpiles around the world. DDT has been linked to a large number of cancers, male infertility and child growth. Such stockpiles are a clear and present danger to millions of people located in those areas. Can we remove those stockpiles in a sound manner - yes, and before 2030 - yes - We need financial resources and political will!

It is also an honor and a pleasure for me to represent the Executive Director of UNEP, Mr Achim Steiner, who unfortunately could not be with us this afternoon. UNEP remains committed to the sound management of chemicals and wastes, and to the minimization of hazardous wastes. Many initiatives implemented by UNEP have addressed the issue of chemical safety, especially in areas of institutional support and scientific knowledge. It has produced a number of guidance and capacity building to countries on sound management of chemical wastes, and led many global initiatives such as the DDT Alliance.  As such, the UNEP Chemicals and Waste branch, based in Geneva, is a very strong partner with the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention Secretariat. We also work very closely with the Minamata Convention Secretariat.

The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions are successful examples of the commitment of the global community, including governments, industry, academia and public interest groups towards a common goal to produce and use chemicals in ways that minimize adverse effects to human health and the environment. Although these three conventions have done a great deal to improve the global situation regarding toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes, the treaties alone cannot solve all the problems. The global chemicals industry whoch accounts for around 9% of the world's economy needs to play a greater role. We need to continue to build partnerships and invest in a future that is driven by sustainable chemistry and the sound management of chemicals and wastes.

The Sustainable Development Agenda provides us with a unique opportunity to engage and make this vision a reality. The role of initiatives such as the Chemss2016 forum in strengthening community preparedness and enhancing chemical safety and security is of great importance for the global environmental sound management of chemicals and wastes and for the international community to achieve sustainable development goals.

In closing, I wish to thank the people of Poland for their warm welcome. The conference organizers, in particular Andrzej Jagusiewicz, who was also former President of the Basel Convention, for his invitation to this timely global conference.

Thank you.