09 Dec 2019 Speech Chemicals & waste

Meeting of the High Ambition Alliance on Chemicals and Waste at COP25

Photo © UNEP.

Izabella Teixeira, Co-chair International Resource Panel

Ministers Lövin of Sweden and Minister de León of Uruguay, Co-chairs of the High Ambition Alliance

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Chemicals are an integral part of our lives. In this room alone, there are probably hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them. They are in the medicines we may be carrying, in the fibres of our clothes, in the paint on the walls. They are part of an industry that the second Global Chemicals Outlook says was worth over 5 trillion US dollars in 2017.

When used and managed well, these chemicals are invaluable. They improve our health, food security and much more. But when poorly used and managed, hazardous chemicals and waste threaten human health, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The impacts of chemical contamination of air, soil and water – at least those we know about – are huge.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that contamination from just a selected group of chemicals studied claimed 1.6 million lives in 2016.
  • The financial cost is in the upper tens of billions of US dollars each year.
  • Pesticides are helping to drive the insect apocalypse, slashing pollinator populations and threatening food security.
  • Agriculture’s excessive use of phosphorous and nitrogen causes dead zones in the ocean.
  • Environmental leaks are causing antimicrobial resistance and other health challenges.

These impacts aren’t even the full picture. The chemical industry is the world’s largest industrial energy consumer. It is the third largest industrial emitter of CO2. This makes it a huge driver of climate change – particularly through energy, and material-related emissions.

The sector, along with its impacts, is only growing. Chemicals production is expected to double in size between 2017 and 2030. Global supply chains, and the trade of chemicals and products, are becoming increasingly complex, raising the risks. If the industry follows current business models, we can expect greenhouse gas emissions to increase – along with the direct impacts on human health and nature. We clearly have to rethink our business models.

The good news is that reform will bring multiple benefits. The gains from minimizing the adverse impacts of chemicals could be tens of billions of US dollars annually. Bio-based materials and innovations in energy use can lessen the impact on climate change and ecosystems. Adopting circular models will reduce climate change, pressure on natural resources and pollution of ecosystems.

To bring about these changes, we need to drive them from the top and build the political will for action.

So how do we do this?

Firstly, let’s remember that we are not starting from scratch. The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management – SAICM, as it is known – provides a framework for action. We are, unfortunately, not going to achieve SAICM’s goal of achieving the sound management of chemicals by 2020.

But SAICM still brought some notable successes:

  • Through the Quick Start Programme, or QSP, 184 projects in more than 100 countries contributed to the development of national chemical profiles.
  • They helped implement a global system of classifying and labelling chemicals.
  • They helped to establish accident preparedness and poison control centres.
  • SAICM also identified emerging issues, raising the profile of new threats such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals and nanomaterials.

The SAICM framework is there. We should build on it and strengthen the will to act.

Secondly, we must show more ambition.

We are already seeing some ambition in the fact that waste is being brought under SAICM. This opens up opportunities on the circular economy. Meanwhile, today’s event shows that high-ambition political leadership is growing. But we can do more. Negotiations for the “Beyond-2020” framework will culminate in October 2020 at the fifth meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management. We still have time to set a more-ambitious agenda.

  • We must set stronger and focused targets for chemicals and waste beyond 2020.
  • We must enhance science-policy to identify issues, set priorities and develop policies.
  • We must strengthen the process for tracking collective progress towards implementation of the relevant sustainable development goals.
  • We must mobilize adequate resources from all sources.

Being ambitious is important, but we must also make sure we can deliver on goals and targets. This brings me to my third point, which is that we need to improve collaboration within SAICM.

SAICM’s multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder nature is a strength. But it has also proven to be a weakness. Intergovernmental agencies, chemical conventions, treaties and initiatives share responsibility. This has led to fragmentation in some places.

A regional approach could help collaboration. The UN Environment Assembly invited parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm chemical conventions and SAICM to promote a network of regional centres. This would strengthen regional delivery of technical assistance. UNEP encourages such cooperation.

This need to be joined-up does not just apply to the internal workings of SAICM. As I made clear earlier, the chemicals and waste challenge is intrinsically linked to climate change and biodiversity. My fourth point, therefore, is that the response must be as linked as the challenges.

Next year, in the super year of 2020, we have a chance to create a more joined-up response. We are defining the post-2020 frameworks for biodiversity and chemicals, while nations will strengthen their nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. We are all working towards linked goals, under the wider umbrella of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, at the same time. The stars are aligning, so we should make the most of it will they shine the brightest.

UNEP is committed to promoting cooperation, coherence and synergies between multilateral environmental agreements.

My final point is one that I make often, so much it is becoming a mantra, but it bears repeating. We need to involve actors outside the environmental space if we want to succeed in tackling the challenges the world faces. We have seen this increasingly happening in climate change as everybody gets involved. But there is a long way to go with chemicals and waste.

Everyone on the planet is exposed to chemicals and waste – through the food we eat, the air we breathe, or the products we use. Proper management of chemicals and waste goes well beyond the health and environment sector. We need to engage not just the private sector, but decision-makers in labour, agriculture, development, women, science, education and many other key sectors.

Only concerted, united action can help to protect human health and the environment, which is why initiatives such as the High-Ambition Alliance are so important. Thank you for being part of this alliance.

Now the time has come to turn our high ambitions into concrete actions.

Thank you.

Inger Andersen

Executive Director

UN Environment Programme