"From Science to Action - Addressing the Chemicals and Waste Challenge" - Address by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, at the Opening of the Triple COP of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Tue, May 5, 2015

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner Speech to the Opening of the Triple COP of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

Mr. Bruno Oberle, Director Swiss Federal Office for the Environment,

The Presidents of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Mr. Andrzej Jagusiewicz, Mr. Mohammed Kashashneh, Ms Johanna Lissinger Peitz,

Ms Naoko Ishii, CEO Global Environment Facility,

Mr. Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the BRS Secretariat,

Mr. Clayton Campanhola, Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention,


Distinguished Representatives of the Scientific Community, Civil Society and the Private Sector.

It is an honour to address you today on this, the occasion of the opening of the 2015 Conferences of the Parties of the Basel Convention, Rotterdam Convention, and Stockholm Convention.

Let me start by congratulating the Parties, the partners, and the Secretariat for the hard work put in over the last two years since I last addressed the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm COPs - hard work that has prepared the way for what I believe can be a successful and important set of meetings.

In particular, I would like to congratulate Rolph Payet on his first COP as Executive Secretary of the BRS Secretariat, and wish him all the best.

The theme of this gathering is From Science to Action, Working for a Safer Tomorrow. In 2015, a pivotal year in environmental and sustainable development policy-making, this theme could not be more appropriate.

In more than 40 years of work to make the voice of the environment heard at all levels of society, UNEP and our many partners across the globe have striven to catalyse the transformation of science into policy and action that protects the environment, and through it human health.

We have had many successes - the Montreal Protocol being a perfect example. Collectively, we tackled the damage ozone-depleting substances were causing to the ozone layer. We are now on track for recovery to pre-1980 levels. The benefits to human health of this effort are astonishing: new data released by the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that actions under the Montreal Protocol will have prevented 283 million cases of skin cancer by 2100. Extrapolated across the globe, this means billions of cases, and millions of lives saved.

The most recent achievement in the chemicals and waste cluster is the adoption of the Minamata Convention, which is another milestone to protect human health and the environment.

Indeed chemicals are an integral part of daily life in today's world. No one can deny this. There is hardly any product or process that does not contain or use chemicals in their production. Chemicals production and use are closely related to the global economy and consistent with the global economy, behave as a rapidly evolving and fast changing sector.

The international chemicals industry has grown dramatically since the 1970s, when global chemical output was valued at US$171 billion. By 2010 it had grown to US$4.12 trillion. Further, global chemicals sales are projected to grow about 3 per cent per year to 2050.

Many chemicals are crucial to our well-being while others are hazardous. The list of threats posed by hazardous chemicals remains large. The human health impacts include both disease and illness and death by poisoning. In fact, poisoning by chemicals globally kills almost as many people as tuberculosis and traffic accidents, and exceeds the number of those killed by malaria.

Occupational poisonings alone (those not related to air pollution or drinking water contamination), are at 1 million per year, corresponding to over 1.6 per cent of the total deaths and 1.4 per cent of the total burden of disease worldwide. To compare, among the global top ten leading causes of death in 2004, HIV/AIDS caused 2 million deaths, tuberculosis caused 1.5 million deaths, road traffic accidents caused 1.27 million deaths, and malaria caused 0.9 million deaths.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Unsound management of chemicals is incurring multi-billion dollar costs worldwide - most of which are not borne by manufacturers or others along the supply chain, but instead by social welfare systems or individuals, with a significant impact on the economy and development as well.

We have much work to do. In this work, the vast body of science we have built up on chemicals and waste management - on issues such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), endocrine disrupting chemicals, e-waste and mercury - will serve us well.

In 2015, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity with regards to producing a set of robust, measurable, and integrated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the post-2015 development process. The sound management of chemicals and waste can support the implementation many of these goals - including those on poverty eradication, health, agriculture, water, industrial growth, and employment.

It is less than a year since many members of this gathering met in Nairobi for the first-ever United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). UNEA re-affirmed not only the international community's commitment to delivering sustainable development; it re-affirmed the centrality of the sound management of chemicals and waste to that quest. The sound management of chemicals and waste must be adequately integrated into this framework if we are indeed to build a future that is inclusive and universal.

This, fundamentally, is why we are gathering over the coming days. The preparatory work of the Parties, is not an academic exercise: it has a real and concrete impact on the very people whose lives you seek to help to improve. It is aimed at setting the world on the path to a future in which chemicals do not pose a threat to human health and the functioning of the ecosystems that underpins human existence and human well-fare.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We cannot escape how vulnerable and interdependent we all are. We share the same planet, and this planet has finite resources. Economic volatility and poverty can and do affect all countries. Pollution does not stop at the country borders. More than ever, therefore, we need to work together - across borders, institutions and any barriers we may face.

I believe that the synergies process, which we began in 2005, is an excellent example of bringing together institutions, joining up complementary legal agreements, and most importantly creating more efficiencies and effectiveness at national and global levels. At the global level, the joint Secretariat of the three conventions now operates in an integrated and coordinated fashion. Multilateral Environmental Agreements look to it as a source of inspiration and best practice learned for coordinated and effective international environmental governance.

Cooperation and coordination has also increased and expanded between the BRS Secretariat and the UNEP Chemicals Branch, specifically in terms of the SAICM and Interim Minamata Secretariats. This collaboration, included holding joint regional workshops and other events to deliver key messages on chemicals such as during the UN Intergovernmental Negotiations on the SDGs and on the emerging issue of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).

Recent research from the Endocrine Society suggests EDCs cost the European Union alone 157 billion euros ($209 billion) a year in actual health care expenses and lost earning potential, and the POPs review committee may now consider them for listing under the Stockholm Convention.

More significantly, though, we stand on the cusp of delivering a vital tool to increase cooperation and, crucially, to provide a fully integrated approach to finance sound chemicals management.

At the Stockholm COP4, I proposed a consultative process on financing options for chemicals and wastes in order to better coordinate and streamline the chemicals and waste cluster and above all to respond to the implementation challenges that many governments are faced with. As you are aware, a key outcome of the last Governing Council and last year's UNEA was to welcome an integrated approach to finance for the chemicals and waste cluster. This integrated approach includes the first element to mainstream chemicals and wastes into national development. The second element is to work with industry to deliver on their responsibilities. Finally the third and crucial component is on dedicated external financing through the GEF and the Special Programme. At the UNEA the Special Programme became a reality.

The Special Programme set up to support institutional strengthening for the implementation of the BRS Conventions, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the SAICM, is a solution that facilitates integrative multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder cooperation and coordination for the sound management of chemicals and wastes at all levels.

The establishment of the Trust Fund is now almost complete. The Executive Board is expected to meet for the first time in the coming months. I am sure that to many of you this seems like a long road, but it has been one worth the journey. Many miles still lie ahead, but we now will have the Special Programme to lighten and quicken our steps towards implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

And there is much important work for this collaborative approach to tackle. Here I would like to touch on two items.

Looking to the future, will the need for harmful DDT pesticides be eliminated? We know that this can only happen with major investments in rolling out environmentally safe alternatives that make it possible for developing countries burdened with malaria to move beyond the cheap, easy and generally effective solution of spraying with DDT.

Will the technologies and know-how for safely disposing of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) be widely available around the world? We know today that this will only happen if a concerted effort is made now to accelerate and strengthen technology transfer, information sharing and capacity building.

We have established two initiatives to achieve these very important goals of the conventions, the DDT Global Alliance and the PCB Elimination Network. Parties' continued support for these initiatives is much needed as we grow increasingly aware of the deep-rooted challenges we face. I hope that governments, industries, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and all other stakeholders can work together and contribute to these initiatives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The next two weeks will see many points of view, many key discussions and, I trust, decisions. Amongst those, I sincerely hope and believe, will be decisions which aim to assist you, the Parties, better implement synergies at the national level.

There are many questions to be answered, and I'm sure as I conclude this speech that your minds are already turning toward them.

How can the Parties to the three conventions make best use of the outcomes of the Integrated Approach and in particular the Special Programme to strengthen the implementation of the three conventions at the national and regional levels?

What is required, and what commitments can be made, for the fullest possible synergy of actions on chemicals and waste at national levels? How can we best share good practices on the mainstreaming of chemicals and waste issues into other relevant policy-making, budgetary, and enforcement mechanisms? How do we better engage the chemicals industry to take up their role?

How can we - the international environment and development community - properly support you, the Parties, in these endeavours? What support is required from UNEP, from the Secretariat, and from our partners and good friends here today, such as the Global Environment Facility, the European Commission, and others?

How we can ensure that the scientific base is properly taken account of in decision-making? Not only in environmental decision-making but in economic decision-making, in the post-2015 development agenda, and in the very frameworks countries build in response to the threats and vulnerabilities they face.

These are questions I believe this remarkable gathering is both qualified and determined to answer, and I look forward to the outcomes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, the BRS Conventions have come so far in the last ten years. I invite you to look back and be proud of what has been achieved. We must be mindful, however, that much of the work - in terms of the synergies process and ensuring funding - has been preparation for greater challenges we need to address in time.

We have the science to draw upon for the vast majority of the existing chemicals and waste issues facing humanity, and more is coming online as we continue to probe and expand our horizons.

As we look ahead to this exciting and pivotal year, and to the many tasks that will follow the decisions we make, let us strive to translate this science into policy and action. This way, we can ensure that addressing the chemicals and waste challenge will play a crucial role in ushering the world into a sustainable, safe and more just tomorrow.

comments powered by Disqus