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A VIEW FROM THE CHEMICALS INDUSTRY

 Birgit Engelhardt

 ICCA, Representative to the United Nations

 

The international chemical industry supports the World Summit on Sustainable Development as an opportunity to improve the implementation of Agenda 21. To this end, it will be important to agree on a focused and forward-looking agenda for the follow-up to the 10-year review. It will be equally important that all stakeholders will be willing to contribute to the implementation of such an agenda. Also, it will be crucial to preserve the balance between the environmental, economic and social pillar of a sustainable development.

The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) is the world-wide voice of the chemical industry, representing chemical manufacturers and producers all over the world. It accounts for more than 80 percent of chemical manufacturing operations with a production exceeding US $1,6 trillion annually, almost 30 percent of this production is traded internationally.

A major contribution of the chemical industry to advancing sustainable development and to further improving the health, safety and environmental performance of its operations and products is the global extension of its Responsible Care initiative. The commitment to Responsible Care has now spread to 46 countries (see the Responsible Care Status Report 2000, ICCA web site http://www.icca-chem.org). Consistent with this commitment, the international chemical industry strongly supports all efforts to implement Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 with the aim of promoting the environmentally sound management of chemicals.

It is critical to recognize that the ultimate goal of chemical safety related activities is to ensure that chemicals can be handled safely from production, processing and use to disposal at global level. This is why the chemical industry is committed to providing the necessary information for the safe use of its products. The ICCA High Production Volume (HPV) Chemicals Initiative is aimed at producing an internationally agreed and harmonized data and information package, which will be made publicly available.

It is ICCA's clear view that risk management measures have to be based on a sound scientific risk assessment, as the key principle. A science based, precautionary approach to risk management is fundamental to our health, safety and environmental protection efforts and is consistent with application of Principle #15 of the Rio Declaration. The precautionary principle applies only when there is a "lack of full scientific certainty" regarding the degree of risk, not where there is an absence of any scientific knowledge. This means there must be a credible threat of serious or irreversible harm based on sufficient data to make this determination.

ICCA, through Responsible Care, encourages companies to work towards characterizing products with respect to their hazards and their risks and, in concert with their customers, taking appropriate risk management actions.

Via ICCA, the chemical industry has launched its Long Range Research Initiative (LRI) to contribute to the improvement of scientific knowledge in environmental and human health and also to the further improvement of risk assessment. In this context, 18 LRI projects were initiated in 2000. It is ICCA's belief that LRI will also contribute to an enhancement of the reputation of the industry in line with Responsible Care .

ICCA welcomes that Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 recognizes the need for co-operative government, industry and public actions to ensure that the countries of the world make further progress in their efforts in each of the six program areas.

ICCA takes the view that the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) should play a leadership role as a deliberative body through which the stakeholders can prioritize international problems associated with chemicals, and then recommend the most reasonable way forward. The independence of the IFCS is a fundamental prerequisite of this approach, as is its role as an open forum rather than an implementing or decision-making organization.

Industry has played a major role in IFCS activities, through ICCA, from the Forum's outset in 1994. A particular benefit of the Forum has been the ability for non-governmental organizations to participate as equal partners, along with governments, in developing analysis and policy guidance on work on international chemicals management.

At the Forum III Meeting in Bahia, Brazil, in October 2000 the participants identified where tasks had been completed or where progress was still ongoing to accomplish the intent of Chapter 19. On this basis, a strategy and priorities for addressing future issues up to Forum IV (expected in 2005 or 2006) were agreed on, set out in the Bahia Declaration on Chemical Safety and in the Priorities for Action Beyond 2000 (see the official IFCS Website for both reports http://www.who.int/ifcs/forum3/final.html).

To focus energies and resources and to measure progress, the Forum made a committment to achieve specific goals for review at Forum IV and Forum V and identified a list of key goals to be met on a yearly basis. The Forum was able to gain consensus from all participants including governments from developed and developing countries, international organizations dealing with chemicals management issues who participate in Forum activities and from non-governmental organizations representing industry, labor, scientific community and environmental groups

The chemical industry also supports the Inter-Organization Program for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC), an international mechanism to promote and to improve co-ordination of policies and activities of the participating organizations. We welcome progress made, among others, in the field of capacity building.

Moreover, ICCA recognizes and is further supporting the role of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in chemicals management. The recently adopted Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC), and the finalization of the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are remarkable milestones in the co-operation between UNEP, Governments, Industry and NGOs.

In principle, ICCA also welcomes the Governing Council 21 decision to request the Executive Director, in consultation with Governments, the Inter-Organization Program for the Sound Management of Chemicals, the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety and other relevant organizations and stakeholders, to examine the need for a strategic approach to international chemicals management and to prepare a report on this subject for detailed consideration at the seventh special session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in 2002.

Such an exercise could be useful considering that various organizations and fora are involved in and dealing with chemical safety issues at the global level. In this respect, it is important to clarify which issues are really of global concern, which fora are responsible for leading such issues globally and to explore how to further strengthen the international cooperation, including the option of an more coherent approach.

However, considering the extensive challenges that we presently face and the limited means available to all of us, it is crucial to consider the ways in which our collective efforts and resources can be maximized to best effect in achieving our mutual objectives.

Against this background, in our view, IFCS will have to play a strong role in examining the need for a possible strategic approach, especially considering that the agreement reached at the Third Session of the Forum held in October, 2000, on the "Bahia Declaration" and on "Priorities for Action beyond 2000", may in large part meet the requirements of such a task.

As a conclusion, we would like to highlight that further progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 will require the coordination of work at global level and a good cooperation not only of all relevant international organizations but also of the national governments, especially when it comes to the implementation of activities agreed at global level. In the same time, the involvement of all stakeholders should be encouraged. The international chemical industry is prepared to contribute to these efforts. 

For further questions  please visit our web site under http://www.icca-chem.org or contact me directly (phone # +49 69 2556-1425, e-mail engelhardt@vci.de.

 

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