Advancing the Global Strategy towards Sound Chemicals Management: A Report Back from the 4th International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4)

By Giulia Carlini, Geneve-based intern
By Giulia Carlini, Geneva-based intern

Hundreds delegates from governments, international organizations, public interest NGOs, and the chemical and pesticide industry just returned from a week-long conference in Geneva. The hot topic? Our health and environment over the next 15 years.

Chemicals are in our food, clothes, and children’s toys, in household dusts and on our work floors, in our rivers and in our fields. Chemicals can seriously affect our health, causing cancer, interfering with our hormone system and children’s development as well as impairing the sustainable development of many local communities. Their responsible management is critical not only for human health, but also the planet’s, and it can only be achieved through cooperation between sectors (such as health, agriculture, science, environment, labor, industry, and economic), as well as between stakeholders (public interest NGOs, governments, international organizations and industries). That is why representatives from these sectors just convened for the fourth meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4) to advance the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), held in Geneva from September 28th to October 2nd. To coincide with the meeting, CIEL and BAN Toxics released a series of issue briefs highlighting the human rights implications of six highly toxic substances: mercury, lead, phthalates, pesticides, decaBDE (an additive flame retardant), and electronic waste or e-Waste.


Chemical management is not a new issue. In 2002, the so-called “2020 goal” was set: “that chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize adverse effects on human health and the environment.” Progress has been made, but we are far from achieving that goal. For instance, according to the World Health Organization, 16% of all children are estimated to have lead in their blood at levels above 10 µg/dl. This level is already sufficient to affect their growth, hearing, intelligence quotient (IQ), and nervous system. And even when a substance is successfully banned, there are leftovers. Half a million tonnes of obsolete pesticides contaminate soil and water in developing countries.

With less than 5 years remaining to reach the 2020 goal, it is obvious to anyone looking that we will not reach it by then. After initial reluctance to consider the way forward after 2020 (for fear that it would distract attention from efforts that must be made before then), parties to ICCM4 decided to establish a process to ensure that, when 2020 comes, the international community has a framework to continue its efforts and build on the successes and failures of SAICM, the policy framework of ICCM4.

A few years ago, CIEL participated in this reflection by providing an analysis of the gaps and strengths, not only of SAICM, but of the entire “Waste and Chemical cluster” (global chemical regulations including the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions) and outlining possible ways forward. After reaching consensus on the need to consider planning for after 2020, ICCM4 participants focused on outlining a process to decide what the post 2020 arrangement could look like.

The process will include an independent evaluation of SAICM, and at least three intercessional meetings before 2020. It will be opened to all regions and stakeholders (including health, trade union, and public interest organizations) to ensure strong and open-ended cooperation among all relevant sectors to chemical and wastes management.


ICCM4 participants not only looked at alonger term arrangement, but also agreed on cooperative actions in a number of areas including emerging policy issues (EPIs), such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), hazardous substances within the life-cycle of electrical and electronic products, and nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials. They also nominated environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants (EPPPs) as an EPI, agreed to cooperative actions such as awareness raising, disclosure, and sharing of information on chemicals in products (CiP), and agreed to take action on highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), to promote alternatives based on agroecology, and to phase out lead in paint by 2020.

The discussions included numerous references to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, which is the new global framework aimed at eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development. The Agenda sets 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and several targets, including the objective “to achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle” by 2020; “substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination”, and “improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials” by 2030.

ICCM4 agreed to develop recommendations regarding measurable objectives in support of the SDGs. Indeed, one of the key challenges towards the achievement of these goals by 2020 and beyond is the identification of targets and measurements of chemicals release, which are crucial to the sound management of chemicals and effectively protect human health and the environment.

Posted October 2015