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SAICM PrepCom1 Bangkok, 9-13 November 2003

Hon. Prapat Panyachatraska, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Kingdom of Thailand,

Dr Kim Hak-Su, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

Dr Suwit Wibulpoprasert, President of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety

Dr Zoltan Csizer, Chairman of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals

Distinguished participants…

I thank the honourable Minister for his welcome. It is always a pleasure to visit the beautiful Kingdom of Thailand and its vibrant capital city.

UNEP enjoys close and fruitful collaboration with the Minister’s department in the field of chemicals management. And our Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has been successfully based here in Bangkok for many years.

We are grateful for the Thai Government’s willingness to host this important first session of the Preparatory Committee for the Development of a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management or SAICM PrepCom1. In particular, I would like to thank the Pollution Control Department for their assistance.

I also offer my congratulations to Dr Suwit Wibulpoprasert on his election as President of IFCS, to outgoing President Henrique Cavalcanti for his work, and to Thailand on its successful hosting of Forum IV.

UNEP looks forward to IFCS’s contribution to SAICM. I wish Dr Suwit every success in his tenure as President.

I thank my colleague Dr Kim Hak-Su for joining us this morning and for accommodating us at this magnificent conference centre at ESCAP headquarters. We have received excellent cooperation from his staff in preparing for the meeting.

Dr Csizer, as Chairman of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals, represents a coalition of agencies with a vital role to play in SAICM, including UNEP, FAO, ILO, OECD, UNITAR, WHO and Dr Csizer’s own UNIDO. Together with IFCS, UNDP and the World Bank, these organizations have come together to form a steering committee to plan and facilitate the SAICM process.

I believe that this 10-agency partnership is unique. It is also essential if SAICM is to evolve as a truly multi-sectoral endeavour. While the concept may have been initiated by UNEP’s Governing Council, its success will depend on all relevant international organizations participating in the process and embracing the outcomes as part of their own chemical safety programmes.

For the same reason, I am greatly encouraged to see representatives from so many different fields present at PrepCom1. We have delegates from health, environment, labour, industry, agriculture, foreign affairs and development, from Governments, NGOs and international organizations.

This coming together of the sectors is in itself an achievement and a tremendous opportunity. Only cross-sectoral participation will allow a truly strategic approach to the problems of chemical safety.

With so many disparate interests, your task will not be easy. But I urge you to work together to develop a holistic approach reflecting the concerns of all sectors, and afterwards to ensure that the governing bodies of all the relevant organizations adopt the resulting strategic approach.

Progress since Rio

The 11 years since the Earth Summit in Rio have seen some excellent progress in international chemicals management. To mention a few milestones:

1. the Rotterdam Convention on prior informed consent has 50 ratifications and will soon come into force as laid out in the WSSD Plan of Implementation and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants has been adopted and should enter into force early next year;

2. a harmonized system for classification and labelling has been agreed. The WSSD JPOI encourages countries to implement this new globally harmonized system for the classification and labelling of chemicals as soon as possible with a view to having the system fully operational by 2008.

3. the number of chemical assessments available has increased markedly;

4. a number of donor countries have significantly stepped up their funding for capacity building projects;

5. the GEF has established a $250 million fund for POPs; and

6. new institutional mechanisms such as the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC)and Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) have been established to better coordinate and prioritise chemical safety work.

7. the WSSD JPOI also called for the promotion of global assessments and studies of heavy metals, and UNEP is helping specifically with the phase out of lead in petrol, particularly in Africa, and in relation to mercury use.

Chemical play an important role in our daily lives. Global chemical sales have increased nine-fold since 1970 and will continue growing, with production shifting increasingly to developing countries. In

1998 the industry generated $1,500 billion in sales, accounting for 9 per

cent of international trade and employing over 10 million people, according to 2001 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

One of the key objectives for SAICM is to position chemical safety as a mainstream sustainable development issue.

Much remains to be done. IFCS in its Bahia Declaration and Priorities for Action Beyond 2000 set many targets and the Johannesburg Summit laid down the broad challenge of achieving, by 2020, that chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.

SAICM presents an opportunity to take stock of progress and plan for faster and more effective implementation of chemical safety goals, particularly in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. More specifically, it should provide a road map for achievement of the Johannesburg target of 2020 for the safe production and use of chemicals.

Institutional Framework

The SAICM concept rests on strong foundations of UNEP Governing Council’s initiating mandate and its endorsement by WSSD. In 2002 UNEP Governing Council agreed on the need for a SAICM and this year it further endorsed a consultative process involving an international conference preceded by preparatory meetings such as this one in Bangkok. The Governing Council proposed holding the international conference in conjunction with its own special session and Global Ministerial Environment Forum at the beginning of 2006. Subsequently the World Health Assembly and the International Labour Conference have also expressed support for SAICM. The number and comprehensive range of participants in this Bangkok meeting are further evidence of the broad support for SAICM.


I wish to thank the Governments of Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as UNIDO, for their generous funding for PrepCom1. Your contributions have been vital in launching the SAICM process. I must say, however, that the strength of political support for SAICM expressed in its mandates has not yet been matched by funding contributions. I would urge Governments, our partner international organizations, industry and other stakeholders to share the financial burden associated with SAICM. UNEP urgently needs your assistance in meeting remaining costs of the present meeting and for the rest of this important endeavour.

What is SAICM?

Many people have been asking just what is this “SAICM”. Here in the Kingdom of Thailand, where elephants are specially revered, I am reminded of the old Buddhist proverb of the blind men and the elephant. A community of blind men once heard that an extraordinary animal called an elephant had arrived. Since they did not know what it looked like, they resolved to feel the beast – the only possibility that was open to them! When they found the elephant, one felt the head and declared that an elephant was like a pot. A second felt the ear and proclaimed that an elephant was similar to a basket. The third, who felt only the tusk, said it was a ploughshare. And so the competing interpretations continued as their colleagues touched the back, the tail, the feet and so on.

Perhaps the SAICM is a little like the blind men’s elephant at this early stage. Ideas about its eventual scope, objectives and emphases differ considerably. But the IFCS Bahia Declaration and Priorities for Action Beyond 2000, together with the possible draft elements for a SAICM contributed by diverse stakeholders and complied by UNEP at the request of its Governing Council, may provide a good starting point for the PrepCom’s work. While the range of possible issues to be addressed is potentially unlimited, the initial submissions to UNEP confirm interest in three broad areas: international chemicals policy, governance and coordination of institutional arrangements and enhancement of capacity-building.

Resolution 22/4 of the UNEP Governing Council states that the scope of SAICM should be clearly defined and take into account economic, social and economic aspects of chemicals management, with a view to contributing to sustainable development.

With the WSSD goal of achieving the production and use of chemicals without adversely affecting health and the environment by 2020 ahead of us, SAICM is a chance to think about additional international action. Are there important issues that have received insufficient attention in the past or emerging new issues that should not be ignored? Is there a sufficient international framework in place to ensure the sound management of chemicals throughout their whole lifecycles, or are there significant gaps remaining to be addressed?

International environmental governance has recently been the subject of a Ministerial consultative process under UNEP auspices. The chemicals field was recognized as a promising area for strengthened coordination. Already mechanisms such as the IFCS and IOMC are making a difference and the Conventions are gradually achieving synergies. The practical cooperation within the chemicals and wastes cluster of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, and the legal framework they provide for lifecycle management of hazardous chemicals are promising. But more possibilities for synergies remain to be pursued, subject to the endorsement by Conventions’ governing bodies.

One mark of success for SAICM would be the mobilization of greater resources to improve chemicals management. Part of the answer may be better integration of chemical issues in the wider sustainable development agenda, both at the level of national planning and in the sense of deeper engagement by the international financial institutions, development assistance agencies and the chemicals industry. The World Bank’s recent report on Toxics and Poverty has helped underline this linkage and at the same time is a very welcome sign of the Bank’s increasing interest in chemicals issues.

In some cases, there will inevitably be a need for increased funding from bilateral donors and from institutions to meet the costs of enhanced capacity building, the phase out of dangerous chemicals, disposal and clean-up operations and other vital activities. The Montreal Protocol and soon, we hope, the Stockholm Convention show that real, global improvements for human health and the environment are possible through international cooperation. Equally they have shown that such achievements require substantial financial resources. The new funding established under the Global Environment Facility for work on Persistent Organic Pollutants is very encouraging in that regard.

Ladies and gentlemen, this PrepCom, is the beginning of a two-year process of which we have great hopes. SAICM is a unique opportunity to address the challenges of international chemicals management in a comprehensive and strategic fashion, building on the past work of IFCS and others, and providing a practical framework for fulfilling the goals set out at the Johannesburg Summit.

I wish you every success as you begin your deliberations here in Bangkok and work to make SAICM a reality.