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Chemicals management comes of age
Chemical waste storage of a soap and vegetable-oil factory in Lusaka, Zambia.
Source: Ron Giling/Still Pictures

Chemicals management has been a longstanding area of international cooperation, but the global regime for more systematic management 'came of age' in 2004 with the completion of a trio of instruments controlling their trade and movements.

One of the goals set at the WSSD was to achieve, by 2020, that chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment. Work towards that goal accelerated in 2004. Two major agreements entered into force as global, legally-binding instruments regulating the life cycle of chemicals. The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade came into force on 24 February, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) on 17 May. These two join the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal as complementary international agreements, significantly expanding the legal regime that governs the movement and use of chemicals.

The provisions of the three agreements are complementary. The Stockholm Convention deals with the evaluation and regulation of existing and new POPs (see also Box 1 in Polar section). The Rotterdam Convention covers the import and export of hazardous chemicals, while the Basel Convention establishes principles for the environmentally-sound movement and disposal of hazardous wastes. Trade provisions and hazard communication are important aspects of all three conventions.

Work continued during the year on developing these instruments. The first Conference of Parties (COP-1) to the Rotterdam Convention, held in Geneva in September, broadened the Convention's scope by including an additional 14 chemicals to its existing list of regulated substances. The seventh COP of the Basel Convention, which met in October, took key decisions to increase focus on waste minimization and to apply the terms of the Convention to the dismantling of ships.

The year 2004 also saw steps to link important elements of the chemicals life cycle into a coherent management regime for a safer future. Since 2003, international organizations, governments and stakeholders have been drafting a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) designed to enhance synergies and coordination among regulatory instruments and agencies. In October, over 300 government representatives meeting in Nairobi took significant steps to clarify the scope and purpose of a SAICM. They agreed that it would consist of an overarching policy strategy, a global plan of action, and a high-level declaration. The work of the SAICM preparatory process will culminate in an International Conference on Chemicals Management in 2006.

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