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Environment ministers address chemicals management

At the 10th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) session held in the Libyan Mediterranean city of Sirte, African environment ministers adopted several important decisions. One of these concerned the development of a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).

The ministers noted the link between poverty and vulnerability to toxic chemicals, as well as the impact of toxic chemicals on biodiversity. They endorsed and encouraged participation of all stakeholders in developing a SAICM, especially in sectors such as agriculture, environment, health and industry. The AMCEN decision on chemicals endorsed recommendations made at the African regional meeting on international chemicals management (Box 2).

Box 2: Chemicals management

At a regional meeting in Nigeria in May 2004, African governments adopted a position on the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) - a tool to advance the sound management of chemicals for sustainable development in the region.

The African position emphasized that SAICM should, among other activities:

  • Manage chemicals at all stages of their life cycle, using the principles of 'cradle-to-grave' life cycle analysis;
  • Target the most toxic and hazardous chemicals as a priority;
  • Ensure full integration of chemicals management and better coordination among stakeholders;
  • Increase chemical safety capacity at all levels;
  • Ensure that children and other vulnerable populations are protected from the risks of chemicals;
  • Promote corporate social responsibility and develop approaches that reduce human and environmental risks for all, rather than transferring the risks to those least able to cope with them;
  • Incorporate the principles of substitution, prevention, polluter pays, right to know, and greening of the industry; and
  • Integrate the precautionary, life cycle, partnership, liability and accountability approaches.

The statement urges that SAICM should be established at national, regional and international levels as a coordinating structure for harmonizing legal instruments and organizations responsible for chemicals management.

Source: UNEP 2004

The year also saw significant policy successes at sub-regional and national levels, such as the establishment of the Zambezi Watercourse Commission, and South Africa 's National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 2004 (Box 3).

Box 3: New law tackles genetically modified organisms

South Africa 's National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 2004 kept the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) high on the agenda. Most of the environmental concerns about GMOs are based on the possibility of gene transfer from one organism to another, possible undesirable effects of exotic genes or traits (for example, insect resistance or herbicide tolerance), and possible effects on non-target organisms.

The new law identifies the handling of GMOs, along with alien species, as a key management issue. It requires an environmental impact assessment to be approved before the government will permit any GMO to be released into the environment, either on a trial or a general basis.

Source: Government of South Africa 2004

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