UNEP: Countries will not meet the internationally agreed goal to minimize the adverse impacts of chemicals and waste by 2020, urgent action is required to reduce further damage to human health and economies

Chemicals play an important role in contemporary economy, implementing 2030 and achieving multiple SDGs. Whether the chemical industries will serve public good and improve people's lives, reduce environmental harm and improve waste management, depends on the effective policy frameworks and laws, voluntary commitment of the industries to improve their process and production methods, introduce cleaner technologies, develop cleaner and safer chemicals, improve waste management.  

Despite the commitments made at high-level UN Conferences and some action taken, scientists continue to express concerns regarding the lack of progress towards related SDG targets, improving the management of chemicals and waste at global, national, regional levels. For example, as of 2018, more than 120 countries had not implemented the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UNEP, 2019).

The production of some chemicals and the pests has proven to produce the negative or the controversial effects on public health, ecosystems and the environment. For instance, pesticides, among other reasons including loss in biodoversity and climate change, have been found to negatively impact pollinators (bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, beetles and other species) and the productivity in agriculture. Excess use of phosphorous and nitrogen in agriculture continues to contribute to ocean dead zones and chemicals used in sunscreens put pressure on coral reef ecosystems. Studies also indicate that releases of some antimicrobials, heavy metals and disinfectants contribute to antimicrobial resistance.

SDG Targets 12.4 and 3.9 are of direct relevance for a range of chemicals and waste management issues, SDG Target 6.3 focuses specifically on improving water quality. The sound management of chemicals and waste is also relevant for the achievement of many other SDGs. Those include halting biodiversity loss, clean water and sanitation, facilitating access to clean energy, climate action, ensuring quality education, and gender equality. Furthermore, implementation of other SDGs is essential in achieving the sound management of chemicals and waste, such as those concerned with education, financing and partnerships.

To date, the implementation gaps remain. The lack of progress in improving the current situation will aggravate in the decade to come if no urgent action and more effective policies are not put in place. The recent estimates suggest that production, use, and trade of chemicals, driven by increasing population and demand, are growing worldwide. The current chemical production capacity of 2.3 billion tonnes, valued at US$5 trillion annually, is projected to double by 2030 (UNEP, 2019), where the Asia-Pacific region is projected to account for more than 2/3 of sales by 2030. While the number of chemicals registered by the American Chemical Society’s global Chemical Abstracts Service exceeds 142 million, 40,000 to 60,000 are placed on the market, 6,000 of these chemicals account for more than 99 percent of the total volume. The number of chemicals on the market is exceeded by a larger – and growing – number of chemical-intensive products, mainly electronics and personal care products. According to 2018 data compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA), approximately 62 percent of the total volume of chemicals consumed in the European Union (EU) in 2016 were hazardous to health (EEA 2018).

Today, new concepts such as "sustainable chemistry", "green chemistry" and "bioeconomy" emerge to reflect the need for the alternative path for chemicals and waste management. For instance, according to the estimates provided by the EU agencies, 100 000 chemicals currently in production can, in theory, be sourced from renewable raw materials, therefore, mitigate the impact on health and environment and support achieving the sustainable development and climate change agendas, development of circular economy and improving waste and chemicals management. A holistic strategy that provides the links between the circular economy, bioeconomy and another relevant strategy needs to evolve. There is a need in a shared vision, goals and commitments. 

By Katsiaryna Serada



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