Summary report, 7–8 July 2021

Berlin Forum on Chemicals and Sustainability

Convening under the theme “Ambition and Action towards 2030,” the Berlin Forum on Chemicals and Sustainability provided a space for government representatives and stakeholders to exchange views on potential outcomes from the Fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5). Many stressed ICCM5 will offer an opportunity to make progress toward the adoption of an ambitious and robust framework for global action to achieve sound chemicals and waste management beyond 2020. The Forum consisted of a Ministerial Dialogue and a Stakeholder Dialogue.

The Ministerial Dialogue convened on 7 July and was moderated by Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany, who underscored the need to make better use of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) to achieve sound chemicals management. Schulze called for fundamental regulations that apply to all chemicals at the global level. 

Significantly, during the Ministerial Dialogue, the governments of Denmark, Germany, and the UK reaffirmed their commitment to improving sound chemicals management, by announcing additional contributions to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Special Programme on Institutional Strengthening for the Chemicals Cluster.

Over 800 participants registered for the Stakeholder Dialogue, which took place on 8 July. Participants took part in polls and were encouraged to submit questions to speakers through the meeting platform. The Stakeholder Dialogue featured repeated calls for the establishment of a science-policy interface (SPI) on chemicals and waste – noting any such body should be global, authoritative, “horizon scanning,” prestigious, independent, and inclusive. 

The Berlin Forum was organized by the German Government and hosted by the German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. The first event of its kind, the Berlin Forum was designed to provide momentum to high-level international dialogue on the urgent challenges and opportunities in relation to the sound management of chemicals and waste and their contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Forum aimed to complement the ongoing multi-stakeholder SAICM intersessional process, which has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was preceded by a press conference, which saw the launch of the report on Children and Digital Dumpsites E-waste Exposure and Children’s Health, published by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Forum took place virtually due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions. ENB coverage of this event is available here.  

Report of the Forum

Ministerial Dialogue 

Opening: Minister Schulze opened the Berlin Forum, recalling that ICCM5 was postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and underscored the urgent need to take action on chemical safety. She remarked that the SAICM goal of achieving the sound management of chemicals by 2020 was not met, and that the planet is currently facing the triple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Schulze emphasized the need to act urgently and expressed hope the Forum would result in an open exchange on how to make better use of SAICM. 

High-level Statements: António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, noted that sound chemicals management can prevent deaths. He stressed ICCM5 must deliver an ambitious and strategic global roadmap, emphasizing the need for ambition and collaboration.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said the EU is focused on a toxic-free future and can make a strong contribution to the global chemicals and waste agenda. He said the European Green Deal includes three spheres: restricting the most harmful chemicals; innovating and developing new chemicals and materials; and simplifying and streamlining the legal framework. Sinkevičius stressed that hazardous chemicals banned in the EU may not be exported to non-EU countries and underscored the need to create a virtuous circle of protection and innovation. He urged continuing and concluding negotiations on an improved enabling framework on chemicals and waste.

Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor, Germany, drew attention to the recent Supply Chain Act passed in Germany, and expressed hope the Berlin Forum would contribute to the success of ICCM5.

Ministerial Session: Opening this session, Schulze noted the Berlin Forum is not part of the ongoing SAICM process, but expressed hope the Forum will help advance the discussions. She called on all countries to do their part and announced Germany has committed an additional EUR 1 million to the Special Programme.

Schulze requested that participants address the themes of health and justice, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the sound management of chemicals and waste, and the circular economy and sustainable chemistry.

Achim Steiner, Administrator, UN Development Programme (UNDP), drew connections between sound chemicals management, climate change, and post-pandemic recovery. He observed that a circular economy can be part of the solution, while providing new opportunities to decarbonize economies and create jobs.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO, lamented that two million people died from exposure to chemicals in 2019 and that only half of countries have poison control centers. He called for a rights-based approach focused on justice and equity and highlighted the WHO Chemicals Roadmap.

Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO), reported that one million workers die from occupational exposure and more face disability and disease every year. He highlighted the ILO’s Convention on Occupational Health and Safety, and SDGs with targets related to chemicals management and on decent work as key, given the globalized nature of the chemicals sector.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted the many social inequalities that have led to disproportionate risks from the current COVID-19 pandemic also heighten exposure and risks related to chemicals. She called for a human rights-based approach based on ensuring access to justice and social protections.

Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, called for structural change, based on the human rights principles of transparency, accountability, and rights, to prevent further “toxification” of the planet.

Tanel Kiik, Minister of Health and Labour, Estonia, called for greater access to information about chemicals and their properties, including in products, with the hope that it could push companies toward sustainability.

Robert Cugelj, State Secretary, Ministry of Health, Slovenia, stressed the need for globally-binding instruments for the sound management of chemicals and waste that will prevent damage and hold stakeholders accountable. He urged greater awareness and responsibility among policymakers.

Marcia Bernicat, Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, US, expressed support for a new instrument to guide strategic management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020 that will help countries develop capacity for safe management.

Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary, Minamata Convention, said the only way to address chemicals that are detrimental to human health and the environment is to phase out their use, and reduce and eliminate their emissions. She identified mercury as one such chemical. Thus, she called for the timely implementation of the Minamata Convention so it can form part of the solution for the sound management of chemicals and waste. 

Nikhil Seth, Executive Director, UN Institute for Training and Research, stressed that failure to take action for the sustainability of the chemicals industry will cause a further setback to achievement of the SDGs, which has already been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. He underlined the need to expand training and behavior, and for cross-sectoral management. 

Rémi Nono Womdim, Executive Secretary, Rotterdam Convention, said that in cooperation with the WHO and UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has developed an ambitious action plan on highly hazardous pesticides that were identified by SAICM as an issue of international concern. He added that FAO has endorsed a new strategic framework to support the 2030 Agenda through a transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agri-food systems. He added that management of some agro-chemicals is an integral part of the framework.

Sinkevičius underlined the need for the effective identification of hazardous properties via new hazard classes for endocrine disruptors and very persistent substances in the environment. He said these new hazard classes should be included at the international level in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) to ensure the most harmful substances are avoided in consumer products. 

Arlette Soudan-Nonault, Minister of Environment, Sustainable Development and the Congo Basin, Republic of Congo, speaking also as President of the Bamako Convention, said that expired and banned chemicals, including end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment, are still being exported to Africa on a regular basis and are a serious threat to Africa’s health and environment. She called for:

  • establishing an organization of African researchers on hazardous waste;
  • creating a center of excellence, research, innovation, and training, on hazardous waste; and
  • creating a network of African companies for recycling and treating hazardous waste, which will facilitate the establishment of environmental taxation through an eco-tax.

Lea Wermelin, Minister for the Environment, Denmark, said an important milestone for achieving the SDGs related to chemicals management is securing a new global strategy for chemicals and waste, which can serve as a foundation for establishing and implementing legal frameworks at the regional or national level. She announced a contribution of USD 1 million to the UNEP Special Programme. 

Krista Mikkonen, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Finland, noted challenges for safe chemicals management, as well as opportunities to promote a circular economy and sustainable production and consumption. She said a safe circular economy should address the whole lifecycle of chemicals. She called for a transition to safer and more sustainable substances, materials, and products

Rebecca Pow, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK, noted the UK is collaborating with the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals and UNEP to develop indicators that will underpin the post-2020 framework. She announced an additional EUR 300,000 contribution to the UNEP Special Programme. 

Levan Davitashvili, Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Georgia, said with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other organizations, inventories of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been conducted, and POPs management capacity has increased. He added that around 500,000 tons of expired POPs pesticides have been collected and exported for safe disposal over the last four years. 

Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India, said his country is working on an omnibus chemicals regulation that will include proper hazard classification and labeling before chemicals are put to commercial use. He said India banned seven POPs in 2020, bringing the total number of banned POPs to 19 out of the 30 identified under the Stockholm Convention.  

Sveinung Rotevatn, Minister of Climate and Environment, Norway, called for an ambitious global framework for the management of chemicals and waste as a successor to SAICM. He said it should provide: a comprehensive set of targets to guide work; a system for managing priority issues not yet addressed by other conventions; and renewed understanding of the need for cooperation across UN organizations. 

Iulian Octavian Stana, State Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests, Romania, emphasized the need to identify solutions to restrict the export of waste to countries that lack the capacity to manage it properly. He also urged focusing on the negative impacts of urban activities and hazardous chemicals, calling for continued work to minimize the impacts of cities on the global climate system. 

Mohammed Khashashneh, Secretary General, Ministry of Environment, Jordan, expressed his country’s commitment to cooperating with other countries to strengthen the implementation of SAICM beyond 2020. He said his country is encouraging the production of green hydrogen and green ammonia, and has developed a national matrix to improve the management of hazardous materials throughout their lifecycle.

Yutaka Shoda, Vice Minister for Global Environmental Affairs, Japan, highlighted the importance of ESG financial flows to those companies which incorporated the concept of chemicals for sustainability, citing an example of a Japanese company that is taking such steps.  

Mikhail Ivanov, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Russian Federation, underscored his country’s efforts to ensure the development of chemical regulation, with an emphasis on digitalization and equal access to information, the promotion of innovation, and the best technical solutions as a contribution to the sustainable development of industry.

Gerardo Amarilla, Undersecretary of Environment, Uruguay, stressed that for countries with less comprehensive chemical controls, the resultant health impacts have economic consequences.

David Morin, Director General, Safe Environments Directorate, Canada, reaffirmed that chemicals know no borders and travel through long-range environmental transport as well as imported products. He stressed that countries require strong national chemicals frameworks to contribute to healthier populations.

Katrin Schneeberger, Director, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland, characterized establishing a science-policy platform for chemicals and waste that is equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a milestone. She said Switzerland will submit a resolution on such an SPI to the 5th meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) and called for ministers’ support in this regard.

Agnieszka Dudra, President, Bureau for Chemical Substances, Poland, called for global ambition and a more visible post-2020 platform for chemicals and waste.

Johanna Lissinger Peitz, Ambassador, Stockholm+50 Secretariat, Sweden, said a transition to sustainable chemicals management is essential for building back better and for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Karine Boquet, Deputy Director of Environmental Health, Chemicals, and Agriculture, Department of Health, Environment, Waste and Pollution, France, said the Dialogue would provide an opportunity to understand the positions of different countries and facilitate future collaboration. She supported the Swiss proposal to establish an international platform responsible for establishing scientific consensus on chemicals and waste issues.

Juan Miguel T. Cuna, Undersecretary, Field Operations and Environment, the Philippines, stressed the need for dynamic chemicals management focused on industry and chemical users. He highlighted the example of e-commerce that promotes the sale of dangerous and banned chemicals online.

On circular economy, Masamichi Kono, Deputy Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), pointed to OECD research which shows that implementing stringent measures to discourage plastic use will only moderately slow demand. He called for finding ways to make sustainable plastics that can contribute to a circular economy.

Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary, Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions, outlined each convention’s contribution to the sustainable management of chemicals and wastes, including the recent plastics amendment under the Basel Convention. He said chemicals management and a circular economy can increase engagement and foster innovation in the market while encouraging greener alternatives.

Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, United Arab Emirates, outlined his country’s circular economy policy, which includes infrastructure, transport, manufacturing, and food production and consumption. He noted the need for all stakeholders to adopt sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Leonore Gewessler, Federal Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology, Austria, highlighted the triple crises of climate, biodiversity, and pollution. She underscored the need to take the whole lifecycle into account and said material circularity must be based on the principle of being “benign by design.”

Zakia Khattabi, Minister of Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and Green Deal, Belgium, urged the strong application of the precautionary principle. She reiterated Belgium’s support to the Special Programme and said capacity building is a long-term effort. She stated that chemicals banned in the EU should not be manufactured for export.

Carlos Eduardo Correa, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia, highlighted his country’s national circular economy strategy, saying it is the first in Latin America and focuses on closing material cycles, promoting innovation, and reducing consumption.

Stientje van Veldhoven, Minister for the Environment, the Netherlands, observed mixed progress toward the goal of sustainable chemicals management by 2020. She underlined the need for producers to take responsibility for their products and to use climate-neutral production methods that do not rely on virgin materials.

Trần Hồng Hà, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam, underlined the need to promote investment and engage stakeholders in implementing circular economy initiatives. He also highlighted the need for raising awareness.

High Ambition Alliance: Johanna Lissinger Peitz and Gerardo Amarilla invited members of the High Ambition Alliance to share how an ambitious global framework could help efforts to manage chemicals and waste.

Amarilla, with Alliance members from Thailand and Zambia, highlighted how the post-2020 framework could support multistakeholder platforms and regional approaches. They also spoke of the need for transparency in supply chains, identifying and addressing emerging issues, such as lead in paint and e-waste.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, called for testing and verifying the quality and safety of chemicals, saying most on the market are of insufficient quality and safety. She urged protecting workers at all stages of product lifecycles, from extraction to disposal.

Therese Lilliebladh, Requirement Manager, Chemicals, IKEA, stated that a strong global framework could provide the cornerstones for companies’ action plans, including on transparency in the supply chain and safe substitutions. Amarilla called on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to endorse the post-2020 chemicals framework to increase its visibility.

Closing Reflections: Closing the Dialogue, Schulze urged increased efforts on sustainable chemicals management, saying ICCM5 should not remain at or fall short of the 2006 ambition level. She called for improved cross-sectoral coordination and the incorporation of sound chemicals management into environmental policy. She also suggested chemicals management be permanently included on the UNGA agenda and called for support for the High Ambition Alliance.

Stakeholder Dialogue 

Opening and Welcome: Rolph Payet and Minu Hemmati, Berlin Forum Stakeholder Dialogue and Independent Consultant, co-moderated this dialogue on 8 July. Payet identified the objectives of the second day of the Forum as complementing ongoing SAICM intersessional processes and advancing the sound management of chemicals and waste.

Schulze said the world should no longer tolerate the impacts of chemicals and waste on society. She underscored that the urgency of the situation is deepening due to the enormous growth in chemicals production. Calling for improved global management, she cited three keys to success: expand institutional capacities; reduce resource use and establish a circular economy; and promote science and research.

Sound Management of Chemicals Within the Context of the SDGs and the Science-Policy Interface: Payet moderated this discussion with Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director, Economy Division, UNEP, and Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Assitant Administrator and Director, Bureau of Policy and Programme Support, UNDP. Aggarwal-Khan called the current trends worrying and noted that unsound management of chemicals and waste could hinder the attainment of several SDGs, including on food, water, and energy. She urged moving beyond a chemical-by-chemical approach toward lifecycle management.

Xu said the UN system can help put sound chemicals and waste management at the heart of sustainable development. Underscoring the scale of the challenge at the national level, he pointed to hope in some projects, such as a product in Accra, Ghana, that has drastically improved the safe processing of medical waste.

Responding to a question on how the UN can remain responsive to countries, Xu underlined the need to eliminate single use plastics, especially given the expansion of e-commerce. He said innovation is needed, and can come from industry and local communities. He cited projects to support local women to provide alternatives to single use plastic bags, and projects to help industry separate plastics in e-waste and remove plastics that contain POPs,

On the SPI, Khan outlined the three options identified for chemicals and waste: an independent global platform similar to the IPCC; institutionalizing the Global Chemicals Outlook and Global Wastes Outlook; or subsidiary or thematic types of task forces or panels. She said the system must be authoritative, enable horizon scanning, use a lifecycle approach, and incorporate the voices of different stakeholders.

Responding to a question regarding how countries can be supported to develop and enforce regulations, panelists highlighted the importance of digitalization, engaging with local communities, educating and raising awareness among citizens, applying a whole-of-society approach, and using incentives to reward lack of pollution and greener approaches.

Strengthening and Enhancing Implementation: Payet asked panelists to explore existing and proven mechanisms and strategies and consider ways to strengthen and enhance them.

Richard Fuller, Head, Secretariat of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, presented data on global levels of air pollution and their causes. He stated that pollution is responsible for nine million premature deaths annually and that chemicals account for about 1.8 million of those deaths. He said about half of the deaths from chemicals are from occupational risks and half are from lead exposure, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the majority of impacts. He explained that lead is an enormous part of the burden of disease, causing both premature deaths and brain damage.

David Morin highlighted the importance of a robust, national legislative framework in implementing the sound management of chemicals and waste. He said such a framework should: contain enforceable controls; demonstrate a good knowledge of the most significant local chemicals issues; and include an open dialogue with stakeholders. He added that a good regime will support a strong economy by providing the predictability that industrial supply chains need.

Olushola Olayide, Acting Head of Sustainable Environment and Blue Economy Division, African Union Commission, called for an up-to-date and integrated chemicals strategy for African policymakers, which she said should be rooted in the 2008 Libreville Declaration on Health and Environment in Africa and aligned with the SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063. She explained it should contain the following elements: review and reinforce existing institutional arrangements; establish sustainable financing mechanisms; strengthen national capacity for research; increase advocacy and communications; and contain integrated surveillance, and monitoring and evaluation.

Le Hoai Nam, Director, Department of Environmental Quality Management, Vietnam Environment Administration, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam, said his country is developing national policy instruments to address chemicals, incorporating the requirements of the various chemicals conventions into their national legal system. He said they have developed regulations on the use of POPs and persistent toxic substances (PTS) in products and processes, standards to regulate the limits of POPs and PTS in raw materials, and regulations on the disposal of wastes that contain POPs and PTS. He noted that all producers in the country are required to comply with these regulations and standards.

On the role of the proposed SPI, panelists emphasized its importance for chemicals management, with one saying it should not just be about chemicals but should be about all pollution. They noted  such an interface would:

  • bridge the large data gaps to increase understanding of the health impacts of pollution;
  • bring attention to bigger issues relating to the toxins agenda;
  • help ensure chemicals policies are guided by science; and
  • support implementation of the BRS Conventions. 

Creating New Paths: Rolph Payet introduced the panelists, who addressed approaches that supplement, support, and reinforce effective existing measures for sustainable chemicals management. 

Tanja Gönner, Chair of the Management Board, GIZ, Germany, noted that GIZ’s activities include the Farm to Fork project, which has been operating in Costa Rica since 2018 and integrates biodiversity, ecosystem services, and reduced use of pesticides in pineapple and banana crops.

Martin Kayser, Senior Vice President, BASF, underscored the importance of basing policy decisions on strong science. He said the private sector can bring skills and capacity to any new platform.

Reflecting on barriers to sound chemicals management, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO and Chairperson, GEF, outlined the need to ensure adequate legal frameworks are in place, as well as to address the issue of industry lobbies, which he said are a major burden at the national level. He further underscored the need for engagement with ministries of agriculture, industry, environment, and health, on all chemicals and waste interventions.

Tom Welton, President, Royal Society of Chemistry, stressed that an SPI on chemicals and waste should be global, authoritative, “horizon scanning,” prestigious, and independent. He likened the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the IPCC to a two-legged stool, noting a third chemicals leg is key to balance the stool.

Tadesse Amera, Co-Chair, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), stressed the need to phase out highly hazardous pesticides, and said the plastics issue is not only about waste management, but also about chemicals. He said no convention currently adequately addresses plastics.

Panelists then responded to a question on how young people may add value to sound chemicals management. Welton stressed the need to provide youth with tactile and practical actions they can take. Kayser called on youth to engage in and study chemistry, and Amera urged youth to focus on green design. Manuel Rodriguez drew the distinction between engaging with the political process around chemicals and with the sector itself. He outlined the GEF’s investments in educators and innovators, and its efforts to integrate these into projects.

New Future Policy Award: Nikhil Seth presented the Future Policy Awards, saying all the recipients are the “quiet heroes” protecting people from the harmful effects of hazardous chemicals. Special awards were given to:

  • Sri Lanka, for its updated pesticides act that restricts access to hazardous pesticides used in suicides;
  • the Philippines, for being the first Southeast Asian country to implement lead-safe paint legislation; and
  • Colombia, for its management plans to handle pharmaceutical products and expired medicines in a safe manner.

Gold awards were presented to the Stockholm region of Sweden, for its phase-out list for chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and human health, and to Kyrgyz Republic, for making labeling and safety information legally binding. Seth expressed hope these examples would inspire other policymakers around the world to act.

Reflections and Closure: Gertrud Sahler, ICCM5 President, stressed the need for action at all levels, from establishing national legal frameworks to strengthening coordination among international frameworks and agreements. She highlighted the need to strengthen the mobilization and provision of financial and non-financial support from public and private sources. She expressed hope that ICCM5 would adopt an ambitious and further developed framework for SAICM and a high-level declaration that will pave the way for an UNGA resolution.

Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany, called for an improved SPI to inform political decisions. He stressed the need for implementation, which he said requires political will, awareness raising, and resources. He called for national learn-by-doing approaches and said ICCM5 represented a global opportunity to advance the sound management of chemicals and waste.

Payet noted that existing agreements cover only a fraction of chemicals of potential concern. He called for a global comprehensive framework for the sound management of chemicals and waste that can contribute to achieving all of the SDGs.

The meeting closed at 4:32pm CEST.

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