16 Feb 2023

UNEP Science-Policy Panel to Contribute to the Management of Chemicals, Waste and Pollution Prevention

Michelle Bloor, University of Glasgow

Our planet is facing three crises: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. These three planetary crises are not independent of each other, they are clearly intertwined, and each can influence the other. These issues can clearly benefit from intergovernmental collaborative frameworks under the umbrella of the United Nations (UN). In fact, the UN deals with climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and biodiversity loss through the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). There has been no such panel on chemical pollution to date. However, in February 2022, the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) passed a resolution that declared that a science-policy panel should be established to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution. UNEA also sought to convene an ad-hoc Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) to begin work on the matter in 2022, with the ambition of being completed by the end of 2024. The SETAC World Council had endorsed the UNEA Resolution and the Globe article from last March explored this process and the activities the Society undertook in more detail.

SETAC has a long history of collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). SETAC has played an important role supporting UNEP by identifying global experts, providing expert representation, supporting the management of forums, promoting the dissemination of findings, and providing outlets to publish the conclusions and recommendations from the forums. SETAC is accredited within UNEP in the scientific and technical community. The other major groups include non-governmental organizations, farmers, Indigenous peoples and their communities, local authorities, women, business and industry, children and youth, and workers and trade unions. As an accredited organization, SETAC has observer status at OEWG meetings and can submit written statements and request the floor for interjections, reflections and comments.

SETAC’s statement, which I had the honor to deliver at the 1.1 ad-hoc OEWG session on 6 October 2022, where OEWG agreed on procedural matters and adopted rules of procedures for its work, was well received and an excerpt was showcased in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

To further its work with OEWG, the SETAC World Council formed the SETAC Advisory Panel on Chemicals Management (CheM) to provide advice on SETAC’s input into activities around OEWG. The SETAC World Council solicited applications from volunteer experts within our membership for the CheM. SETAC received 42 applications and, after a robust and transparent process, the council appointed the CheM members.

Scope and function of the science-policy panel were the main focus of the 1.2 ad-hoc OEWG session, which was held from 30 January–3 February in Bangkok, Thailand. The CheM prepared a written statement related to scope and function, which can be found on the UNEP website along with statements made by member states and other participants. On behalf of the SETAC CheM, I also provided the OEWG with verbal observations relating to the scope discussion. We encouraged the OEWG to consider including the term transdisciplinary and not just science, since the global challenge of chemicals, waste and pollution prevention requires input from the full range of disciplines working collaboratively.

The 2.0 ad-hoc OEWG session is planned for November or December, and prior to that event the CheM will undertake wider consultation with the membership. The CheM plans to undertake engagement and data collection activities within SETAC’s five geographic units over the next two years, to inform SETAC’s contribution to the OEWG process. The first event will be a special session on 2 May at the SETAC Europe 33rd Annual Meeting in Dublin.

In the meantime, SETAC has established an Affinity Group for the Panel on Chemicals Management (CheM). If you are interested in getting involved, please follow the instructions to join the group. Participation in an Affinity Group is open to everyone, and we will provide regular opportunities to engage in the CheM activities process through this forum. Furthermore, as an informative tool, UNEP has facilitated a webinar series connected to the ad-hoc OEWG activities, which provide a deep-dive into the process.

Author’s contact: michelle.bloor@glasgow.ac.uk

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