Nairobi Conference Maps Out Future UN Work on Chemicals

africaAgainst the backdrop of growing international attention to the use of chemicals throughout the production and consumption chain, Helen Medina, USCIB’s director of life sciences and product policy, attended the Third International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM3), September 17-21 in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was held under the auspices of the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

An overarching issue at the conference was financing and technical resources for implementing the goals of the UN’s Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). SAICM is a voluntary policy framework, implemented in a multi-stakeholder process, with the aim of ensuring that, by the year 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.

“Since SAICM’s activities are increasingly dealing with products, downstream users and manufacturers need to be more fully included in the SAICM dialogue,” noted Medina. “This means that we need more participation from manufacturers, and that the SAICM process should take their views into account and reflect this in the outcomes.”

One of SAICM’s main objectives is that information and knowledge about chemicals contained in products “is available, accessible, user friendly, adequate and appropriate to the needs of all stakeholders.” As a step towards fulfilling this objective, UNEP has led a Chemicals in Product (CiP) project.

During ICCM3, it was decided that the CiP project would move forward to develop a proposal for an international voluntary program to facilitate and provide guidance on how relevant information on chemicals in products along the supply chain and throughout their life cycle can be shared with stakeholders. USCIB intervened during the negotiations to ensure that the proposed voluntary program would not target product categories within the scope of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of chemicals, and that only relevant information is sought from companies. USCIB also stressed that as the project develops it is important to recognize the existing information exchange systems which have already been developed and it underscored the importance of protecting confidential business information.

Other discussion items of interests to USCIB members included decisions on emerging issues such as endocrine disrupting chemicals, hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products, and additions to SAICM’s Global Plan of Action.

The issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) as a new work stream for SAICM was contentious. Derek Swick (American Petroleum Institute), representing USCIB, actively participated in the negotiations to emphasize the need for continued scientific knowledge on EDCs, and to underline that it was premature to include any work items to examine potential EDCs.  USCIB’s advocacy successfully limited new endocrine work under SAICM solely to known endocrine disruptors and not to “potential” endocrine disruptors.

The issue of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products continued to be of high interest to delegates, with African nations in particular voicing concern that, as production of electronics continues to increase, managing the waste and recovery of those products is crucial. Negotiators agreed that SAICM would develop an international set of best-practice resources, including in product design, to minimize the use of hazardous substances.

Another topic of interest to USCIB members was how SAICM’s Global Plan of Action might be expanded to address hazardous substances within the lifecycle of electrical and electronic products, as well as nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials. Mike Irwin (Procter & Gamble) followed these negotiations on behalf of USCIB.

Currently, the GPA is list of activities is a menu of non-negotiated items, which countries may choose to undertake in implementing SAICM objectives. USCIB’s main concern was that list of activities discussed in Nairobi would be included in the GPA in a manner that would elevate the importance of the activities.  After much debate, the additional activities to the GPA continue to remain as list of optional actions which countries can carry out as they continue to implement SAICM.

Sophia Danenberg (Boeing) was also invited to participate in a high-level dialogue of representatives from government, industry and civil society to discuss strengthening SAICM’s implementation. She reiterated that, with SAICM’s activities increasingly dealing with products, downstream users and manufacturers need to be more fully included in the SAICM dialogue.

Staff contact: Helen Medina

More on USCIB’s Product Policy Working Group

Staff Contact:   Brian Lowry

Senior VP, Innovation, Regulation, and Trade
Tel: 202.617.3159

Brian Lowry leads USCIB’s policy work on trade, health, food, agriculture, chemicals, and intellectual property. He also coordinates USCIB’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Lowry joined USCIB in February 2021 having previously worked as an executive in the agriculture and crop science industry. Through his role as an executive, Lowry was also a longtime USCIB corporate member leader, as well as co-chair of USCIB’s working group on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda. Lowry was also the first board chair of the UN Global Compact Network USA.
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