Towards a new intergovernmental platform to stem chemical pollution around the world


On a street in Dingzhou (Hebei province, China) near the Guohua coal-fired power plant, November 10, 2023.

Off the radar of public discussion, the arduous world of chemical regulation finds itself at a turning point. Historical perhaps. A IPCC chemistry »like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), should come to life in June 2024. Missions, composition and procedures are all strategic questions that will be discussed from December 11 to 15 in Nairobi (Kenya) under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), during the penultimate meeting of a work group made up of state delegates.

In July 2020, chemical pollution had been designated, along with climate and biodiversity, as one of three planetary crises – ecological and interconnected. THE “toxic fumes of economic growththen erts Fernando Coimbra, the president of the Committee of Permanent Representatives of UNEP, cause the premature deaths of millions of people each year.. More precisely: 8% of the total number of deaths on Earth.

Cancers, cardiovascular diseases, infertility, diabetes, obesity, damage to brain development…: for society, the bill is prohibitive. The cost of diseases linked to exposure to chemicals, estimated a study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in 2017, exceeds 10% of global gross domestic product. That’s more than ten thousand billion euros per year.

To propose “ actions on a global scale »

While the IPCC has existed since 1988 and the IPBES (intergovernmental scientific and policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services) since 2012, chemistry lacked an international platform that matched the challenges.

It is resolution 5/8 of the United Nations Environment embly which, in March 2022, finally recorded the creation of a “ group of experts on the science-policy interface for the rational management of chemicals and waste and the prevention of pollution » or, in English, the Science Policy Panel… Objective: to propose political solutions and actions on a global scale”, explain Martin Scheringer, environmental chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (Switzerland), who launched the idea in 2004.

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State delegates, researchers, NGOs… Behind the scenes, many actors are concerned about the role of the chemical industry in the activities of the future panel. Understand: her ability to block them, an exercise where she deploys strategies proven for decades. They particularly fear the pitfall of regulatory capture, which so often sees representatives of the business world participating in processes intended to impose constraints on them. How will the experts be selected? panel? What about their potential conflicts of interest?

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