Industry must work harder on chemical safety - UN

28 May 2009 16:32  [Source: ICIS news]

HELSINKI (ICIS news)--The global chemical industry is not doing enough to help achieve the United Nations’ goal of the safe production and consumption of chemicals by 2020, a representative said on Thursday.

“With the exception of a few bold players there is still a casual sense of urgency,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations’ Environment Programme. “It is recognised by a number of companies and CEOs that more action is necessary but it has not been translated into a sufficiently ambitious set of initiatives.”

In an interview with ICIS on the sidelines of the Helsinki Chemicals Forum, Steiner said that he was putting a greater emphasis on multinational systems to set standards to implement regulatory frameworks. He said systems such as the Global Product Strategy - an industry initiative towards the 2020 goal - were a step in the right direction, but only if they had effective outcomes.

“The Global Product Strategy is not an end in itself unless there are firm outcomes beyond just the statement of intentions. It may not deliver because regulating to decide which chemicals [should be restricted] is not a private-sector decision: it’s a public choice... An industry of competitors can’t regulate itself,” according to Steiner.

He said there needed to be greater cooperation between the private and public sector: “We need to reach a point where there can be agreement between the public and private sector on risk profiles and how we judge a chemical. This can’t just be done by the industry but by society through elected governments.”

The recent International Conference on Chemicals Management in Geneva was a step in the right direction, he said. This brought industry and public sector representatives together to discuss progress on the Strategic Approach to Chemicals Management – the regime agreed by both parties to work towards the 2020 goal.

Regulations such as Europe’s Reach, he said, would benefit the industry: “It will benefit from improved knowledge base and lower risks in the future. Product liabilities and environmental legacies are very uncomfortable for the balance sheets of companies.”

The UN would be asking the industry for financial support to help developing countries improve their environmental performance. Steiner said he had asked a group to produce recommendations on the level of support required by the end of the year, adding that it would be “significant”.

“I want to bring a new lease of life to the financing of the chemicals agenda,” he said. 

The UN’s 2020 aim was agreed with the World Health Organisation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

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By: Will Beacham
+44 20 8652 3214

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