Alliances between international organizations:
Chemicals & wastes

Franz Xaver Perrez

Franz Xaver Perrez
Swiss Federal Office for the Environment

Dr Franz Xaver Perrez is Deputy Head of the International Affairs Division and Head of Section for Global Affairs in the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. He led the Swiss Delegation during the negotiations of the SAICM Preparatory Committee. The ideas in this article are not those of the Swiss Government but re?ect the views and ideas of the author.

Dr Perrez has written a fuller analysis of the SAICM process in RECIEL 15 (3) 2006. Blackwell (ISSN 0962 8797) on which this commentary is based.

View from a negotiator

Strategic Chemicals Management: promise and reality

Chemicals management has made considerable progress since the 1972 United Nations Stockholm Conference put the environment high on the international agenda. However, the sound management of chemicals and wastes still presents a pressing challenge for many countries. Is the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) the answer? Perhaps, says Dr Franz Xaver Perrez, if it can turn declarations into action.

Chemicals management has been one of the success stories since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Today, nearly 50 international and regional agreements have been adopted on chemicals-related issues, and numerous institutions and processes deal with chemicals policy.

Nevertheless, the different chemicals-related processes, institutions, instruments and conventions lack an overarching common vision, framework or strategy. The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), approved in Dubai on 6 February 2006, is an attempt to an answer these shortcomings. The SAICM secretariat is located in the International Environment House as an important element of the international chemicals and waste cluster in Geneva.

The SAICM negotiations were strongly influenced by several factors:

  1. the recognition that chemical safety is not merely of environmental concern but a cross-cutting sustainable development issue;
  2. the need to involve several intergovernmental bodies;
  3. the fact that effective chemicals policy development and implementation has to involve not only governments but also needs direct stakeholder participation;
  4. regional inter-sessional meetings gave developing countries and economic transition states significant influence on the negotiations.

Thus, while UNEP provided the framework - and the «engine» - for the negotiations of SAICM, the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) played major roles in developing SAICM. And, unusually in UN negotiations, NGOs received full rights to take the floor, express their views and make concrete proposals. More than 60 NGOs - from the agriculture, development, environment, health, industry and labor sectors - were active in the talks.

Recognizing the desirability of ensuring continued strong involvement by developing countries and transition countries, between the first and the second round of negotiations, Switzerland financed regional meetings of the African Group and of the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean Countries. Impressed by both the success and the impact of these meetings on the global process, Switzerland also financed regional meetings for all groups.

The regional inter-sessional meetings were a critical stimulant and catalyst for the SAICM process. They provided for full engagement of different perspectives, ensured ownership by developing countries and countries with economies in transition, and enabled these countries to show leadership and to have a significant impact on the negotiation's outcome.

SAICM, despite its compromises, has real potential to become an effective instrument of sound chemicals management.

What was finally achieved?

While SAICM is a voluntary initiative, it nevertheless establishes a clear political and moral commitment. The Global Plan of Action, which was recommended for use, is available as a «toolkit» that supports and guides countries in their efforts to develop and implement sound chemicals management policies. Moreover, SAICM records important achievements such as the recognition that precaution, in the chemicals context, is also relevant for the protection of human health. It clarifies that by 2020, chemicals or chemical uses that pose an unreasonable or unmanageable risk should no longer be produced or used. And it conforms the concept of mutual supportiveness between trade and environment and the commitment to strengthen coherence and synergies in the chemicals regime.

The original initiatives, aimed at creating a legally binding framework, raised fears of ushering in a «Brave New World» of far-reaching and burdensome regulation. What resulted from four years of negotiation - a voluntary approach - was seen by others as a lost opportunity because of the compromises made. However, as a «new voluntary initiative», SAICM provides an important step forward toward a more coherent and more effective international chemicals and waste regime. Thus, it is not surprising that both industry and environmental and social NGOs immediately welcomed and supported the adoption of SAICM in Dubai.