Science-policy panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution
Chemicals play a vital part in daily life, in areas such as transport, construction, health and food production. However, inadequate and poor management of the waste produced at the end of chemicals’ life cycles leads to increasing pollution of land, water and air.
According to WHO, every year 13 million people die as a result of known environmental hazards, including air pollution and exposure to chemicals, and that number would continue to increase as a result of climate change and biodiversity loss.
On 2 March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted resolution 5/8, to establish a science-policy panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution. The Environment Assembly also decided to convene, subject to the availability of resources, an ad hoc open-ended working group that would begin its work in 2022, with the ambition of completing it by the end of 2024. Mandate set out for the ad hoc working group in Environment Assembly resolution 5/8, was to prepare proposals for the science-policy panel with regard to its scope, principal functions, rules of procedure and operating principles, among other things.
The first session of the ad hoc open-ended working group on a science-policy panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution was held in two parts. The first part of the first session was held at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi on Thursday, 6 October 2022, in a hybrid format. The second part of the first session was held at the United Nations Conference Centre, Bangkok, from 30 January to 3 February 2023, as a fully in-person meeting.
The first session of the ad hoc open-ended working group on a science-policy panel served as a brainstorming session on how to implement the aspirations of UNEA Resolution 5/8.
The African position
Kenya participated in drafting of the African position opening statement which was presented in plenary prioritizing the following issues:-
- Africa region was in favour of a science-policy panel that was broad in scope, dealing with the issue of chemicals across their life cycle and along the global value chain
- The scope should include not only chemicals currently in use and their waste, but also legacy pollution, any future pollution and efforts to prevent pollution before it happened.
- stakeholder involvement is critical inclluding the public and private sector, industry, academia, other United Nations bodies and members of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) and location-based knowledge and traditional know-how in the design of the panel and in the implementation of its future work programmes.
- Proposed the involvement of three scientists from each of the United Nations regional groups.
- Acknowledged that the region did not have sufficient technical or financial capacity to be able to carry out national research that could feed into global assessments.
- Prioritized capacity-building to address existing asymmetry and ensure that low- and middle-income countries were not disadvantaged in global assessments.
- Need for adequate financial support to enable the panel to operate and fulfil its obligations.
- Panel should prioritize the needs of highly vulnerable populations.
- Panel should be careful not to duplicate existing efforts by other institutions serving similar roles.
Scope of the panel
During the brainstorming sessions, some pertinent issues on scope of the panel were raised, including:-
- there was preference for an integrated approach inclusive of the three main elements of chemicals, waste and pollution. The scope is to be broad enough but also clear and allowing for flexibility in responding to future challenges.
- need to ensure equitable geographical representation and the participation of as many countries as possible, and to be respectful of, and responsive to indigenous and local knowledge.
- Chemicals in products was not the most pressing issue, but main emphasis should be on their effects on human health and ecosystems.
- Objective of the panel should focus on the provision of policy-relevant evidence and advice, acting as early warning system for policymakers but not being policy prescriptive.
- Panel provides an opportunity to discuss how scientific data, information and assessments could enable more effective and efficient action to minimize the adverse impacts of chemicals and waste management, and to prevent pollution.
- Panel should ensure scientific quality; produce timely, relevant and specific deliverables and recommendations; and drew its legitimacy from being fair, transparent and independent and including balanced representation of experts in the panel.
Functions of the Science and Policy panel
Participants brainstormed and suggested several principal functions of the panel as defined in resolution 5/8, namely undertaking “horizon-scanning”, conducting assessments, managing knowledge and facilitating information-sharing, as well as capacity-building. However, the panel should not duplicate the work of other entities but rather complement it and fill any information gaps.
- Horizon-scanning function aims to identify emerging issues in the management of chemicals and waste and the prevention of pollution, and to provide early warning of risks. Horizon-scanning process should be led by experts hence the need to clarify its purpose and on the composition of a group of experts that might lead the process. Efforts should be made to ensure that this function complement and does not duplicate horizon-scanning exercises already carried out by various organizations participating in IOMC. The panel should also ensure scientific quality, relevance and legitimacy through data collation, knowledge management and communications; employing sound data and knowledge management protocols while respecting and incorporating traditional knowledge systems. The function’s outcome should be incorporated into future work plans or used to identify areas for further assessment. The output of the horizon-scanning process should be concise and delivered within a reasonable time limit.
- Conducting assessment function involves providing up-to-date and relevant information on chemicals, waste and pollution, identifying key gaps in scientific research, encouraging and supporting communication between scientists and policymakers, explaining and disseminating findings for different audiences, and raising public awareness. Assessments should be thematic and cover specific issues and adopt cross-cutting approach, taking into account socioeconomic and political factors and gender issues; address pollution-related challenges; establish a specialized working group of experts for each assessment; and draw on and combine the approaches and experiences of relevant bodies, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and IPBES.
- Managing knowledge and Information-sharing function entails achieving sound management of chemicals and waste and prevention of pollution through clear communication of risk and impact; increase the accessibility of knowledge, such as scientific publications, which are important resources for governments and for citizen science programmes and monitoring, yet are often not publicly available. It also entails providing a stakeholder interface to ensure that information reached policymakers, connected researchers and policymakers, incorporated the information available at the country level and facilitated information sharing and technology development and transfer.
- Capacity-building function aims to ensure all countries contribute to the panel’s work and implement its outputs. It would further strengthen the panel’s information exchange function and the outputs of its horizon-scanning and assessment functions.
- Specific areas of focus for capacity-building could include the following:-
- translating scientific data into policy-relevant documents and testing infrastructures;
- applying scientific information to decision-making relevant to advancing the sound management of chemicals and waste and the prevention of pollution;
- improving policy coherence across the chemicals, waste and pollution prevention sectors within national governments, in coordination with and complementary to other such efforts, including those of the participating organizations of IOMC;
- producing science-based knowledge to support a diversity of interested parties, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries;
- assisting local scientists in gap analysis, data knowledge and the development and dissemination of regional and national policy briefs;
- equipping local scientists and experts with the tools needed to put them on an equal footing with their counterparts;
- facilitating matchmaking between those providing solutions and the developing countries hardest hit by the adverse effects of chemicals, waste and pollution; and
- developing appropriate relevant curricula at all levels of education.
- Specific areas of focus for capacity-building could include the following:-
- Financial assistance function – to support the implementation of the panel’s outputs; capacity-building; and participation in the panel’s work.
Nature of panel
Initial thoughts of the ad hoc open ended working group is that the Science Policy Panel should be an intergovernmental science-policy body that is able to engage with various stakeholders, including the scientific community and policymakers, to provide the knowledge and tools necessary to inform decision-making on issues related to chemicals, waste and pollution.
The Panel should be interdisciplinary, have regional and gender balance and incorporate sources of both traditional and scientific knowledge. In this regard, guidelines should be developed on the transparent selection of experts and how to deal with conflicts of interest and data sensitivity.
After the meeting in Bangkok on from 30 January – 3 February 2023, a contact group on the scope and the principal functions of the science-policy panel was established with a view to developing a proposal to provide clarity on the panel’s scope; developing a proposal to provide clarity on the panel’s principal functions; and identifying possible intersessional work related to the scope and functions for consideration by the ad hoc open-ended working group at its second session.
Intersessional activities will be planned by the UNEP secretariat in readiness for the second meeting expected in October 2023. During the second meeting, the members may commence development of text as per Resolution 5.8.
More briefing to follow
UNEP, 2023, Draft report of the second part of the first session of the ad hoc open-ended working group on a science-policy panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and
waste and to prevent pollution. UNEP/SPP-CWP/OEWG.1/L.1 accessed on 3rd March 2023 at https://www.unep.org/oewg1.2-ssp-chemicals-waste-pollution