Global chemicals outlook paints a gloomy environment picture

Delegates at the United Nations Environment Assembly at Gigiri, Nairobi, observe a moment of silence in memory of the 157 victims of Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines crash. 19 UN workers died. (Photo, Courtesy]

The chemical industry is among the leading polluters of the environment, the UN has said.

The second Global Chemicals Outlook, presented at the ongoing fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 4) in Nairobi states that the current chemical production of 2.3 billion tonnes, valued at US$5 trillion (Sh500 trillion) annually will double by 2030.

The report warns that despite commitments to maximise the benefits and minimise the impacts of the chemical industry, hazardous chemicals continue to be released to the environment in large quantities.

Hazardous chemicals

The hazardous chemicals, the report notes, pollute air, water and soil.

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“The world must take advantage of the many solutions that already exist,” states the report.

The report also warns that the global goal to minimise adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020 unless the world takes more ambitious action.

“Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies. Global supply chains, and the trade of chemicals and products, are becoming increasingly complex,” the report says.

 It further indicates that driven by global trends, growth in chemical-intensive industry sectors like construction, agriculture and electronics creates more risks, but that this also creates opportunities to advance sustainable consumption, production and product innovation.

The report shows that hazardous chemicals and other pollutants like plastic and pharmaceutical waste continues to be released in large quantities.

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The chemicals are accumulating in material stocks and products.

“The benefits of action to minimize adverse impacts have been estimated in tens of billions of US dollars annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016. Chemical pollution also threatens a range of ecosystems,” the report says. 

International treaties and voluntary instruments have reduced the risks of some chemicals and waste, but progress has been uneven and implementation gaps remain.

At the end of last year, more than 120 countries had not implemented the globally harmonised system of classification and labeling of chemicals.

The report says addressing legislation and capacity gaps in developing countries and emerging economies remains a priority but warns that resources have not been matching needs.

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However it states that there is hope in opportunities for new and innovative financing through cost recovery and engagement of the financial sector.

Significant resources

The report stresses that significant resources can be saved by sharing knowledge on chemical management instruments more widely, and by enhancing mutual acceptance of approaches in chemical hazard assessment. 

It calls on major companies – from chemical producers to retailers – to introduce sustainable supply chain management, full material disclosure, risk reduction beyond compliance and human rights-based policies.

The report calls for establishing an ambitious and comprehensive global framework for chemicals and waste beyond 2020, scale up collaborative action and track progress.

During yesterday’s meeting, delegates observed a moment of silence to pay respect to 159 people who died in Sunday Ethiopian Airline place crash. 

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UN Environment AssemblyWorld Health OrganizationGlobal Chemicals OutlookEthiopia Airlines Crash