Senior Technical Advisor, UNDP Montreal Protocol and Chemicals Unit
Integrating Sound Management of Chemicals into National Planning is key to achieving an inclusive and sustainable future, says Klaus Tyrkko, Senior Technical Advisor at UNDP.
Chemicals are everywhere, with more than 100,000 substances placed on the market. They are used as ingredients in millions of products essential to everyday modern life. Just consider how many hundreds, if not thousands of chemicals are needed to put together a mobile phone or a computer.
Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, thanks to innovations from the chemicals industry. With higher living standards, consumption and production are shifting from the developed to the developing world. The rate of this shift is astonishing, such that, according to the recently published Global Chemicals Outlook, by 2020 the output of chemicals industries will be higher outside the OECD countries.
How are developing countries going to manage this transition without making the same mistakes that were made in the developed world? How can the rise of chemicals use and production be achieved without unintended releases leading to the exposure of humans to toxic chemicals, the contamination of waters and soils, and disruptions to ecosystems? What if one could pre-empt the chemicals management crises and start taking action before chemicals became a problem?
These are some of the issues spurring the programmes trying to integrate sound chemicals management into development plans and policies. Such integration can be done at national, provincial or sector level, and can be achieved by taking pre-emptive action which identifies chemicals-intensive development priorities in the planning action, and which more effectively argues for the necessity of action on chemicals management priorities at the centre of government.
Many such actions are quite straightforward, even intuitive. Sometimes it only requires something like understanding if a country plans to triple its agricultural production through agricultural intensification. This would result in a dramatic increase in the need for fertilisers and pesticides, with a consequent increase in chemicals incidents and release if no pre-emptive action is taken. Similarly, pre-emptive chemicals management strengthening would be required if a new strategy for a national mining sector called for a significant increase in output and processing. Analysing national and sector plans through chemicals management glasses helps to identify areas requiring further analysis and action.
How can the sound management of chemicals succeed in becoming a higher priority when there are so many other development needs to be addressed? The situation is not helped by chemicals management professionals, within or outside government, who often argue their case from natural science perspectives, citing complicated names of chemicals substances and potential, but often unspecific, effects to human health and the environment. Such arguments are lost in a world of current and future economic benefits, a language well understood by the cadre of economists occupying the key positions in government planning or development assistance distribution.
Some countries and organisations are actively working to change the tone of the argument, and so level the playing field for the integration of sound management of chemicals, as part of the poverty-environment linkage, into national development planning processes, thereby supporting sustainable development in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
Such efforts include the UNDP-UNEP Partnership Initiative for Integration of Sound Management of Chemicals into Development Planning Processes. This programme is being implemented in 17 countries across various continents.
Results and lessons learned from country projects are quite encouraging. For example, in Uganda the cost of unsound pesticide use in agriculture was established at US$200 million per year, in terms of increased costs related to loss of health, productivity and degradation of ecosystem services. Action to minimise the damage would cost only around a tenth of this amount and would provide quite a reasonable return on investments.
Overall, the chemicals mainstreaming projects have enabled countries to acquire enhanced capacities to:
1.Redefine their priority setting efforts away from ‘wish lists’ to identifying sound management of chemicals priorities in the context of the country’s development priorities;
2.Enhance the economic content of their policy recommendations to make better arguments for necessary investments; and,
3.Engage new stakeholders from other sectors of the economy, such as finance and development planning on, as yet, unfamiliar sound chemicals management issues.
Integrating, or ‘mainstreaming’, Sound Management of Chemicals into national and sector planning processes is critical to securing continued national and international funding for enhancing chemicals management capacities in developing countries. It is one of the key strategies for coping with the potential risks in a world that is driven by chemicals and materials that make modern life more convenient.
November 2012 edition