April 9, 2024 by Olivia Tran

IPCP image

The International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP) hosted a webinar on 4th April discussing the establishment an intergovernmental Science-Policy Panel (SPP) on chemicals, waste and pollution prevention. The role of the SPP will be to conduct assessments of current chemical issues, identify potential evidence-based options to address issues, and horizon scanning for potential future chemical issues. This work is important as it may inform a future global instrument on chemicals and waste, similar to how findings from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) contributed to the Paris Agreement on climate change and Convention on Biological Diversity to protect biodiversity, respectively.

Katerina Sebkova (RECETOX, Masaryk University, Czechia), Robert Watson (Senior Advisor to the SPP) and Rachel Radvany (CIEL, Switzerland) presented viewpoints on the important elements of a SPP on chemicals, waste and pollution prevention. Some ideas were introduced (although some positions may not be shared amongst the speakers):

  • It was acknowledged that that is a lot of expertise in the private sector and more participation from the private sector is required in international discussions. A way to encourage more private sector participation would be to allow experts to bring individual knowledge, recognising that this does not represent the interests of the whole industry sector. A robust framework is needed to prevent bias or conflict of interest.
  • Data needs to be published if it is to be used in an assessment, i.e., proprietary data cannot be included in assessments. There is precedence in the Stockholm Convention that information on hazards to the environment and human health should not be confidential.
  • There was discussion on whether issues should be prioritised based on impact or using a hazard-based approach or a balance of both. The IPCP published a policy brief in December 2023 urging a hazard-based prioritisation process and disregards risk and impact. However, governments will be deciding on priority issues for assessment and may choose to focus on specific substances or industries of their interest.
  • The panel will produce outputs that are policy-relevant, but not policy prescriptive. Nevertheless, potential approaches to address and manage issues are needed (and not just identifying the data gaps), whilst considering the acceptability of response options. It was regarded that there are enough existing data to take action on most issues, and policies should not be held up by the lack of additional data or “analysis paralysis”. Some solutions include the repurposing of subsidies and internalisation of externalities (e.g., applying an internal price on environmental value).
  • An early warning system was suggested to flag potential issues, although this would be different from horizon scanning. The panel should support the participation of citizen scientists and Indigenous peoples as they have valuable input on actual experienced impacts.

Overall, approaches allowing a prioritisation of the issues remain unclear (i.e., whether a hazard- or risk-based (or other) approach will be used), as well as how data will be used to identify evidence-based options to address chemical issues. Nevertheless, participation from a wide scope of stakeholders, including the private sector, general public and Indigenous peoples, is required to ensure the effectiveness of the panel and its outputs. There is a risk of bias if there are limitations or barriers to participation in the process. It is also evident that it is important for industry to publish data on their substances, especially information relevant to human health and the environment, in a format that can be used to inform policy decisions. Further discussions to establish the SPP will be taking place in June 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland.

If you would like assistance in understanding the hazards, exposure and risks of your chemicals, please contact us so we can discuss further how we can help.