February 8, 2006


In Short:

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)
is a voluntary agreement dealing with risk assessments of chemicals
and standardised labelling. The deal gives a boost to the EU's own
draft REACH regulation.


Sustainable chemistry
Chemicals Policy review (REACH)


Existing UN treaties already deal with international chemical
pollution. This includes the 1994 Stockholm Convention on persistent
organic pollutants (POPs), which covers chemicals like the pesticide
DDT and substances such as PCBs once widely used in certain kinds of
electrical equipment.

In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg
followed up with an agreement to ban, by 2020, the use and production
of toxic chemicals hazardous to human health and environment.

In the EU, the Commission tabled in 2003 its highly controversial
draft REACH regulation, which seeks to assess the estimated 100,000
chemicals currently on the European market. It still needs to be
formally adopted.


Over 100 environment and health ministers adopted a new international
approach to the safe production, transport, storage, use and disposal
of chemicals worldwide at a UN Conference in Dubai on 6 February.

Known as the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management
(SAICM), the initiative is a voluntary agreement that deals with risk
assessments of chemicals and standardised labelling. It also aims to
tackle obsolete and stockpiled products.

Global production of chemicals is set to climb by as much as 80% over
the next 15 years, with an estimated 1,500 new chemicals put on the
market each year, according to the UN.

But the UN raised concerns that chemical production is currently
shifting from the developed to the developing world where safety rules
are less stringent. The statement is echoed by the European Commission
who says that, "while 16 countries accounted for 80% of global
chemicals production in 1998, production of high volume basic
chemicals is increasingly moving out of industrialised countries
towards developing countries".

To tackle this problem, the conference agreed on "a multi million
dollar fund called 'Quick Start' Programme to give financial support
to national action plans, especially in least developed countries".

"Strong emphasis will be placed on capacity-building and technical
assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in
transition," the European Commission said.


"All kinds of chemicals are vital in the modern world," said Klaus
Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP) on 7 February in Dubai. "They have a key role in
overcoming poverty and delivering sustainable development.
Nevertheless [...] some seemingly benign products can prove to have
deleterious impacts".

"Developing countries need help in terms of the better use, handling
and disposal of chemicals," he added.

Welcoming the agreement in Dubai, Environment Commissioner Stavros
Dimas said that the EU's upcoming chemicals regulation, REACH, "will
help the EU to fulfil the objectives of SAICM". "It was extremely
difficult to reach an agreement," the Commission said, adding that
"the USA [...] tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent SAICM becoming a
relevant source of guidance in interpreting legally binding

According to the Commission, "the EU was able to give SAICM a broad
scope going beyond agricultural and industrial chemicals to cover
household products and biocides". The statement added that "where
there was a lack of full scientific certainty, this should not prevent
precautionary measures to protect human health in cases where there
were threats of serious or irreversible damage".

In December 2005, the EU Environment Council recommended that the
strategic approach prioritised the most dangerous chemicals that are
currently being considered under the draft REACH regulation.

The Council listed the following priority substances: "Persistent,
Bioaccumulative and Toxic substances (PBTs), very Persistent and very
Bioaccumulative substances (vPvB), chemicals that are carcinogens or
mutagens or adversely effect reproductive, endocrine, immune or
nervous system, including all forms of asbestos; persistent organic
pollutants (POPs); and mercury and other metals of global concern."

The Council also recommended that SAICM refers to "the use of the
precautionary principle and substitution" and that it "encourages
research on and development and use of non-chemical alternatives".

Latest & next steps:

SAICM will be followed up by an Overarching Policy Strategy and a
Global Plan of Action


European Union

Commission (Press release): Europe welcomes Dubai Declaration as the
first global agreement to achieve sound management of chemicals (7
Feb. 2006)

Commission (Press release): Commissioner Dimas at Dubai
environmental meetings to advance global sustainability agenda [FR]
[DE] (3 Feb. 2006)

Council (Press release): Environment [SAICM conclusions, p. 12] (2
Dec. 2005)

International Organisations

UNEP (Press release) New Global Chemicals Strategy Given Green Light
by Governments (7 Feb. 2006)

UNEP: Draft SAICM high-level declaration (28 Oct. 2005)

UNEP: International Conference on Chemicals Management, Dubai, 4-6
February 2006 [FR]

EU Actors positions

European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC): Responsible care global
charter (2006)

European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC): Health, Safety & the

NGOs and Think-Tanks

Earth Negotiations Bulletin: ICCM AND GCSS-9/GMEF highlights (6 Feb.
2006) SAICM finally adopted (8 Feb. 2006)

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD): Chemicals

WWF: Africa stockpiles programme -- Cleaning up obsolete pesticides in

Greenpeace: Eliminate toxic chemicals

Copyright EurActiv 2000-2005