Chemicals

OEWG1-2: Science-Policy Panel to Contribute Further to the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste and to Prevent Pollution

30 January – 3 February 2023 | UN Conference Centre (UNCC), Bangkok, Thailand

UN Environment Assembly – UNEA Science-Policy Panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution

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In their discussions toward the establishment of a science-policy panel to contribute to the sound management of chemicals and waste and the prevention of pollution, delegates focused on the scope and functions of the panel. Capacity building attracted particular attention, and was supported as an additional function of the panel.

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Photo by tunart/iStock

Currently, there is no global science-policy panel that broadly addresses chemicals, wastes, and pollution. Policymakers need strong science to help inform sound policy. Such an interface between science and policy can help link these two communities and help them communicate: the scientists can speak to policymakers in a way relevant to policy, and policymakers can query scientists to learn more about possible options.

In March 2022 the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) agreed in resolution 5/8 to establish a science-policy panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution. Substantive discussions will begin at the resumed first Open-ended Working Group meeting (OEWG 1-2). The first session featured operational decisions and opening statements.

There are many science-policy bodies in the field of chemicals and wastes, as outlined in the scope and function documents for the meeting. Several science-policy bodies are linked to existing chemicals and waste treaties, and, as a result, tend to have narrower mandates, such as screening chemicals to determine if are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and should be listed in the Stockholm Convention on POPs. These bodies have provided valuable advice and helped advance knowledge and bring together scientists worldwide, often to work on discrete questions. The new science-policy panel is to complement, but not duplicate, the work of these many bodies while providing a broader overview of scientific knowledge.

OEWG 1-2 focused on the new panel’s scope and functions, which both raise challenging questions. The scope could be enormous: there are hundreds of thousands of chemicals in products on the market, hundreds of waste streams, and even more pollutants. Participants discussed how to define the panel’s scope in a way that complements existing bodies and responds to global and national scientific and policy concerns. They also had to contend with uncertainty, as there are many chemicals for which public data is lacking.

Science-policy bodies can serve many functions, from awareness raising and capacity building to providing policy-relevant advice and identifying emerging issues. Awareness raising is a crucial function many hope the new panel can take on, to help bring pollution-related issues on par with climate change and biodiversity.

The UNEA mandate also calls for a “horizon scanning” function, unique among global science-policy bodies, including those for climate change and biodiversity. The new panel could be tasked with identifying future chemicals, wastes, and pollution challenges where preventative action can help avoid the worst health and environmental impacts.

OEWG 1-2 was held 30 January – 3 February in Bangkok, Thailand, and was streamed online.

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