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UN Environment Assembly: World will miss the target on chemical uses

Developing countries emerging as the biggest users of chemicals; production set to double by 2030


The United Nations’ Environment Assembly, commenced in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 11, 2019 with a wakeup call — the world will miss the globally agreed target of minimising adverse impacts of chemicals and waste by 2020. Rather, as per the second Global Chemicals Outlook report, chemical production across the world will double by 2030. Chemical industry is the world’s second largest manufacturing sector. “What is clear is that we must do much more, together,” says Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Currently, the world has the capacity to produce 2.3 billion tonne chemicals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.6 million lives were lost in 2016 due to diseases related to chemicals. The UN, however, called it an “underestimate”.

The first Global Chemicals Outlook report (GCO-I) was released in 2013. Since then, instead of reducing the use of chemicals to meet the agreed target, its use has gone up. In 2015 the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — 17 of these goals relate to chemicals and its waste management. SDG Target 12.4 mandates, “By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.” An assessment by UNEP and the International Council of Chemical Associations in 2018 showed that there were 40,000-60,000 chemicals being commercially used globally. And 6,000 of them account for 99 per cent of the total volume.

Despite global agreement reached at high-level UN conferences and significant action already taken, scientists continue to express concern over the lack of progress towards the sound management of chemicals and waste, says the latest report. For example, as of 2018, more than 120 countries did not implement the globally harmonised system of classification and labelling of chemicals. The report stresses on the threats to the ecosystem from use of chemicals. Further, it indicates that developing countries — which already suffer from poor monitoring and regulations — are emerging as the biggest users of chemicals. “Chemical production and consumption is shifting to emerging economies, in particular China. The Asia-Pacific region is projected to account for more than two-thirds of global sales by 2030. Cross-border e-commerce is growing at 25 per cent annually,” says the report. Projected growth will be highest in Asia, with China estimated to account for almost 50 per cent of global sales by 2030.

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