Coordinated action by governments and industry is urgently needed to reduce the growing risks to human health and the environment posed by the unsustainable management of chemicals worldwide, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
These risks are compounded by the steady shift in the production, use and disposal of chemical products from developed countries to emerging and developing economies, where safeguards and regulations are often weaker, says the report.
UNEP’s Global Chemicals Outlook, released today, highlights the major economic burden caused by chemical hazards, particularly in developing countries.
The report reveals that the estimated costs of poisonings from pesticides in sub-Saharan Africa now exceeds the total annual overseas development aid given to the region for basic health services, excluding HIV/AIDS.
Between 2005 and 2020, the accumulated cost of illness and injury linked to pesticides in small scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa could reach USD $90 billion.
Sound chemicals management can reduce these financial and health burdens, while improving livelihoods, supporting ecosystems, reducing pollution and developing green technology, says the study.
The release of the report – the first comprehensive assessment of its kind – follows renewed commitments by countries at the Rio+20 summit in June to prevent the illegal dumping of toxic wastes, develop safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals in products, and increase the recycling of waste, among other measures.
By examining global chemicals trends and their economic implications, the UNEP report maps out the most effective approaches for decision-makers to deliver on these commitments.
“Communities worldwide – particularly those in emerging and developing countries – are increasingly dependent on chemical products, from fertilizers and petrochemicals to electronics and plastics, for economic development and improving livelihoods,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner.
“But the gains that chemicals can provide must not come at the expense of human health and the environment. Pollution and disease related to the unsustainable use, production and disposal of chemicals can, in fact, hinder progress towards key development targets by affecting water supplies, food security, well-being or worker productivity. Reducing hazards and improving chemicals management – at all stages of the supply chain – is, thus, an essential component of the transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive Green Economy,” added Steiner.
At the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, UN member states set a target that by 2020, chemicals should be produced and used in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.
“The economic analysis presented in the Global Chemicals Outlook demonstrates that sound chemicals management is as valid an area as education, transport, infrastructure, direct health care services and other essential public services. This could foster the creation of many green, decent and healthy jobs and livelihoods for developed and developing countries,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment.
“Effective long-term management of chemicals and wastes lays the foundations for a thriving Green Economy, for ensuring a healthier environment, and for a fairer distribution of development benefits across society,” added Neira.
In recent years, international conventions, governments and corporations have taken significant steps in developing national and international capacities for managing chemicals safely and soundly.