Following an all-night negotiating session and years of talks, the fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5) formally adopted a new global framework for the integrated management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020, the ‘Global Framework on Chemicals – For a Planet Free of Harm from Chemicals and Waste.’ The Conference also adopted the Bonn Declaration, a political statement drafted over months of informal consultations and agreed to in the final hours. 

ICCM5 met from 25-29 September in Bonn, Germany, concluding over 16 hours after its scheduled end, in the morning of 30 September. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting highlights that much of the delay for both the Framework’s and the Declaration’s adoption was caused by entrenched positions related to, among others, text referencing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), technology transfer “on mutually agreed terms,” and the polluter-pays principle, all of which remained bracketed until the very last moment in both negotiations.

Based around 28 targets, the Global Framework outlines a roadmap for countries and stakeholders to collaboratively address the lifecycle of chemicals, including products and waste. According to ENB, the 12-part Framework, its three annexes, and the accompanying 12 resolutions “provide a rationale, targets, and actions to ensure that a broad cross-section of stakeholders from governments, international technical agencies, civil society, and the private sector can collaborate” on such issues as:

  • phasing out the most harmful chemicals;
  • strengthening capacity building, particularly for countries with weak enforcement regimes; and
  • creating better linkages across diverse sectors, including health and occupational safety, trade, agriculture, energy, and transport. 

The negotiating process was unique in that representatives from governments, the private sector, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, youth, and academia participated at the same level.

“Everyone on this planet should be able to live and work without fear of falling sick or dying from chemical exposure. … This … framework provides a vision for a planet free of harm from chemicals and waste, for a safe, healthy and sustainable future,” stressed UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen, welcoming the Framework’s adoption, which, she said, elevated pollution and waste, so that they are recognized at the same level as the crises of climate change and nature and biodiversity loss, which already have frameworks in place.

Pledging EUR 20 million to the new Framework on behalf of her government, German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said stakeholders now have a concrete tool with which to raise the profile of chemicals issues at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and other global fora. She announced her country’s intention to ask the UNGA in 2024 to build upon the Framework to raise the profile of chemicals and waste management within the UN system.

The Global Framework, inter alia, calls for preventing the illegal trade and trafficking of chemicals and waste, implementing national legal frameworks, and phasing out by 2035 of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) in agriculture. It also calls for transitioning to safer and more sustainable chemical alternatives, responsibly managing chemicals in various sectors – including industry, agriculture, and healthcare – and enhancing transparency of and access to information regarding chemicals and their associated risks.

In addition, ICCM5 launched a Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides, as well as a process for creating implementation programmes for the new Framework that should result in new sector-focused initiatives involving key heavy users of chemicals, such as the textile and construction sectors.

The road towards the adoption of the new framework was long and fraught with obstacles, particularly when negotiations came to an unexpected halt due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and ICCM5 was postponed for three years, ENB writes. Its analysis of the meeting indicates that from the get-go, differences in vision for the Framework related to some wanting high ambition, covering management of both chemicals and all waste, with tough, time-bound targets, strong institutions, a real monitoring, tracking, and reporting structure, and substantial and predictable financing to back it all up. Others favored a slightly improved but still relatively modest Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), focusing on chemicals or perhaps chemicals and their associated wastes.

During ICCM5, these differences were most apparent in the negotiations on scope, targets, and finance. On scope, delegates debated whether to address wastes narrowly or broadly. In the end, they agreed to “the life cycle of chemicals, including products and waste,” which can be interpreted by different stakeholders in different ways, the ENB analysis notes. On targets, the issue was ambition, including how specific they should be, whether quantitative targets should be included (such as a certain level of financing), and what deadlines to set.

Regarding finance, the African Group, supported by the Latin American and Caribbean Group and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), proposed a “globally coordinated fee” on basic feedstock chemicals that would feed a standalone fund for supporting the sound management of chemicals and waste. Others, including China, the EU, the US, Japan, Iran, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Russian Federation, opposed a “coordinated” fee, noting a voluntary agreement should not have a tax or fee or create a special fund. In the end, delegates agreed to resurrect SAICM’s Quick Start Programme under a different name but with similar terms of reference.

During the High-level Segment, both the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions and the Minamata Convention Secretariats promised that the next meetings of the Conferences of Parties (COPs) for their respective multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) will consider how they can contribute to implementing the Global Framework and the ICCM5 resolutions. They also expressed their will to “actively promote and support transitions to circular economies, including through the development of safe chemical and non-chemical alternatives and substitutes, which protect health and the environment, and lead to reduced waste, recycling free from harmful chemicals, and efficient resource utilization.”

ICCM5 was preceded by the second resumed session of the Fourth Meeting of the Intersessional Process (IP4), which convened from 23-24 September. [ENB Coverage of ICCM5] [UNEP Press Release]