The idea of a global chemical management programme has been on the table for more than a decade. But it was at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, that the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, SAICM, took shape.
The aim of such an initiative, as stated in Johannesburg was to 'achieve by 2020, the use and production of chemicals in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment'.
The immediate aftermath of the World Summit saw a flurry of activity in 2003 with meetings taking place in April and November of that year. These led to the first Preparatory Committee (Prepcom) meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2003. Participants spelled out their initial ideas on the issues that needed to be addressed and there was agreement that SAICM should stick to the Johannesburg target of 2020. At the same time a decision was taken to implement the `three tiers' of an overarching policy, a global plan of action and a high-level declaration.
Prepcom-2 was held during October 2004 in Nairobi, Kenya. Here measures were put forward that could pave the way for SAICM's introduction. At Prepcom-3 in September 2005 in Vienna, Austria the three tiers of SAICM were discussed but final wording could not be agreed upon. A further meeting at the 2005 World Summit held in New York, US saw delegates resolved to promote the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle. There was agreement to implement a Strategic Approach to International Management of Chemicals, and support developing countries in their capacity for the sound management of chemicals and hazardous waste.
Finally, at the International Conference on Chemicals Management in Dubai this February, delegates completed negotiations and adopted the SAICM. At one point in the proceedings, those negotiations appeared on the verge of collapse, but delegates managed to seal a late-night deal several hours after the scheduled end of the ICCM Closing Plenary. Conference president Mariano Arana thanked delegates for their cooperation and commitment during a 'long and difficult road' at the meeting's close. The three-tier SAICM includes the high-level declaration, overarching policy strategy and global plan of action. It remains to be seen whether it will prove an effective tool to address the many chemicals¬ related challenges faced the world over, but it is at the very least, a step in the right direction. Klaus Töpfer, who stepped down as UNEP executive director at the close of the Dubai conference, finished on a positive note: 'f am delighted that governments could agree to this new chemicals initiative which I sincerely believe will be a step change in the way we use and produce chemicals', he said.
careline magazine, issue 42 1st quarter 2006