More than 500 delegates will gather in Bangkok, Thailand, this weekend to follow up on a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative to protect people and their environments from hazardous chemicals, the UN agency said today.
Their goal will be to develop a "strategic approach to international chemicals management" (SAICM), which Kenyan-based UNEP introduced last year and which was endorsed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August and September of last year.
"While much has been achieved since the Rio Earth Summit 11 years ago, a lot more is needed to protect the environment and human health from the unintended effects of chemicals," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.
"Chemicals are found in virtually every man-made product. While their contribution to modern society and economies has been vital, we have become increasingly aware of the risks posed by certain hazardous chemicals."
One of the key objectives of SAICM is to show that chemical safety is a sustainable development issue, Mr. Toepfer said.
The SAICM initiative will build on other international coordination mechanisms such as the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS), which finishes its weeklong "Forum IV" meeting in Bangkok this Friday, and the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals.
UNEP said it was bringing together a broad partnership of UN agencies to oversee planning for the SAICM process. Previous UN achievements included a pesticides code of conduct, governing the field since1996, and the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Chemical Classification and Labelling, approved in 2002.
Meanwhile, "global chemical sales have increased nine-fold since 1970 and will continue growing, with production shifting increasingly to developing countries," UNEP said.
In 1998 the chemicals industry employed over 10 million people, it said, quoting from a 2001 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).