Detoxifying Development: How strengthened sound management of chemicals and wastes contributes to sustainable development

Detoxifying Development


While chemicals contribute significantly to our well‐being, they can also pose a threat to human health and the environment if they are not managed well. Their potentially adverse impacts, combined with the limited capacity in many countries to deal with these impacts, make the sound management of chemicals and waste a key issue that cuts across many areas of our lives. In Johannesburg in 2002 governments agreed that, by 2020, chemicals should be used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment. The 2020 target was further recognized in the Rio+20 outcome “The Future We Want”. The 2006 Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) also reaffirmed the Johannesburg 2020 goal.

Chemicals and waste management is traditionally considered an environmental issue. However, it also has significant benefits for the economic and social objectives of sustainable development. These benefits are demonstrated by a number of efforts and initiatives, e. g. the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paints, sound management of electrical and electronic waste, promotion of alternatives to highly hazardous pesticides, to name just a few.

Sound management of chemicals and wastes has the potential of supporting progress in a wide range of thematic areas: poverty eradication, health, agriculture, water, industrial growth, and employment. It therefore has a catalyzing potential to support relevant sustainable development goals (SDGs) currently under development.

This can be done through the full and effective implementation of the existing agreed frameworks in the chemicals and waste cluster, including legally binding and voluntary instruments, efforts and initiatives, such as the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, the Minamata Convention on Mercury and SAICM – all contributing to sustainable development and the protection of human health and the environment. SDGs need to reflect the importance of international commitments, including those made in multilateral environmental agreements and to stress the need of the Post‐2015 framework to be consistent with and build on these commitments.

In order to positively contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, it is important to enable and require the effective coordination of local, national, regional and global environmental policy and legal frameworks for effective implementation and enforcement of their provisions. These coordinating efforts are expected to strengthen institutional frameworks and policy coherence. At the national level, implementation can be strengthened by enhanced cooperation and coordination among relevant stakeholders. For example, Nigeria established a national committee on chemicals management which engages relevant ministries and key NGOs. Mainstreaming of chemicals and wastes into the national development agenda is another opportunity for linking it to the sustainable development process.

In addition to actions taking place at the international and national levels, regional efforts have a catalyzing role to play for implementation of existing MEAs and promotion of coherent chemicals and waste management.


  • Recognize that the sound management of chemicals and waste contributes to the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.
  • Promote efforts for the coordinated implementation of the existing global policy and legal regimes in the chemicals and waste management cluster.
  • Ensure that chemicals and waste management is properly reflected in the SDGs, including as targets under the SDGs on health, sustainable agriculture, poverty reduction, sustainable production and consumption, industrialization, water and sustainable cities.


Effective implementation of the existing international, regional and national legal and policy regimes addressing chemicals and wastes supports sustainable development, and help realize the future sustainable development goals. By striving for policy coherence and efficiency at the national level, and through improved use of resources and greater coordination among the key stakeholders for the implementation of the national legal framework, we can make strides towards achieving sustainable development.

UNEA should send a signal to the decision‐makers engaged in New York in the negotiations of the SDGs about the crucial potential that can be brought by the sound management of chemicals and wastes for the achievement of SDGs. At the moment, the integration of sound management of chemicals and waste into SDGs is an opportunity for the international community which should not be missed.

Photo gallery

Francisco Beltrame, Minister of Environment, Uruguay
Kerstin Stendahl, Executive Secretary ad interim of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions-(Photo credit: IISD/Franz Dejon).
Fatoumata Keita-Ouane, Head, UNEP Chemicals Branch
(L-R) Franz Perrez, Ambassador, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland; Tatsushi Terada, Ambassador of Japan to Kenya; Laurentia Laraba Mallam, Minister of Environment, Nigeria; Francisco Beltrame, Minister of Environment, Uruguay; Walker Smith, Director, Office of Global Affairs and Policy, US EPA
Kerstin Stendahl, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions