IHS Chemical Week


Blog: Towards Rio+20 - The Nexus Between Chemicals and Sustainable Development

11:11 AM MDT | May 28, 2010 | By MARTINA BIANCHINI

Martina Bianchini is Vice President, EU Government Affairs and Public Policy at The Dow Chemical Company

In 1992, The United Nations met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the first Earth Summit. Unprecedented environmental and social challenges necessitated the development of a global program of action for Sustainable Development. Dubbed ‘Agenda 21’, this framework calls for a globally integrated approach.  

Back in 2002, the United Nations met again for the second Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa to take stock of Agenda 21 ten years after Rio (Rio+10). The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) was introduced. All countries agreed on a goal of “…changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development….” In the area of chemicals management, it stipulates that by 2020 “all chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.”

Sustainable Consumption and Production was one of the pillars identified to attain sustainable development. For the chemical industry, sustainable chemical production and consumption is a dynamic concept that follows chemical products across their life cycle. The responsibility for sound management of chemicals across their life cycle is a shared responsibility and accountability among all participants in the value chain. We continue to see how these concepts can help in increasing acknowledgement of the significant roles that chemistry and business play in support of strategic sustainable development.

Agenda 21 states that “its successful implementation is first and foremost the responsibility of Governments.” A critical global review on SCP and chemicals took place this month in New York City during the UN’s Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) meeting, CSD-18. This global event brought together the world’s governments and non-governmental sectors to jointly review progress.

The CSD-18 Review Report on Chemicals E/CN.17/2010/8 and SCP positively acknowledges that chemicals have played a central role in the evolution of the concept of sustainable development. The report also found that that chemical safety is a low priority in country development plans and calls for more active engagement by multiple stakeholders.  This is why Dow and the chemical industry participated in this CSD-18 meeting.  

Chemicals are found in more than 95 percent of all manufactured goods, and sustainable chemistry is a keystone of the necessary shift to SCP. The global chemical community has responded proactively to the goal set to eliminate significant human health and safety risks associated with chemical production and consumption by 2020.

Government has an important role to play in enabling effective policy frameworks and efficient markets. Business has a role to play in improving product design, being more resource efficient, developing cleaner and leaner manufacturing processes, working toward more sustainable distribution and ensuring re-manufacturing, reuse, recycling of products at the end of their life cycle or sustainable disposal of waste. With business activity taking place in a globalized context, taking an integrated approach to the lifecycle of production and consumption is a critical dimension of strategic business development but also a shared responsibility among all the relevant stakeholders who own chemical products in the various stages of their life cycle.  

During the past several years, Dow has led collaboration efforts with business and governments to continue the advancement of the SCP framework for chemicals.

Sound management of chemicals is a high priority in the global chemical industry and Dow co-chairs the industry’s efforts in this regard. To reinforce this level of commitment, Dow organized a “think and learn together” interactive session at the UN CSD 18 meetings.

We still see a huge information gap and a lack of understanding of what the chemical industry is all about. This is why Dow shared some of its best practices to further implementation of sound chemicals management across the product life cycle. An external panel represented the views of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) cleaner production program, a Swedish government perspective and a US-based consumer NGO perspective.

The outcome of this session seeks to identify areas of mutual interest with stakeholders where dialogue can be continued and possible partnerships can be developed in order to foster improvements in sustainable chemicals production and consumption, as well as in the broader realm of chemicals management.

This CSD 18 was the United Nations global review meeting before Rio+20. In 2012 the United Nations will gather again for the third Earth Summit for Sustainable Development.

There is much left to do – by all actors. One of the workshop conclusions was that we all need to accelerate progress on our previous commitments.  Governments should make chemicals a higher priority in their national action plans. Non-governmental organisations should capitalise on their local strengths to implement solutions with others. Industry is committed to continue to deliver on its programs. All actors need to accelerate actions on our prior commitments in order to collectively accelerate towards true sustainable development. More and better partnerships are also critical to develop measurable and tangible progress.  

The Rio +20 Earth Summit in 2012 will review the implementation of Agenda 21. The term Green economy is the fresh word for sustainable development; it represents both the process and the outcome to be aimed at in Rio in 2012.

At Dow, we believe that embracing the concepts of sustainable chemistry goes well beyond mitigating the unintended consequences of chemistry. We see it as a breakthrough approach to innovative problem-solving and providing sustainable solutions to critical global challenges. Dow is eager to hear ideas and seek feedback from stakeholders on their needs for sustainable consumption and chemical production.

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