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Vol. 32 No. 2
March-April 2010

IUPAC as a Science NGO

by Colin Humphris

What is an NGO? There is a story about one wit who simply asked of a group: “Are you in any way organized?” “Well, yes,” was the response. “Are you a government?” he followed up. “No,” the group replied. “Well, then you are obviously a nongovernmental organization!” he declared.

Views on the work of NGO’s tend to be polarized. Many are considered very responsible and highly regarded (e.g., in the UK the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, others much less so, such as the more extreme animals rights movements). There is a broad spectrum of organizations and behaviors. The key features of effective NGOs are their ability to reach and engage the wider community and to influence decision and policy makers in relation to their specific interest(s). These interests are typically narrow and quite specific. To be effective, NGOs have to be recognized by the appropriate authorities and to have the production of “attention grabbing” communications as a core competence.

By the flippant definition above, IUPAC is, of course, an NGO and it does have a single interest: to promote the interests of pure and applied chemistry globally, especially as this relates to sustainable development and the UN’s agenda in this regard. When Matthew Gubb of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the SAICM Secretariat invited IUPAC to help bridge science and policy within the UN’s Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), he was asking IUPAC to take the role of a science NGO in support of the SAICM implementation process. Since then, IUPAC has been seeking ways to effectively and efficiently engage in this global policy initiative.

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management
SAICM is directly relevant to the future of applied chemistry. It is a policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world, one which emphasizes chemical safety as a key issue for sustainability. SAICM has the overall objective of achieving sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycles so that, by 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment. This “2020 goal” was adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 as part of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. SAICM is an initiative of the UN, implemented through UNEP and the World Health Organization (WHO). It provides an overarching framework encompassing the existing international chemical conventions and protocols: Montreal (ozone depleting chemicals), Rotterdam (transport and use of hazardous pesticides and industrial chemicals), Stockholm (persistent organic pollutants), Basel (hazardous waste), and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The SAICM website ( sets the context for SAICM as follows. “The consumption of chemicals by all industries and modern society’s reliance on chemicals for virtually all manufacturing processes make chemicals production one of the major and most globalized sectors of the world economy. Acknowledgement of the essential economic role of chemicals and their contribution to improved living standards needs to be balanced with recognition of potential costs. These include the chemical industry’s heavy use of water and energy and the potential adverse impacts of chemicals on the environment and human health. The diversity and potential severity of such impacts make sound chemicals management a key cross-cutting issue for sustainable development.

The Centre International de Conférences, Geneva, Switzerland, site of ICCM2, held 11–15 May 2009.

Formally, SAICM comprises the Dubai Declaration on International Chemicals Management (February 2006), expressing high-level political commitment to SAICM, along with an Overarching Policy Strategy that sets out its scope, needs, objectives, financial considerations, underlying principles and approaches, and implementation and review arrangements. The Declaration and Strategy are accompanied by a Global Plan of Action that serves as a working tool and guidance document to support implementation of SAICM, including stakeholder networks, the program of three yearly International Conferences on Chemicals Management (ICCM), and the Quick Start Programme, which is a funding mechanism for projects that directly support SAICM.

A key objective in the Overarching Policy Strategy is to promote information exchange and scientific cooperation. Science is seen as particularly important to SAICM implementation in terms of risk reduction, knowledge and information, and capacity-building and technical cooperation. It is also likely to be relevant to the objectives relating to effective governance and reduction of illegal international trade. During the World Chemistry Leadership meeting at the IUPAC General Assembly in Torino in 2007, IUPAC was invited to help strengthen this scientific component as SAICM moves into the implementation phase.

IUPAC Involvement
IUPAC undertook a preliminary scoping project to assess a potential science contribution. As a result, a proposal for science support to SAICM was developed jointly with SETAC (the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry). This proposal outlined the following potential contributions of the science community to developing policy:

  • ensuring a firm scientific basis for policy development
  • reinforcing education and capacity building in relation to chemistry and its safe and responsible application
  • identifying and mitigating emerging issues of concern to health and the environment as early as possible
  • providing a balanced scientific perspective when considering new or emerging issues

Putting issues into perspective is essential to proper management of chemicals for the following reasons:

  • Perceptions of issues of concern may or may not be founded on the best available knowledge. Science can bring new insights, understanding, and a sense of proportion when emerging issues are identified, thereby providing the ability to judge priorities for action.
  • Scientists, and in this case chemists and environmental toxicologists, will often have an appreciation of potential issues before they reach the public and political domain, thereby providing early warning.
  • Scientists are well placed to develop both an understanding about possible risks to human and environmental health and the possible mitigation of these risks, including practical measures to minimize exposure.
The IUPAC booth at the ICCM2 Conference in Geneva.

The proposal recognized, however, that full engagement as a formal component of the SAICM process could be highly resource-intensive for organizations such as IUPAC and SETAC, given the volumes of paperwork, networks, and regular regional meetings this would entail. Therefore, the proposal called for an arms-length relationship modelled on the support that IUPAC provides to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The science community would:

  • take responsibility for establishing a scientific committee that would organize purely scientific meetings to initiate, develop, and monitor collaboration with the SAICM process
  • be accountable for ensuring the scientific integrity of the process
  • peer review and publish the proceedings

The proceedings would comprise perspectives and recommendations relating to emerging issues for consideration by the wider SAICM community within the implementation process. The meeting would be held a year in advance of each ICCM to give the SAICM community the opportunity to consider the proceedings. The first meeting would therefore be held in 2011, linking this with the ambitions of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) and encouraging further the engagement of the SAICM community in IYC.

The authors of the proposal foresaw considerable value for IUPAC through involvement in SAICM as it could:

  • assume the role of a “science NGO” to facilitate the promotion of chemistry in a major global policy domain of importance to UN and directly relevant to sustainable development
  • underline the value of the IUPAC contribution to industry, to intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) such as WHO and UNEP, to NGOs, and to governments
  • provide a context for promoting the International Year of Chemistry through practical demonstration of the benefits of chemistry to our life and our future
  • create awareness of IUPAC and its capabilities within the SAICM community, facilitating financial support for future projects (e.g., capacity-building projects funded under the SAICM Quick Start Programme)

The Second International Conference on Chemicals Management
The key step in IUPACs engagement with SAICM, was the presence of an IUPAC team at ICCM2, held 11–15 May 2009 at the Centre International de Conférences, Geneva. IUPAC was represented by President Elect Nicole Moreau, Leiv Sydnes, John Duffus, Paul LeClair, Mark Cesa, and Safety Training Program fellow Fabian Benzo.

ICCM2 was the first opportunity to review progress in the implementation of SAICM since its adoption in 2006 and the first time the ICCM performed its official functions as a high-level international forum for multistakeholder and multisectoral discussion and exchange of experience on chemicals management issues.

ICCM2 evaluated SAICM implementation so far by considering the following:

  • steps to address emerging policy issues, including specific actions in nanotechnology, chemicals in articles, lead in paint, and electronic waste
  • long-term financing of SAICM
  • strategic decisions on the future direction of SAICM and, in particular, the linkages between health and chemicals management
  • future periodic reporting arrangements
  • outstanding institutional matters relating to cooperation between IGOs and other stakeholders
  • improving the exchange of scientific and technical information
  • planning the budget and activities for the next intersessional period leading up to ICCM3 in June 2012

Within this context IUPAC sought to accomplish the following:

  • present a proposal jointly with SETAC and IUTOX for science support for SAICM as it relates to new emerging issues
  • focus IUPAC education and capacity-building activity in support of SAICM
  • raise the science profile of IUPAC across the SAICM community and engage with senior representatives of governments and the main intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations involved in chemicals management work

ICCM2 was a large meeting attended by 750 delegates representing 147 governments, 20 IGOs, and 58 nongovernmental organizations. Of the delegates, 78 were from industry, underlining the importance of SAICM to the chemical, agrochemical, and metals industries. Sixty-four delegates were from NGO’s campaigning on a range of health, environmental, and developmental issues. Science was represented by, among others, IUPAC, IUTOX, SETAC, and a fledgling group, the International Panel on Chemical Pollution.

The meeting included plenary sessions, a high-level segment for formal statements and commitments of support, thematic round tables, and an exhibition area. Technical briefings on the emerging issues and meetings of regional and other groups were held on 11 May 2009. An extensive series of side events and exhibitions were held throughout the week including two organized jointly by IUPAC and SETAC with participation by IUTOX, the first on science and the second on capacity building. Members of the team attended the technical briefings, the plenary sessions and the High Level Segment and a major industry side event. IUPAC mounted an exhibition stand to showcase IUPAC activities and competencies and to promote the International Year of Chemistry.

Conclusions and Lessons Learned
IUPAC succeeded in raising its profile by participating in ICCM2. The Union’s involvement was generally well received by many countries, by industry, and especially by the IGOs/UN agencies. Through its participation, IUPAC demonstrated its credentials and established a good basis for future joint work with IUTOX and SETAC, providing a basis for future applications for project funding under the Quick Start Programme.

A clear need was established for extensive educational and capacity building in support of SAICM implementation and this fits well with IUPAC competencies. The side event on capacity building was attended by over 50 delegates and addressed the question of what makes truly effective capacity building. It built on the practical experience of both SETAC (regional workshops) and IUPAC (the Safety Training Program) approaches that attracted considerable interest from African and South American delegations.

Science also had a reasonable hearing. Again, over 50 delegates attended the side event that discussed SETAC’s experience in relation to PBTs and POPs and heard from John Duffus about the importance of chemical speciation—knowing what you are talking about in relation to toxicology, which was demonstrably not always the case in the ICCM2 technical sessions. The role of science in particular in emerging issues was underlined and accepted and IUPAC was able to show how an arms-length approach modelled on its support to the Chemical Weapons Convention could provide an efficient and effective scientific input to the evolving policy agenda.

One of the key objectives from IUPAC’s point of view was to build consensus for a single science community view among IUPAC, SETAC, and IUTOX together with other relevant science bodies that would be present at ICCM2. The IUPAC representatives at ICCM2 had worked with SETAC to build this consensus and brought IUTOX into this during private discussions early at ICCM2. The three organizations presented this proposal at the ICCM2 general session. However, several organizations, in particular the WHO’s Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety and IPCP, presented alternative proposals for providing the science input to the policy framework in which, unlike IUPAC, their organizations would be an integral part of the SAICM structure. While none of these organizations has yet established its future contribution to the SAICM process, the mechanism for inclusion of scientific input was therefore clouded.

Above all, however, it is important to recognize that ICCM2 was a political meeting. Most of the country delegates to ICCM2 were diplomats or policy makers from environment ministries, many with responsibilities for chemicals regulation. Others had economic development or health interests. The potential role of science was, therefore, not a top priority for delegates working to establish the policy framework; it was decided to build and clarify the scientific input role through deliberations during the intersessional period between ICCM2 and ICCM3.

The IUPAC science proposal was not formally adopted despite support from a number of delegations. It is possible that there was a lack of recognition among some delegations that IUPAC, SETAC, and IUTOX were not seeking to be part of the formal SAICM structure. Major influential groups were keen not to establish special standing for any groups within the SAICM structure. Some delegations seemed to be keen to play on IUPAC’s supposed “industry links.” Other developing countries and NGOs may have seen the science proposal as competing with their interest or priorities or for the limited funding which is designated from donor countries within the SAICM structure. It underlines the fact that IUPAC does not have a high profile within this policy community yet. This is important feedback given the relevance of SAICM to the future sustainable development agenda, the objectives for IYC 2011, and the effectiveness of IUPAC as a science NGO.

Follow Up
SAICM is simply too relevant to the future of applied chemistry and the chemistry educational and capacity building needs of the developing world for IUPAC to ignore. However, IUPAC needs to reconcile the political nature of the ICCM process with the value IUPAC offers with respect to the scientific underpinning of sound policy.

The SAICM Secretariat remains eager for IUPAC involvement and presented its thoughts for activities during IYC during the Glasgow General Assembly. In particular, the interest remains within the UN institutions for practical but informal mechanisms for science support to SAICM, and an active discussion of how best to achieve this has begun.

A key for IUPAC to become better known and more influential in the SAICM process is simply to illustrate, through example, what IUPAC does, its highly evolved procedures for ensuring objectivity and consensus, and how these might be applied within the developing SAICM policy framework. Successful projects in collaboration with the Quick Start Programme, and a successful science meeting relevant to SAICM during IYC, would carry a great deal of weight in this regard if the activities and results are well communicated.

Therefore, IUPAC will pursue one or more projects within the Quick Start Programme. Expansion of the scope of the Safety Training Program is a possible project already being worked on within IUPAC and the Committee on Chemistry and Industry.

Key players within IUPAC have had discussions about holding a meeting during IYC that is relevant to the science behind SAICM or to capacity building needs, but that is independent of the SAICM process. This meeting could be organized within the CHEMRAWN remit and would probably be best held in Africa; either in Kenya in association with UNEP (headquartered in Nairobi) or Ethiopia. It is recommended that this is developed with ICSU and interested unions such as IUTOX and that the SAICM Secretariat is invited to join the organizing committee. The peer-reviewed proceedings from this meeting would then be available for ICCM3.

Colin Humphris (UK) <[email protected]> is the incoming chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s IUPAC Committee. He is a member and secretary of the IUPAC Committee on Chemistry and Industry and an elected member of the Bureau. He represents the International Council of Chemical Associations on the IYC Management Committee.

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