It’s time for the World Chemicals Conference to take decisive action on highly hazardous pesticides

BLOG: Mark Davis explains why the new policy framework, to be decided at the upcoming International Conference on Chemicals Management, must include strong action on highly hazardous pesticides.

In just a couple of days, the fifth meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5) will convene in Bonn, Germany.

This is a crucial meeting that seeks to reach an agreement on a new framework for the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020.

For those of us who are part of a growing global community working to mitigate the risks of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), this also provides a significant opportunity to take long overdue action on this issue.

Inherently hazardous chemicals

HHPs are a small minority of pesticides that cause disproportionate harm to human health and the environment.

An estimated 385 million cases of accidental or occupational acute pesticide poisoning are recorded worldwide every year, resulting in 11,000 deaths. Furthermore, approximately 150,000 people die from intentional self-poisoning.

HHPs, by definition, are inherently hazardous and therefore unsafe. A risk-based approach does not work, particularly in low and middle income-countries, where personal protective equipment (PPE) is often unaffordable and impractical in hot weather conditions. Many users are also unable to read or understand instructions on pesticide bottles.In contrast, HHP bans have been shown to be very effective, preventing deaths with no negative impact on agricultural productivity. Arguments that these pesticides are essential for maintaining food security and agricultural productivity have been demonstrably disproven by the many countries that have already banned their use.

A history of SAICM and HHPs

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is a policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world. Established in 2006, its original aim was to ensure that by the year 2020 chemicals would be produced and used in ways that minimize harm to health and the environment.

Since its inception, four International Conferences on Chemicals Management (ICCM) have taken place to review SAICM.  At the fourth meeting (ICCM4) in 2015, a resolution was passed, recognizing HHPs as an international issue of concern and calling for a coordinated strategy to address the issue. The resolution included an annex that effectively outlined a strategy and action plan, calling on UN agencies to take a lead on addressing the issue.

A discussion on highly hazardous pesticides at the the fourth Meeting of the Intersessional Process (IP4) for Considering the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)

Towards ICCM5

2020 has now been and gone, effectively ending SAICM’s original mandate. The fifth meeting of stakeholders (ICCM5) was originally scheduled to take place in October 2020, but was understandably postponed due to the global pandemic.

In the meantime, discussions have shifted to focus on the future of SAICM ‘Beyond 2020’, rather than action and risk reduction measures on certain chemicals. For those of us concerned about HHPs, there is a feeling that more needs to be done to fulfil the promises made at ICCM4.

However, within our global community, stakeholders are continuing to generate momentum and push for further action. This includes a recent proposal from the African Group to establish a Global Alliance on HHPs that would bring together a coalition of partners to help drive change.

There is also a proposed target (A7) to phase-out and eliminate the use of HHPs from agriculture by 2030. A target of this strength is exactly what is needed if we are to accelerate action on HHPs and prevent further harm, particularly to vulnerable people living in low and middle-income countries.

An opportunity for action

To have any hope of making significant progress on HHPs, at the very least ICCM5 must acknowledge HHPs as a continuing issue of concern and commit to further action.

We are calling on delegates to achieve the following:

  1. A commitment to Target A7, demanding a phase out of highly hazardous pesticides.
  2. A resolution passed to form a Global Alliance on highly hazardous pesticides.
  3. Recognition of the need to develop strategies to phase out HHPs, including an action plan led by UN agencies in consultation with stakeholders.

Only by committing to action will we be able to effectively address the dangers of HHPs and prevent ongoing harm to human health and the environment.

Mark Davis

Mark Davis

Director for Agriculture & Regulatory Outreach
Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention