At 10:20 am on Saturday morning, 30 September 2023, the remaining exhausted delegates who had worked through the night and into the morning cheered as they formally adopted the new global framework for the integrated management of chemicals and waste, the Global Framework on Chemicals – For a planet free of harm from chemicals and waste. The fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5) finally came to a successful conclusion over 16 hours after its scheduled end. A visibly moved ICCM5 President Anita Breyer, who had overseen a fraught final plenary session where the final text was cleaned up and agreed upon, repeatedly thanked delegates for keeping the faith.
A high-level Friends of the President group steered a similarly difficult process during the week to finalize the Bonn Declaration, a political statement that was drafted over months of informal consultations and finally agreed in the final hours. Consequently, the High-level Segment was unable to formally adopt the declaration before ministers and other high-level international representatives concluded their talks. As with the Framework, much of the delay was caused by entrenched positions that led to repeated appeals for delegates to exhibit the Bonn Spirit of “live and let live.” In particular, text referencing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), technology transfer “on mutually agreed terms,” and the polluter pays principle remained bracketed until the very last moment in both negotiations.
Notwithstanding, the determination of many to achieve a positive outcome yielded agreement on an instrument that many stakeholders believe meets the aspiration for a post-2020 framework on chemicals and waste. Throughout the week, many spoke of the heavy toll—especially on the most vulnerable populations—from the unsustainable use of chemicals and waste. With the new instrument, there is hope that the stage has been set for renewed multi-stakeholder collaboration at all levels to address these challenges.
The 12-part “Global Framework on Chemicals,” its three annexes, and the accompanying 12 resolutions provide a rationale, targets, and actions to ensure that a broad cross-section of stakeholders from governments, international technical agencies, civil society, and the private sector can collaborate on such issues as phasing out the most harmful chemicals, strengthening capacity building, particularly for countries with weak enforcement regimes, and creating better linkages across diverse sectors, including health and occupational safety, trade, agriculture, energy, and transport.
With important targets on export prohibition and guidelines adopted as part of the Framework, there is much to celebrate for many delegations who toughed it out in plenary to the very end.
Multi-stakeholder alliances established or reaffirmed at the Conference include the work of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) in offering technical guidance and coordinating joint initiatives, and the launch of a Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). In addition, ICCM5 launched a process for creating implementation programmes for the new Framework that should result in new sector-focused initiatives involving key heavy users of chemicals, such as the textile and construction sectors.
As noted by German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, stakeholders now have a concrete tool with which to raise the profile of chemicals and waste issues at the UN General Assembly and other global fora. Demonstrating the continued commitment of the host country, the German government pledged EUR 20 million to the newly birthed Framework.
ICCM5 convened in Bonn, Germany, from 25-30 September 2023. It was preceded by the second resumed session of the Fourth Meeting of the Intersessional Process (IP4) on 23-24 September, which continued its negotiations on the new Global Framework.