Remarks by Angel Gurría,
3 November 2020
Dear Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to open this Global Forum on Environment. The sound management of chemicals and waste is one of the main environmental challenges that countries are facing today.
The COVID-19 crisis has made this work even more important. Underlying health conditions have been responsible for increased risks of mortality by COVID-19. Improving the population’s health increases the resilience of societies to confront such pandemics. And an important part of this effort lies in reducing the adverse impact of chemicals on human health.
Tens of thousands of chemicals are currently on the market, whose risks to human health and to the environment have not been adequately assessed. And about a thousand new chemicals enter the market every year.
No country has the resources needed to address this challenge on its own. Progress can only be achieved through international co-operation.
This is precisely why we launched the OECD Chemicals Programme, almost 50 years ago. Through the harmonisation of technical standards and tools for the safety assessment of chemicals, work done in one country can be replicated in another.
Savings for industry and governments from the Programme are considerable. The latest report on this issue: "Saving Costs in Chemicals Management", released in 2019, estimates those savings at about 309 million euros per year. More than our Core, Part I Budget for the whole OECD.
The OECD has also adopted numerous legal instruments on chemical safety, including on release inventories of pollutants, and on preventing chemical accidents. Together, they form a coherent system for chemicals management.
As you are entering the final stage of negotiations for the sound management of chemicals and waste in the United Nations, OECD standards can be a used as a blueprint for achieving the safe use of chemicals in all countries.
Many partner countries are already setting up chemicals’ management systems and will be faced with the same challenges that OECD countries have long faced.
I am happy to announce that the OECD, together with eight other Intergovernmental Organisations, will launch a new version of the IOMC Toolbox for Decision-Making in Chemicals Management this week.
The toolbox aims to guide countries that wish to set up or improve their chemicals management system, and find the tools and instruments most adapted to their needs and resources.
Of course, there will always be new challenges. For example, after countries have been working together at the OECD for almost 15 years on the safety of nanomaterials, new advanced materials are being developed that will again challenge our safety assessment. In addition, governments still lack the tools to trace the chemical content of all products on the market, which is crucial for the circular economy.
These challenges show why wider international collaboration is so important.
Ladies and Gentleman,
I hope that this Global Forum on Environment on chemicals will be the first of many. Rest assured that the OECD remains fully committed to working with all stakeholders to make chemical safety a reality. Only together can we create a healthier, greener, more resilient and fairer post-COVID world.