Global Policy Forum

Worldwide Toxic Chemicals Ban Agreed


By Anthony Browne

August 30, 2002

Delegations at World Summit agree on banning the use and production of toxic chemicals, hazardous to human health and environment, by 2020. The agreement was reached after a U-turn by US. The world's first international agreement to ban the use and production of toxic chemicals has been reached at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg. All countries will have to ban chemicals that are hazardous to human health or the environment by 2020.

It is the most significant step forward at the troubled summit and the surprise deal was struck only after a U-turn by the United States. It is a significant victory for the European Union delegation, which had expected the US to hold out until heads of state arrived next week.

The US had been strongly opposing any targets and was worried about the effect of the agreement on its industry.

The agreement means that 190 countries will have to clamp down on dangerous chemicals in consumer products, as well as on factories that release toxic chemicals into the environment. The main beneficiaries will be the billions of people in the developing world who at present have little legal protection.

Western companies that sell toxic chemicals to developing countries could be severely affected as could companies such as Shell and Mitsubishi that have factories there with poor pollution records.

Chemicals that face global bans include lindane, parathion, pirimiphos and lead additives for petrol. These are banned in the EU, but European manufacturers make them here and then sell them to Africa and Asia.

An official of the British delegation at the summit said: "We are very pleased that this target has been agreed. It is a target that all UN countries will be striving to achieve by 2020. It demonstrates the real value of this summit."

The US had said that it opposed all targets and EU governments feared that that may render the final agreement worthless. This week, however, the US backed down on targets to protect fish stocks and marine environments. It is thought that it has made concessions on chemicals and fish for tactical reasons, making it easier to hold out on targets for providing sanitation in the Third World and increasing the use of renewable energy.

Mike Childs, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The implications are huge. It is a vote of confidence in EU proposals and a huge defeat for the chemicals industry."

Under the final wording, the countries commit themselves to aim to "achieve by 2020 that chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to the minimisation of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment".

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, says in an interview today that failure at the summit would lead to the unravelling of the international negotiating system created over the past 50 years.

He told The Independent: "This is a very difficult conference where a lot of thing are working against agreement." But he said that there was a better mood than he had expected and that the Americans were still involved in constructive talks.

Meanwhile, a delegation of senior American politicians accused President Bush of undermining the war on terrorism by blocking plans to alleviate world poverty and tackle environmental problems.

The delegation, all Democrats, said that vetoing efforts to tackle issues that were "life and death to hundreds of millions of people" would have far-reaching consequences. "You can't opt for multilateral co-operation on only the things you have an interest in," George Miller, a California congressman, said. "The President is pressuring governments to fall in line on the war on terrorism, but unless you see us co-operating on issues that are an immediate life-or-death issue in those countries, it's a horrible mistake."




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