The use of chemicals permeates modern life. We use them for the production of agricultural chemicals, refrigerants, life-saving medicines, aerosols, purification agents for treating drinking water supplies, fire-fighting chemicals, polyurethane foam to better insulate buildings, mercury used in medical devices, and so on.
Nonetheless, a deficient management and disposal practice of chemicals could represent serious risks to the integrity of human health and the environment: depletion of the ozone layer, oil spills, large accidental releases of industrial chemicals, acute pesticide poisoning, and global warming related to high emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). Moreover, long-term exposure to toxic chemicals in water, food, air, and soil can cause or exacerbate many serious human health problems, including damage to reproductive and neurological systems, as well as different types of cancers.
It is the world’s poorest communities who confronts more frequently the highest risk of exposure to chemicals and hazardous waste, due to their occupations, living conditions, lack of knowledge about safe handling practices, limited access to sources of uncontaminated food and drinking water, higher exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation and the fact that they often live in countries where regulatory, health, and education systems are weak.
UNDP Chemicals project portfolio, promotes the sound management of chemicals as an important aspect of our work to: reduce global poverty and promote human health through avoiding exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), mercury and hazardous waste releases, and reduce stratospheric ozone depletion with the associated effect on global warming.
UNDP also joins the efforts agreed on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer through the establishment of the UNDP Montreal Protocol Unit (MPU) since 1992. This programme aims to reduce the emission of ozone depleting substances (ODS) production and consumption, but also advocates for the transformation of the market towards the use of low-ODS technologies.
What has been done?
GEF-funded projects and activities are integrated into UNDP’s programme of work on environment and energy. As of November 1st, 2011, UNDP Chemicals crew has been supporting 56 countries through 92 projects.
Currently the UNDP is working in 7 projects in the region of Latin America: in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay with focus on the sound management and destruction of PCBs, and in Nicaragua, and Honduras on the improved management and release containment of POPs Pesticides.
Overall, the projects have been able to start the process of establishing and/or reinforcing the legal framework that will enable the sound management of these otherwise harmful chemicals. The accomplishment of this aspect is very important in order to assure the long term success and sustainability of these projects.
Furthermore, great efforts are being put to raise awareness on the harmful effects of these chemicals if good practices of management and disposal are not being followed. In Mexico, the project trained 267 federal and state inspectors in five states on the Inspection and Analysis of PCB management, whereas in Uruguay eight workshops were conducted in where 150 participants were trained in sampling procedures and how to handle PCBs safely. In Nicaragua there were eight awareness raising workshops with 560 participants from civil society on the risk to the exposure to POPs pesticide contamination.
In Brazil the project has initiated work on final disposal of PCBs by assessing the current PCB destruction capacity, whilst in Mexico 268 tons of PCBs and contaminated material were totally destroyed.
On the other hand, projects funded by the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol (MLF) in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean have contributed to the success of the implementation of the Montreal Protocol by phasing out 176,788 tons of ozone-depleting substances when counted on a cumulative basis. This result also translates to the elimination of greenhouse gas emission equivalent to 1.13 billion tons of CO2.
UNDP advocates for the integration of sound chemicals management priorities into national environmental and poverty reduction planning frameworks and helps countries access resources to improve their chemical and waste regimes.
UNDP assists developing countries and countries with economies in transition to:
- Integrate the sound management of chemicals into national development plans and policies
- Manage chemicals of particular concern for pro-poor policies (POPs, ODS, heavy metals and others)
- Strengthen national capacities on integrated waste management, including waste prevention, reuse and recycling, and disposing a range of waste streams.
- Supporting national and local efforts towards a “Green economy” and sustainable materials management.
In addition UNDP assists developing countries and countries with economies in transition to set-up national financial mechanisms to access, integrate and sequence different sources of environmental financing.