Main Issue

Toxic chemicals are found in practically all ecosystems on Earth, including Antarctica and the most remote seas. Over 100 million man-made chemicals and chemical formulations are used in every sector in today’s economy Many chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and mercury, can travel over large distances through air, migratory species, and water currents. 

When used improperly and when disposed of unsafely, chemicals can pose significant harmful impacts on both the environment and human health: scientists estimate that just about every person on the planet one carries within their body a large number of chemical contaminants that have an unknown impact on their well-being. 

The most harmful of these chemicals include POPs, ozone depleting substances, mercury, and highly hazardous pesticides. Due to the global impact on human health and the environment some of these highly dangerous chemicals are controlled by international law. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of new materials and chemicals many manufacturers do not always conduct sufficient analysis of the potential harmful impacts of their products before they are used commercially, which results in significant harm to humans, terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems, and wild species. A current example is the use of the group of Neonicotinoid pesticides, the most widely used insecticides in agriculture, which are linked to the current decline in bee populations.

What We Do

The GEF is charged with eliminating the most harmful chemicals, which are covered by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The GEF also supports the achievement of broader sound management of chemicals and waste through its support to the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management.  

The implementation support for the chemicals and waste conventions by the GEF provides both the opportunity for Parties to these conventions to meet their obligations under the Conventions and to use the entry point of the Conventions to transform their management of chemicals and ultimately use and produce chemicals without suffering their harmful impacts. The GEF’s work on chemicals and waste focuses on four main programs: 

  • The Industrial Chemicals Program seeks to eliminate or significantly reduce chemicals subject to international agreements by supporting progams that address: Chemicals and Waste at the end of life; Chemicals that are used or emitted from or in processes and products; and Management of waste containing these chemicals. 

  • The Agricultural Chemicals Program will address the agricultural chemicals that are listed as persistent organic pollutants under the Stockholm Convention and agricultural chemicals that contain mercury or its compounds. Where the chemicals are in use, investments will be made to introduce alternatives. 

  • The Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States Program will address the sound management of chemicals and waste through strengthening the capacity of sub-national, national and regional institutions and strengthening the enabling policy and regulatory framework in these countries. The program will provide support to the development of public-private partnerships specifically adapted to the circumstances of LDCs and SIDs to enable the sound management of chemicals and waste.  

  • The Enabling Activities program supports enabling activities under the Stockholm Convention, including National Implementation Plans (NIPs) and NIP Updates; under the Minamata Convention, including Minamata Initial Assessments and artisanal and small-scale gold mining National Action Plans; supports Global Monitoring of chemicals, related to effectiveness evaluation under the Chemical Conventions; and helps interested countries take part in the Integrated National Planning for MEAs and SDGs. 

 

Results

Over time, the GEF has moved toward an integrated approach to chemicals and waste that combines POPs, ozone-depleting substances, mercury and the Strategic Approach to Integrated Chemicals Management in a single focal area. This new approach maximizes cross-cutting global environmental benefits, while continuing to support the individual chemical conventions. GEF investments have led to the phaseout of 29,000 tons of ozone depleting potential and sound disposal of more than 200,000 tons of POPs legacy in developing countries. 

For example, since the adoption of the Stockholm Convention in 2001, the GEF has committed $982 million to POPs projects. Additional funds invested by partners in the public and private sectors have brought the total value of the portfolio to more than $3 billion. These investments help dispose of PCBs and obsolete pesticides, including DDT. They also reduce both POPs unintentionally generated by industrialized countries, as well as those produced in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. 

Looking Ahead

We are at a moment when more and more chemicals being produced and put into everything we consume, from our cell phones to our food and drinking water. We are also at a point where the industry itself it beginning to shift to more sustainable ‘green’ supply chains and manufacturing. How can the chemicals industry accelerate this switch? What are the challenges ahead, and what innovations and global coalitions do we need? 

The GEF is a catalyst for both governments and the private sector to help eliminate or reduce harmful chemicals and waste. GEF’s programming strategy for chemicals and waste builds on its past work in policy and priority setting, piloting technologies and techniques to build best practices, and progressively working with the private sector to help foster sound management of chemicals and waste.  

The GEF has developed two key strategic objectives around chemicals and waste: 

  • Develop the enabling conditions, tools, and environment for the sound management of harmful chemicals and wastes; 
  • Reduce the prevalence of harmful chemicals and waste and support the implementation of clean alternative technologies/substances. 

The GEF projects seek closer integration with global supply chains. These efforts help ensure that products crossing national borders are free of global priority substances that otherwise enter into markets and recycling chains. The GEF can help to convene the relevant stakeholders and function as an honest broker in facilitating the work needed to help transform the chemicals industry and related products and materials streams.