Toxic chemicals are found in practically all ecosystems on Earth, affecting biodiversity, agricultural production or water sources. Moreover, scientists estimate that everyone carries within their body a large number of chemical contaminants that have an unknown impact on health.
Many chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and mercury, can travel over large distances through air, migratory species and water currents. For example, they have been found in high concentration areas, such as the Arctic, where these chemicals are not used. Some POPs can remain in the body for more than 50 years. Read more+
Sources of chemicals and their releases vary highly.
Some POPs are produced intentionally as pesticides, flame retardants and as unwanted by-products of industrial processes. Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurants are unintentionally generated from the manufacturing processes in the chemical industry, combustion or high temperature processes in the presence of carbon, oxygen and chlorine. Whatever their sources, harmful chemicals enter the environment and food chain.
At the end of their life, chemicals are recycled or disposed as part of waste. Inappropriate management of such waste, however, poses negative impacts on human health and the environment. This waste must be managed in an environmentally sound manner to ensure harmful chemicals are not released into the environment.
The production, use and disposal of chemicals is rapidly increasing in developing countries and economies in transition. While these changes increase economic opportunities, they also increase risks to human health and the environment. The Global Chemicals Outlook (UNEP, 2012) called for urgent and coordinated actions to ensure the sound management of chemicals at an international, national, regional, corporate and civil society level.
Over the past three decades, governments have established a global regime to address harmful chemicals and waste through the negotiation of a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and non-binding instruments. Tackling chemicals and waste is also critical to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); SDG 9, for example, seeks to "build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation."
What We Do
The GEF is a catalyst for both governments and the private sector to help eliminate or reduce harmful chemicals and waste. We are a financial mechanism to implement both the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and The Minamata Convention on Mercury. We also play an important, complementary role in achieving the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. And our support for action on chemicals and waste is helping achieve related SDGs.
To achieve transformational change, our projects seek closer integration with global supply chains. We want to ensure that products crossing national borders are free of global priority substances that otherwise enter into markets and recycling chains. Increasingly, this process engages the private sector. Read more+
The GEF encourages projects that combine multiple focal areas and trust funds to help deliver multiple benefits within the chemical and waste cluster, and with other focal areas. For example, as the financial mechanisms of the Mercury and Climate Change conventions, the GEF has opportunities to explore co-benefits of carbon and mercury emissions reduction at coal-fired power plants. Similarly, the GEF can cooperate with the Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund to mobilize resources to maximize climate benefits of phasing out hydro chloroflurocarbons (HCFCs).
The GEF has 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.
Within this framework, the GEF has six complementary programs:
- Develop and demonstrate new tools and economic approaches for managing harmful chemicals and waste in a sound manner.
- Support enabling activities and promote their integration into national budgets and planning processes, national and sector policies and actions and global monitoring.
- Reduce and eliminate POPs.
- Reduce or eliminate anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury to the environment.
- Complete the phase out of ozone-depleting substances in countries with economies in transition and assist Article 5 countries under the Montreal Protocol to achieve climate mitigation benefits.
- Support regional approaches to eliminate and reduce harmful chemicals and waste in least developed countries and Small Island Developing States.
Over time, the GEF has moved toward an integrated approach to chemicals and waste that combines persistent organic pollutants (POPs), ozone-depleting substances (ODS), mercury and the Strategic Approach to Integrated Chemicals Management (SAICM) in a single focal area. This new approach maximizes cross-cutting global environmental benefits, while continuing to support the individual chemical conventions. Read more+
The GEF in Action: Ridding the World of POPs
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.