Main Issue

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are among the most dangerous chemicals that humans release into the environment. They are pesticides, industrial chemicals, or unwanted by-products of industrial processes. While POPs have been in use for decades, the world has only recently learned about their deadly qualities.

Armed with knowledge about the dangers of POPs, many countries began limiting or banning their production, use, and release. These efforts culminated in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. More than 180 countries are signatories to the Convention and have agreed to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment. 

POPs are highly toxic, and can cause severe health problems, even at low doses. These impacts include cancer, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. These synthetic chemicals can enter the womb, exposing the unborn to risk during the most vulnerable stages of development.

POPs can travel great distances through the air, water and migratory animals. They have been found at both poles and accumulate in marine mammals.

POPs are long-lasting. They accumulate in air, water, and sediments, and are difficult to remove from the environment.  For this reason, POPs can affect people in a community over several generations.

What We Do

The GEF is the financial mechanism for implementing the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.  The GEF is charged with eliminating the most harmful chemicals, which are covered by the Convention, as well as the Minamata Convention and the Montreal Protocol. 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 (SAICM).

In GEF-6, the Chemicals and Waste strategy sought to support the development of enabling environments, economic models, and financial mechanisms to strengthen the global response to improving the sound management of chemicals and waste. The GEF Global Opportunities for Long-term Development in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector (GOLD) program, for example, represents the first significant step in the direction of mobilizing private and other public resources to tackle mercury for the sector by working at the sector level rather than treating it as a chemicals issue. The success of eliminating the chemicals listed under the Stockholm Convention and the Minamata Convention will require a such sectoral approaches.

There are ongoing global efforts to shift to sustainable patterns of production and consumption in industrial processes, including the application of approaches that will promote a circular economy, a sound material-cycle society, and sustainable materials management. This presents an opportunity for the GEF to leverage resources from these efforts that will in turn improve the impact of the focal area. The GEF will need to explore the possibility of aligning its investments to ensure that its on chemicals and waste supports these actions, and develops and provides the evidence based results for continued action in this area.


GEF projects focused on persistent organic pollutants have resulted in the sound disposal of more than 200,000 tons of POPs legacy in developing countries. 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.

Additionally, through our POPs programming, the GEF indirectly supports both two legally binding instruments to confront the challenge of chemicals and waste:

  • The Basel Convention on Controlling Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. This convention, which predates the Stockholm Convention, deals with the international movement of hazardous waste and its disposal. Since POPs waste are treated as Basel Wastes, the GEF’s support to the Stockholm Convention has indirectly supported implementation of the Basel Convention.
  • The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. This convention deals with the control in trade of hazardous and harmful chemicals. Since the convention controls all POPs for the purpose of trade, the GEF’s support to help Parties use import and export bans has indirectly supported implementation of the Rotterdam Convention.

The GEF supports a non-legally binding instrument: the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). In 2006, governments adopted the SAICM to harmonize global management of the multiple chemical conventions. The SAICM process identifies emerging chemical issues of global concern. It provides a framework to operationalize the implementation of an integrated approach to managing harmful chemicals and waste. In response to an invitation to support the SAICM, the GEF has provided support to manage e-waste, lead in paints and chemicals in products.

Looking Ahead

In GEF-7, the emphasis will be on facilitating the reduction of chemicals though stronger alignment with the shift to sustainable production and consumption. The GEF will also emphasize stronger private sector engagement, including supporting enabling environments for industry to adopt better technologies and practices intended to foster increased environmental sustainability, including eliminating POPs and mercury, creating incentives for private sector involvement, and streamlining processes for easier private sector navigation. More emphasis will also be placed on developing sustainable financing at the national/regional level to sustainably eliminate chemicals covered under the Conventions, and at the same time facilitate the sound management of chemicals and waste.

In order to shift from a chemical-based to a sector/economic approach, GEF-7 programs seek to integrate the individual chemical Convention issues into a sector-based approached that better aligns to national level efforts to improve the industry. The work of the Conventions can thus be better integrated into national-level agricultural policy, industrial manufacturing, and pollution management. In countries seeking to control air pollution from industrial sources, for example, GEF work on mercury and POPS would be complimentary to national efforts to reduce PM 2.5, NOx, SOx, etc. By aligning GEF work on chemicals to broader issues of agriculture and industry investments at the national level can be leveraged to achieve the objectives of the chemical and waste multilateral environmental agreements and contribute to broader environmental performance improvements in these sectors.