Acheiving the vision

Mohammed Valli Moosa outlines his country’s response to the global challenge of safe chemicals management, and looks forward to the World Summit on Sustainable Development

The sound management of chemicals is based primarily on the principles espoused by Chapter 19 of Agenda 21. The specific emphasis of this chapter has allowed both international and national organizations responsible for chemicals management to develop targeted programmes in accordance with the goals of sustainable development. Although good progress has been made, much remains to be done, particularly in giving effect to the consumer right-to-know principle and ensuring the safe use of all chemicals. The South African situation provides an example of the challenges facing governments and other stakeholders worldwide in the further implementation of Chapter 19.

Historical base
The South African chemical industry is dominated by local companies which grew from the industry’s historical base in explosives for the mining industry, followed by the development of nitrogen-based fertilizers and sulphuric acid. The strategic decision in the 1950s to derive oil from coal on a large scale resulted in the foundation of a significant polymer industry.

Although relatively small by international standards, the chemical industry is a significant part of the South African economy, contributing around 5 per cent of gross domestic product and employing approximately 200,000 people. Annual production of primary and secondary process chemicals is of the order of 13 million tonnes with a value of around $650 million. The industry is the largest of its kind in Africa.

Regulatory framework
The Constitution of South Africa provides the overarching legislative framework which assigns responsibility for the three spheres of government – national, provincial and local. The complex requirements of a chemicals management system have resulted in legislation that distinguishes between three main types of chemicals – industrial and consumer chemicals, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals – and responsibility for their management is spread over a number of Government departments:

Department of Health: Administers legislation dealing with medicines and hazardous substances. One of the three departments that have responsibility for addressing occupational health issues.

Department of Agriculture: Administers legislation controlling the use of pesticides as part of its resource conservation and quality control function.

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism: Coordinates matters relating to the safe management of chemicals in support of national sustainable development goals. Responsible for legislation dealing with environmental pollution, excluding water.

Department of Labour: One of the three departments that have responsibility for addressing occupational health issues.

Department of Trade and Industry: Administers legislation to protect consumers; manage foreign trade relations; promote specific industrial sectors, including the chemical industry; and to manage technology policies and strategy.

Department of Transport: Administers legislation on freight transport.

The fragmented nature of the regulatory framework for chemicals management poses one of the greatest challenges to implementing Agenda 21. The other major challenge is to participate meaningfully in international programmes.

Challenges and actions
South Africa’s re-entry into the international community and the opening up of the economy since 1994 have posed a number of challenges in all areas of environmental management. The international management of chemicals is of particular interest for the Government because of the significance of the industry to the national economy. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, as the focal point for multilateral environmental agreements, continues to participate actively in the international instruments that deal with chemicals management. Furthermore, it hosts the Basel Convention Regional Training Centre for English-speaking African Countries, which could host training programmes for the implementation of other chemicals conventions.

A wide range of programmes has been initiated not only to align legislation with the new Constitution but also to participate in global activities relating to chemicals management.

  • The parliamentary process required to ratify the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions has been initiated with a view to completion prior to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The South African Government would like to see enough countries ratify both these conventions so that entry into force can be announced at the Summit.

  • A preliminary national plan will be reviewed and refined as part of the preparation of a National Profile on chemicals management, which is planned for completion by June 2002 and will form the basis of a system of national coordination.

  • A special unit has been set up in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to implement a system aimed at preventing major industrial accidents as well as systems for emergency preparedness and response.

  • It is intended to seek international assistance to implement the Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

  • Formulation of national strategies to deal with the following targets from the Bahia Declaration on Chemical Safety will commence after the completion of the National Profile:

    • Prevention of illegal traffic in toxic and dangerous products.

    • Dissemination of international information on chemicals.

    • Integrated and ecologically sound pest and vector management.

    • Exchange of information on chemicals.

  • In addition the following activities will follow the completion of the National Profile:

    • Contribution to the international report on the problem of acutely toxic pesticides and severely hazardous pesticide formulations and recommendations for sound management options.

    • Identification of chemicals of major concern as part of the report on risk reduction initiatives.

    • Recommendations to establish common principles and harmonized approaches for risk methodologies on specific toxicological endpoints.

    • Procedures in place to ensure that hazardous materials carry appropriate and reliable safety information.

    • Investigation of improvements to hazard communication systems.

    • Action plans for safe management of obsolete stocks of pesticides and other chemicals.

    • Development of a Waste Information System as a forerunner to a Release and Transfer Register or emissions inventory.

Unique opportunity
The World Summit on Sustainable Development provides a unique opportunity not only to review the activities that have been launched to give effect to Agenda 21 and in particular Chapter 19, but also for all nations to reaffirm commitment to the comprehensive plan that is Agenda 21 and to move beyond commitment to more concrete action plans for implementation. As the South African Government has stated on many occasions, to be successful this Summit must address the challenge of globalization in a meaningful way. Implementation of Chapter 19 must ensure that the benefits of chemicals are available to all and that the trend to shift manufacture to the developing world must be accompanied by world-class health, safety and environmental performance standards. The South African Government calls for a Global Partnership and Johannesburg Programme of Action as outcomes of the Summit.

The South African Government recognizes the need to build on the progress already made in a number of international instruments and conventions for dealing with chemicals management. In particular, the successful partnership between UNEP and the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety in implementing Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 needs to be continued as part of the move towards more streamlined international environmental governance.

The Summit will also provide a platform for the endorsement of the Bahia Declaration as the framework for action on chemicals to be incorporated into the Johannesburg Programme of Action.

The South African Government calls on all stakeholders to join with their governments in ensuring that the vision of the Summit – People, Planet and Prosperity – is achieved through real partnerships and practical action

Mohammed Valli Moosa is Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Republic of South Africa.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Open doors | Progress and possibilities | A further step | Achieving the vision | Wake-up call | Special feature: Security in a shrinking world | 2001 UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize | Competition | Global housekeeping | Disrupting life’s messages | Ubiquitous and dangerous | Briefing: Much done, much still to do | Briefing: Getting on top of the POPs | Briefing: First line of defence | Reversing the burden of proof

Complementary articles in other issues:
Mohammed Valli Moosa: Sustainable solutions (Biological diversity) 2000
Kader Asmal: Power sharing (Energy) 2001
Issue on Chemicals 1997
AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population, waste and chemicals