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The Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) was created by the International Conference on Chemical Safety held in Stockholm in April 1994. The IFCS is a unique, overarching mechanism for cooperation among governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations for the promotion of chemical risk assessment and the environmentally sound management of chemicals. The Forum is a non-institutional arrangement, in terms of which representatives of governments meet together with intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations with the aim of integrating and consolidating national and international efforts to promote chemical safety. The IFCS involves, encourages and supports the participation of relevant stakeholders. The wide range of stakeholder participation is seen to provide the IFCS with a remarkable ability to identify answers and assessments to the problems to health and environment raised by chemicals.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE IFCS
The concept of an intergovernmental forum to address chemical safety originated during preparations for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). In the run-up to UNCED the UNCED Preparatory Committee identified the collaborative effort of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Intergovernmental Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) as the nucleus for international cooperation on environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals. IPCS was thus invited to identify possible intergovernmental mechanisms for risk assessment and management of chemicals. In response, UNEP, ILO and WHO convened an expert meeting in London in December 1991 to consider priority areas for an international strategy and possible proposals for an intergovernmental mechanism for the environmentally sound management of chemicals. The meeting resulted in a recommendation to establish an intergovernmental forum on chemical risk assessment and management. This recommendation was forwarded to UNCED.
At UNCED, delegates adopted the programme of action Agenda 21, which specifically addresses the role of chemicals management in Chapter 19, “Environmentally Sound Management of Toxic Chemicals Including Prevention of Illegal International Traffic in Toxic and Dangerous Products.” Chapter 19 contains an international strategy for action on chemical safety with six priority Programme Areas: expanding and accelerating international assessment of chemical risks; harmonization of classification and labeling of chemicals; information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risks; establishment of risk reduction programs; strengthening of national capacity and capability for chemicals management; and prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products. Chapter 19 also called for the establishment of an intergovernmental forum on chemical safety.
Forum I: In April 1994, UNEP, ILO and WHO convened the International Conference on Chemical Safety in Stockholm, Sweden. The Conference established the IFCS and constituted the first meeting of the Forum (Forum I). The Conference adopted Terms of Reference which established the IFCS as a non-institutional arrangement through which government representatives would meet to consider issues, provide advice and make recommendations to governments, UN agencies, IGOs and NGOs involved in chemical safety. The role of the IFCS, as defined by the Terms of Reference, is to provide clear and consistent advice for cost-effective, integrated risk assessment and management of chemicals and to improve delineation and mutual understanding of roles, initiatives and activities both within and among governments and IGOs which have responsibility for chemical safety. Forum I also took steps to provide financial and administrative arrangements for the Forum and adopted a resolution containing detailed recommendations on priorities for action in implementing Agenda 21.
The IFCS Terms of Reference established the Intersessional Group (ISG) to meet between sessions of the Forum in order to provide advice to the cooperating organizations of the IPCS. The ISG makes recommendations to the Forum, studies special problems and advises on the implementation of strategies and programmes as approved by the Forum. The ISG is comprised of the officers of the Forum and not more than 26 government participants elected by the Forum.
ISG-1 and 2: The first meeting of the Inter-Sessional Group (ISG-1) was held in Bruges, Belgium, in March 1995. At ISG-1, participants recommended an inventory of programmes, activities and projects related to chemical safety being carried out by IGOs, as well as an inventory of bilaterally supported initiatives in chemicals management. The second meeting (ISG-2), held from 5-8 March 1996 in Canberra, Australia, established an Ad Hoc Working Group for the Agenda of Forum II and made a number of recommendations under each of the six priority Programme Areas.
Forum II: At the second session of the IFCS (Forum II), held from 10-14 February 1997 in Ottawa, Canada, delegates made recommendations on five of the six Programme Areas: expanding and accelerating international assessment of chemical risks; strengthening national capabilities and capacities for management of chemicals; harmonization of classification and labeling of chemicals; information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risks; and establishment of risk reduction programmes, including the disposal of obsolete chemicals and pesticide risk reduction. Forum II also made recommendations on emerging issues such as endocrine disrupting substances and on pollution release and transfer registers (PRTR). Delegates reached agreement on a number of actions regarding the structure and function of the IFCS. The Forum Standing Committee (FSC) was established as a mechanism to respond to new developments and to give advice in preparing for future meetings.
ISG-3: The third meeting of the Intersessional Group (ISG-3) of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) was held from 1-4 December 1998 in Yokohama, Japan. ISG-3 brought together approximately 135 participants representing 46 countries, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), United Nations agencies and both industry and public interest non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Throughout ISG-3, delegates met in several Plenary and working group sessions to address three thematic areas: risk assessment; obsolete chemicals and pesticides; and capacity building. They also addressed a range of other topics, including: emerging issues such as endocrine disrupters, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and chemicals of international concern other than POPs; harmonization of classification and labeling; NGO participation in IFCS; and matters to be carried forward to Forum III. Regional groups and NGOs convened meetings in preparation for ISG-3 on 30 November and also met periodically during ISG-3. ISG-3 resulted in approximately twenty-five agreed action items and recommendations on risk assessment, obsolete chemicals and pesticides, capacity building, harmonization of classification and labeling, support for NGO participation in Forum activities, preparations for the third meeting of the IFCS (Forum III), longer term issues, funding and the year 2000 computer problem (Y2K).
Forum III: At its Third Session (Forum III), held in October 2000 in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the IFCS adopted the Bahia Declaration on Chemical Safety, in which the participating partners of the IFCS committed to achieving a set of key goals. These goals, which are described in more detail in the Priorities for Action Beyond 2000, include targets for:
- Data on inherent hazards in other geographical areas than temperate climatic regions
- Ensuring relevant hazard data becomes available in the shortest possible time-frame
- Ensuring availability of information on hazards at export of hazardous chemicals
- The management of stocks of pesticides and other chemicals that are no longer in use
- Global measures against persistent organic pollutants
- Raising the issue of poisoning of users of toxic pesticides
- National plans of action against hazardous chemicals
- Taking action against illegal traffic with chemicals
- Assisting countries to be able to work in all of the Forumï¿½s programme areas.
Forum IV: The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS Forum IV) took place from 1-7 November 2003, at the United Nations Conference Center in Bangkok, Thailand. Convening under the theme "Chemical Safety in a Vulnerable World," Forum IV took stock of the progress achieved on the commitments and recommendations made at Forum III in 2000, focusing on topics relating to:
- children and chemical safety;
- occupational safety and health;
- hazard data generation and availability;
- acutely toxic pesticides; and
- capacity building.
Delegates also considered and took decisions on the globally harmonized system for the classification and labeling of chemicals, and illegal traffic.
In response to decisions SS.VII/3 and 22/4 IV of the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council (UNEP GC), Forum IV discussed the further development of a strategic approach to international chemicals management (SAICM), and presented the outcome of its deliberations to the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the development of a SAICM, which took place from 9-13 November 2003, in Bangkok.
In addition to the regular global meetings of the Forum, the IFCS also convenes regional and sub-regional gatherings to deal with strategy development and improved co-ordination, and as a means for building capacities and the necessary infrastructure for chemicals management. A full list of these regional meetings, with copies of relevant reports and supporting documents, is provided here.