The Global Chemicals Outlook: Towards Sound Management of Chemicals was published in February 2013 and assembled scientific, technical and socio-economic information on the sound management of chemicals. It covered trends and indicators for chemical production, transport, use and disposal, and associated health and environmental impacts; economic implications of these trends, including costs of inaction and benefits of action; and instruments and approaches for sound management of chemicals. Decision 27/12, adopted by the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2013, recognized the significance of the findings of the Global Chemicals Outlook.
Chemicals are an integral part of modern daily life. There is hardly any industry where chemical substances are not used and there is no single economic sector where chemicals do not play an important role. Millions of people throughout the world lead richer, more productive and more comfortable lives because of the thousands of chemicals on the market today. These chemicals are used in a wide variety of products and processes and, while they are major contributors to national and world economies, their sound management throughout their lifecycle is essential in order to avoid significant and increasingly complex risks to human health and ecosystems and substantial costs to national economies.
Industries producing and using these substances have a significant impact on employment, trade and economic growth worldwide, but the substances can have adverse effects on human health and the environment. A variety of global economic and regulatory forces influence changes in chemical production, transport, import, export, use and disposal over time. In response to the growing demand for chemical-based products and processes, the international chemical industry has grown dramatically since the 1970s. Global chemical output was valued at US$ 171 billion in 1970; by 2010, it had grown to US$ 4.12 trillion.
Many national governments have enacted laws and established institutional structures for managing the hazards of this growing volume of chemicals. Leading corporations have adopted chemical management programmes and there are now many international conventions and institutions for addressing these chemicals globally. However, the increasing complexity of the background mix of chemicals and the ever longer and more intricate chemical supply chain including wastes reveal varied gaps, lapses and inconsistencies in government and international policies and corporate practices. They feed growing international concerns over the threat that poor management of chemicals pose to the health of communities and ecosystems and over the capacity to achieve the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation goal that, by 2020, chemicals will be produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.
These concerns are important to all countries but are particularly salient in industrializing economies that face pressing needs to achieve development, national security and poverty eradication objectives. Developing countries and countries with economies in transition can learn lessons from the fragmented sector-by-sector chemical management approaches that have characterized conventional chemicals policies in developed countries. To protect human health and the environment and to fully benefit from the value that chemicals can yield, all countries must include in their economic and social development priorities the means to manage chemicals soundly.