Pollution is one of the three planetary crises, right next to climate change and biodiversity loss. In particular, chemical pollution has become a major threat for environmental and human health. Toxic metals, highly hazardous pesticides, endocrine disruptors, amongst others, are responsible for 1.7 million pre-mature deaths in children under the age of 5 each year. Moreover, the exposure to hazardous chemicals and pollution during childhood severely increases the chance to develop a disease, such as cancer, or a disability later in life. This has urged several governments to take action. However, we urgently need more governments to follow suit!
To urge further action and highlight existing solutions, we need good political frameworks and have to combine the knowledge of different expert groups. Therefore the World Future Council held an online conference “Healthy Planet, Healthy Children: Success Factors For A Future Without Toxics” and invited global experts to discuss how and where at policy level we need advance in order to realize a tomorrow without toxics. The good news is that inspiring policies which protect children from chemicals already exist. The World Future Council celebrated them with the Future Policy Award 2021. The Award honours exemplary policies creating better living conditions for current and future generations.
Alexandra Wandel (World Future Council) highlighted the urgency for international action seen the impact on children’s health and gave an encouraging outlook: “Our toxic-free future is within our reach. It is possible”. Nikhil Seth (UNITAR) continued the opening plenary of the conference and pointed out the adverse interconnectedness of exposure to chemicals, poverty, child labour and restricted access to health care and education. He emphasised that a holistic approach combining legislation, communication and education is required to conquer the issue of exposure to hazardous chemiclas. Dr Monika MacDevette (UNEP) further elaborated on this issue by drawing explicit connections between environmental sources of harmful pollutants and children’s health using the examples of lead, mercury, pesticides and fertilisers whilst reporting on UNEP’s work. Finally, Samia Kassid (World Future Council) introduced seven policy recommendations, which reflect a holistic approach. As Samia Kassid said: “Act as if millions of children’s lives are at risk; because they are“
The opening plenary was followed by two parallel sessions on Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) and Toxic Metals.
The Dangerous Assistants: Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs)
Renate Künast, Member of Parliament and former Federal Minister of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture in Germany, moderated a parallel session of the conference dedicated to the issue of hazardous pesticides. She emphasised the dire need “to take bold action in this matter” in the background of grave health risks posed by HHPs, including poisoning and self-poisoning.
An inspiring example of such “bold action” discussed at the conference is an ingenious project of Government of Sikkim in India which established the first 100 % organic state in the world. The Sikkim’s State Policy implemented a phase out of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and achieved a total ban on sale and use of chemical pesticides in the state. We honoured this initiative of the Indian government with the Future Policy Award in 2018. Sundar Anbalagan (Sikkim Organic Farming Development Agency) shared the insights into the preparatory work for the implementation of the policy and his ideas on its optimisation.
Another impressive political action on fighting the impact of hazardous pesticides presented at the conference was Sri Lanka’s Control of Pesticides. Sri Lanka had one of the world’s highest suicide rates, and pesticide poisoning accounted for more than two thirds of all cases. The policy has contributed to a great decrease of these cases on Sri Lanka.
At the following discussion with Gamini Manuweera (University of Edinburgh), Gerold Wyrwal (FAO) and Ingrid Fritsche (World Future Council), the speakers agreed on the necessity of a holistic approach while building a policy to combat the negative impact of hazardous chemicals and focused on policy recommendations and its key success factors.
The Invisible Enemy: Toxic Metals
Lead exposure causes 143,000 cases of death and 600,000 cases of intellectual disability among children according to the statistics of the World Health Organisation. At the session on Toxic Metals focused on lead in paints, the moderator Eduardo Caldera Petit (SAICM and UNEP) called for actions to enact legislation and implement regulations necessary to protect children from lead exposure. He also highlighted promising global developments within some projects such as SAICM’s.
Another inspiring policy example aimed to solve the pressing issue is the Philippines’ Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Lead and Lead Compounds. The policy received the Future Policy Award in 2021. The Philippines demonstrate that it is entirely possible to restrict the use of lead in all paints: the policy comprises a roadmap with clear definitions, phase-out plans, and decisive instruments with special attention to children. Joel Maleon (DENR-EMB), who was involved in the implementation of the policy, shared its success factors in the interview with Eduardo Caldera Petit.
During the discussion, Angela Bandemehr (EPA, Chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint) emphasised that “one in three children globally [is] being lead poisoned” and underscored the significance of global experience, best practices exchange as well as awareness raising as important factors in effective policy making. Shankar Prasad Paudel (Department of Environment in Nepal) supported the necessity of raising awareness as the most vital factor.
Dr Tadesse Amera (IPEN, PAN-Ethiopia) mentioned another promising policy initiative, Ethiopia’s Lead in Paint Control Regulation, which was shortlisted for Future Policy Award in 2021. He outlined the key factors of its implementation and emphasised that it is crucial that “governments, civil society and industry can […] work together”.
At the closing plenary moderated by Ingrid Fritsche (World Future Council) and Anja Leetz (GIZ, World Future Council), the participants shared the main results of the event and highlighted political will, cooperation, a multistakeholder approach, success stories and a common objective as key factors for advancing institutional protection of children against hazardous chemicals.
These ideas were supported by Tatiana Santos (European Environmental Bureau), Dr Linn Persson (SSNC), Dr Monika MacDevette (UNEP) and Malin Fijen Pacsay (Climate and Sustainability Committee for the Region Stockholm in Sweden). The Swedish region’s Phase-Out Lists for Chemicals Hazardous to the Environment and Human Health won a Future Policy Gold Award in 2021. The speakers added that promoting knowledge on chemical pollution, ensuring predictable sustainable finances, inclusion of all stakeholders, integration of different perspectives and experiences, and primarily acting on behalf of children are key points for achieving the future free of toxics.
At the conference, the World Future Council launched a new policy report together with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) “A Healthy Planet for Healthy Children – Policies for a Future without Toxics”. The report highlights key facts about the impact of chemicals on children’s health, useful policy recommendations and effective policy actions that address the issue.
The conference was hosted and organised by the World Future Council, in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) & Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV), the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Michael Otto Foundation and Jua Foundation.