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.
What an exciting event we held on 6th July: The World Future Council is truly proud about the Future Policy Award Ceremony 2021, at which our “Oscar for best policies” distinguished five truly exemplary policies protecting people and the environment from hazardous chemicals!
Among the winners were policies from Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Sweden that effectively minimise the adverse effects of exposure to chemicals on human health and the environment. Two Gold winners and three Special Awards winners were selected from 55 nominated policies from 36 countries.
Unlike the previous years, the winning policies of the Future Policy Award 2021 were celebrated with a virtual ceremony, held in Hamburg, Germany, on July 6, 2021, and had over a thousand viewers, including the awardees from across the globe. Moderated by Jennifer Sarah Boone, the event was opened by Alexandra Wandel, the Executive Director of World Future Council, who provided insights about the Future Policy Award (3:40) and with speeches by Prof. Dr Dirk Messner, President of the German Environment Agency (UBA), and Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of the Economy Division of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). (7:00) “Chemicals and chemical waste are a big topic, and we cannot treat them as a side aspect if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We need to have more political attention for the topic of chemicals and chemical waste; the Future Policy Award makes an exciting contribution to generating this kind of attention,” said Prof. Dr Messner, President of the German Environment Agency (UBA).
The presentations of the awardees were opened with a beautiful song, “We are one,” from MaximNoise and Nicole Milik, who are both passionate musicians and support the good cause of the 2021 Future Policy Award (13:00).
Special Award for Colombia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka
Colombia’s Resolution 371 Establishing the elements to be considered in the Management Plans for the Return of Pharmaceutical Products and Expired Medicines (2009) received the first Special Award in the “Environmentally Persistent Pharmaceutical Pollutants” category. The Resolution’s remarkable feature is that it places the responsibilities and costs of implementation on the manufacturers and importers of pharmaceuticals and medications, in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Providing the congratulatory speech, Mr Nikhil Seth, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNITAR, acknowledged Resolution 371 as the true pioneer in the region and applauded Colombia and all stakeholders for the effective implementation of the policy. The Award was delightfully accepted by H.E. Carlos Eduardo Correa, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. (19:50)
The Philippines’ Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds (CCO, 2013-24) won the second Special Award in the Category “Lead in Paint.” The Philippines is the first Southeast Asian country to successfully implement legislation towards lead-safe paint. Acknowledging the importance of risk reduction of lead, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mr Masamichi Kono, congratulated the Philippines and all stakeholders that contributed to the successful implementation of the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds (28:00). The Award was received by the Secretary of the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), H.E. Ret. General Roy Cimatu. (3:00)
The final Special Award went to Sri Lanka’s Pesticides Act and National Policy for Suicide Prevention under the Category “Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs).” Thanks to the policies Sri Lanka has been successful in banning a total of 36 HHPs, which has saved about 93,000 lives over 20 years at a direct government cost of less than USD 50 per life. The Award was received by Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health, Nutrition, and Indigenous Medicine, H.E. Pavitra Devi Wanniarachchi and Minister of Agriculture, H.E. Mahindananda Aluthgamage. (38:40) In her congratulatory speech Prof. Dr Vandana Shiva, who is an internationally well renowned environmental and social activist from India and a Founding Councillor of the World Future Council, highlighted that thanks to these policies suicide rate has been reduced by an impressive 70 per cent.
Gold for Kyrgyzstan and Sweden!
Kyrgyzstan’s Resolution No. 43 won the Gold Award for being one of the few countries in the world to make the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) legally binding. Kyrgyzstan’s Resolution No. 43 won the Award in the Fourth Category, “Chemicals Across the Lifecycle.” and was commended by Prof. Dr Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, who is an expert jurist, Senior Director of the Center for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL) and a Founding Councillor of the World Future Council. Delivering a speech on behalf of Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Minister of Economy and Finance, the First Deputy Minister of Economy and Finance H.E. Daniiar Imanaliev expressed gratitude to the World Future Council for recognizing Resolution No. 43 in the prestigious Future Policy Award 2021. He also expressed their readiness to share their experience with others to create a toxic-free world.
Unlike all the other 2021 Awards that went to national policies, the second Gold Award was won by the Swedish Region Stockholm for its Phase-Out List for chemicals hazardous to the environment and human health in the same category, “Chemicals Across the Lifecycle.” The policy is credited for phasing out a significant proportion of hazardous chemicals since 2012, especially in the health sector. Presenting the laudatory speech for the awardee, Co-founder and Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council, Prof. Dr Michael Otto commended the Region Stockholm for taken bold action against the use of harmful chemicals and for safeguarding children’s health. (1:00:02) On behalf of Region Stockholm, the Award was received by the Regional Chair for Environment and Transport, Mr. Tomas Eriksson, and Regional Chief Executive, Mrs. Carina Lundberg Uudelepp. (1:03:50)
The Way Forward for the Future Policy Award
Following the award presentations, the Ceremony was also graced with speeches from Dr Auma Obama, Founder and Director of the Sauti Kuu Foundation, and Councillor of the World Future Council, Ms Kehkashan Basu, Founder and President of the Green Hope Foundation and currently the youngest Councillor of the World Future Council, and Mr Jakob von Uexkull, Founder for both the World Future Council and Alternative Noble Prize, who congratulated the awardees for their commitment towards saving millions of lives and protecting critical environmental resources.
In her concluding remarks, the Executive Director of World Future Council, Alexandra Wandel, reiterated a commitment to continue spreading knowledge about these impactful policies. Asked about what theme will be considered for the next award, she revealed that “the topic is decided by our Council that will be having its annual general meeting in October. During that meeting, they will certainly decide on a highly relevant topic. Once the topic is selected, we will, of course, inform our friends and supporters.” Finally, she thanked all partners, supporters, nominators, experts, and consultants who evaluated the policies and other stakeholders who contributed to the Future Policy Award 2021. The Award Ceremony, which included beautiful artistic contributions such as a stand-up speech by comedian and science journalist Dr Eckart von Hirschhausen, a lead-free painting by NY-based illustrator George Bates and a slam poetry by Berlin-based author Naniso Twsai, ended with a beautiful song cover from the Young ClassX, “Imagine”.
This article was written by Benjamin Dosu Jnr, Ph.D., Volunteer of the World Future Council and Research Assistant, University of Lethbridge.
55 policies from 36 countries enter the race for Future Policy Award (FPA) 2021. The award honours the best policies that protect people and the environment from hazardous chemicals.