Efforts to manage risks originating from the use and emissions of hazardous chemicals have led to the incremental development of an international chemicals regime containing both hard and soft law [1
]. The hard law components such as international treaties are often targeting specific substances or groups of substances, or certain specific activities such as transboundary movements of hazardous waste. It is, however, only a very limited number of chemicals that are regulated through an international treaty, compared to the more than one hundred thousand substances currently on the market [3
]. Some regime components of more soft law character are broader in nature and aim at supporting overall preventive chemicals management. These components include the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), which is a system for classifying and labelling chemicals according to the nature and severity of hazard, and specifying how information about hazards should be communicated to users in the form of hazard pictograms, hazard statements and Safety Data Sheets [4
]. The GHS can be considered a cornerstone of sound chemicals management, aiming for increased sustainability in the production and use of chemicals. Having GHS in place enables downstream risk-reducing activities such as employing best-practice handling, storage, and disposal methods. The characteristics of a given chemical (e.g., type of toxicity) have to be established in order to take the necessary steps to regulate and manage it safely and sustainably throughout its life cycle.
The need to have an internationally harmonized system for classification of chemicals as part of a sound system of chemicals management was first raised in the United Nations (UN) in 1992 in Agenda 21 [5
] in response to unsustainable management of chemicals resulting in considerable risks for human health and ecosystems [3
]. Ten years later, in 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), UN member states decided to; “[e]ncourage countries to implement the new globally harmonized system for the classification and labelling of chemicals as soon as possible with a view to having the system fully operational by 2008.” (paragraph 23 c) [8
]. Agenda 2030 adopted in 2015 also includes the target (12.4) to “[b]y 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks”. Global GHS implementation has thus been an objective of the international community for more than two decades and is seen as a key element in sustainable development governance.
The GHS was initially developed under the auspices of the Interorganization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC), a UN initiated programme, through its Coordinating Group for the Harmonization of Chemical Classification Systems. Through resolution 1999/65 of 26 October 1999, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) decided to enlarge the mandate of the Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods by reconfiguring it into a Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, and by creating a new Sub-committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS Sub-Committee) [9
]. The experts attending the meetings of the sub-committee, most commonly government officials from ministries or specialized government agencies, are nominated by countries that have applied to ECOSOC to become members of the sub-committee [10
], and they represent different areas of expertise needed for different parts of the GHS. GHS was developed based on what was considered to be the four major existing systems: (1). The requirements of the USA for the workplace, consumers and pesticides; (2). Requirements of Canada for the workplace, consumers and pesticides; (3). European Union directives for classification and labelling of substances and preparations; and (4). The United Nations recommendations on the transport of dangerous goods [11
]. The first edition of the GHS, intended to serve as the initial basis for the global implementation of the system, was adopted by the Sub-committee in December 2002 and published in 2003 [12
]. The GHS has since then been regularly updated through decisions in the GHS Sub-committee, with the seventh revision released in 2017 (revisions include for instance new hazard classes, as well as changes in labelling requirements and safety data sheet composition) [13
As an internationally agreed system, the GHS can be defined as a global voluntary best-practice rule [14
]. It was called for and developed by states in various fora and later included in the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), adopted by stakeholders at the International Conference on Chemicals Management in 2006 [15
]. SAICM is a collaborative process among multiple stakeholders including business actors and non-governmental organizations, the decisions of which are non-binding and fall in the realm of voluntary regulation [16
]. Under SAICM, the implementation of GHS has been identified as one of eleven basic elements of sound chemicals management [18
Despite the fact that the GHS has been in place for fifteen years, it is unclear where, how, and to what extent it has been implemented and what factors best explain any differences in implementation coverage. The aim of this paper is to provide a global overview of the current national GHS implementation status (defined here as passing of national legislation on GHS) based on primary and secondary data, and explore possible explanations for the differences in GHS implementation between countries based on theory-derived motivational and capacity-related factors for implementation of international standards. Finally, we identify strategies for closing the gap among developed and developing countries in pursuing sound chemicals management.
The paper proceeds with a section on theory and methods, where first the approach to mapping of GHS implementation status is presented. Thereafter, factors for explaining implementation status are derived from theories on international standards. These factors are then operationalized into indicators. In the subsequent sections, the results of the global implementation overview are presented and the relationships between implementation status and various explanatory factors are analysed. In the concluding section, we summarise the key results on explanatory factors and discuss possible strategies to strengthen global implementation of the GHS.
3. Mapping of GHS Implementation
Based on the collected data we conclude that as of 1 April 2017, a total of 50 countries (26% of UN Member States) had fully implemented GHS in national legislation, 15 countries (8%) had partially implemented, and 128 countries (66%) had not yet implemented GHS. Looking at regional patterns (see Figure 1
), “full” legal GHS implementation is most common in Europe, and parts of Central Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. In Latin America, there is one country that has fully implemented the GHS, Ecuador, and two in Africa which have done so (Zambia and Mauritius).
Most of the 15 countries classified as “partially” implementing GHS were so because implementation was limited to the industrial workplace, and did not include the consumer and agriculture sectors. These countries are the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and Thailand. In addition, there are two countries (Montenegro and Georgia) that are in the process of implementing GHS across all sectors as a part of ongoing EU accession, but where legislation is not yet to our knowledge passed for all sectors.
It is noted that the African region is still largely outside the GHS system. The member states of the South African Development Community (SADC) have agreed to implement the GHS by the latest 2020 and there is a draft GHS policy for the community [45
], but this has not yet led to national legislation in most countries. In South Africa, GHS has been implemented as a voluntary standard since 2008, and is expected to be passed as regulation during 2017, but no official texts have yet been released [25
The Arab countries differ considerably in terms of chemicals legislation [46
] but to our knowledge none have to date implemented the GHS. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) put forth the “Common System for the Management of Hazardous Chemicals” in 2002, which establishes minimum legislation for the member states in dealing with hazardous chemicals and also has coordinated procedures among Member States established in 1997 for trans-border handling of hazardous waste for the purpose of processing, recycling or disposal [47
]. However, there is no information to support that this legislation is aligned with GHS.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
We have shown that there are significant regional differences in GHS implementation coverage. The summarized results of the indicator testing above, showed that government effectiveness stands out as a key factor in this indicator set, being generally associated with GHS implementation. While GDP per capita was not a significant predictor of GHS implementation after accounting for other variables in the regression, it was statistically associated with GHS status by itself, as well as highly correlated with government effectiveness (0.74). Due to this expectedly strong relationship between financial and regulatory capacity, it is fair to say that both likely play a role in GHS implementation, although regulatory capacity appeared to be more directly associated in our data. For the motivational factors, the commitment to international collaboration and to occupational health and safety stand out as important factors for countries, as well as the degree of trade openness.
Although our proposed indicators appear to statistically account for a large proportion of variation in GHS status outcomes (R2
= 0.57), there are undoubtedly other factors influencing GHS implementation. It is instructive to examine countries that, based on their combined levels of indicators, would be unlikely to implement GHS but have implemented it regardless (high “residuals” with GHS). These countries include the Kyrgyz Republic, Ecuador, Georgia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Zambia, Belarus, Philippines, Armenia, Greece, Montenegro, Malta, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Mexico. Let’s explore some additional circumstances that may influence implementation with a starting point in these “unexpected” implementers. Greece is a member of the European Union and thus obliged to implement the GHS. Albania, Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are European countries with aspiration to increase collaboration with the European Union, and where GHS implementation is part of a legislative alignment that will support the accession process. An aspiration to join a community may have a broad political support in a country and pull together available resources needed in several topic areas for preparing the accession. This has been seen earlier for e.g., Montreal Protocol implementation where accession to the EU served as an important motivating factor for several countries [55
]. Four other countries, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Kyrgyz Republic have decided to introduce joint legislation implementing GHS as part of the collaboration within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Mexico is another example, and here it is not unlikely that the collaboration within the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has played a role as a motivational factor for Mexico, aligning the GHS requirements for the workplace with the requirements of the US and Canada. In all these cases, collected data suggest that the aspiration to join, or the membership in, a regional trade organization, may play the role of a powerful “pull factor” for GHS implementation.
In this context, it is also important to point out that the European Union with its joint chemicals regulations, including full legal GHS implementation, constitutes a special case with no other regional organization being comparable. The EU has a history of setting mandatory and high environmental standards in a global comparison [56
]. The EU member states, at this moment in time 28 states, make out the majority of the 50 countries with full legal GHS implementation in this study. In addition, as noted above, the EU also influences other countries outside the EU which may increase these countries’ motivation to implement GHS. The EU may thus have influenced the global implementation pattern mapped in this study in a way that may not be completely transparent in the presented indicators.
Going back to the list of “unexpected implementers”, Zambia is one of only two countries in the African region that have implemented the GHS in national legislation. Here it seems that sustained capacity building and donor support for the GHS implementation have served as a factor of importance. Zambia has received support from UNITAR under the SAICM Quick Start Program (QSP) [57
] and other donors according to interviews and data collection (Projects have included Zambia as a pilot country in the Chemical Hazard Communications Project (2001–2002, UNITAR and UN-ILO), the UNDP-UNEP Partnership Initiative with Zambia: Mainstreaming Sound Management of Chemicals Issues into the MDG based National Development Planning (2007–2009, Funding from Government of Sweden), the GHS capacity building project (2011–2012, SAICM QSP/UNITAR)). It can thus be concluded that sustained capacity building and partnering with donor countries can result in countries with low capacity to implement GHS.
Indeed, the need for capacity building and awareness raising for successful GHS implementation in low income countries has been long standing on the agenda of international collaboration, for instance through the Global partnership for capacity building to implement the GHS [58
] and in the continued SAICM process. Among the projects funded under the SAICM QSP several have focused on GHS implementation. Some of these projects are still ongoing, and it is therefore early to assess the overall success of these efforts. However, as the interviewee from UNITAR noted, the limited time frame of the QSP projects is generally not sufficient to render support to a country to follow through to actual GHS implementation in legislation.
This conclusion is supported by the findings of the evaluation of the SAICM QSP [59
], which notes that the QSP projects, although having achieved results in many countries, could be improved at various points. This includes a clearer focus on building national capacity (if possible avoiding international consultants in favor of national), that can be sustained also after the project is finalized. A follow-up mechanism of clear (and not too many) targets to reach in the years after project completion, as well as increased attention to long term financing of activities, could help not to lose the momentum created by the project. In addition, the evaluation concludes that another key issue is that projects have not always been designed for the specific needs of a specific country to the extent required. Thus, for GHS implementation capacity, as for capacity building in general, interventions have to be carefully designed for the specific context in order to achieve the expected outcome. The evaluation also noted that for many countries, the chemicals agenda cannot always compete with other pressing priorities in final decisions on distribution of resources in the national administration [59
In the example of Barbados, which had a QSP funded project implemented by UNITAR that resulted in a detailed national implementation strategy, this last point was confirmed. The government official reported in the interview that after the strategy was approved in 2013, most of the planned activities did not yet take place because of delays in approval of the plan from the political level as well as limited human and financial resources for the planned activities, which in turn was explained by competing political priorities at the national level.
It is in this context interesting to note that the commitment to the chemicals and waste agenda as measured with the indicator on convention ratification, was overall very high among countries, but not strongly correlated to the implementation of GHS. This can be interpreted in different ways, but it is possible that a general commitment to ratifying conventions and participating in international processes is less resource demanding than an actual GHS implementation, and that this can be a reason for GHS losing the competition against other priorities in the actual budget and planning processes in countries, in spite of a general commitment to sound chemicals management at the political level. Here, we also note that the third step in the implementation process, not covered by this study—the enforcement and compliance—is an additional unknown, i.e., countries may implement GHS in national legislation in order to adhere to their commitments under e.g., SAICM, but not be motivated to, or have the capacity to, comply and enforce on the ground.
Changing the perspective, we turn to the countries which have not implemented GHS and score high in the indicator set (high “residuals” without GHS). These include India, Chile, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Ukraine, El Salvador, Colombia, the Seychelles and Morocco. Some of these, like South Africa and Chile are actively working on GHS implementation and might soon not be “outliers” anymore. For others, like UAE and Jordan, not much information could be retrieved on the current status, or on the motivation for these countries not to implement GHS. This is something that merits further discussion in the SAICM process and the GHS sub-committee. One possibility here could be that there is a limited buy-in into the GHS process, since the GHS sub-committee has higher participation from European and North American country experts compared to other regions.
We turn lastly to possible options for increasing the rate of global implementation of GHS, and thus reducing the costs in terms of human health, ecosystem integrity and socioeconomic loss that comes with unsustainable use of chemicals. We conclude that this cannot be done in the same way for all countries. Some factors will be more important than others depending on the context, and for all countries it is likely that drawing on a combination of different factors is needed to enable and motivate implementation (Table 6
There is one group of countries which score low on all the indicators here presented, such as GDP per capita and political globalization as well as regulatory capacity. Some of these are war-torn, and some are new or fragile states. They all have remaining challenges across the 2030 Agenda. Recalling the message from the evaluation of the SAICM QSP, for these countries it is of key importance to adapt expectations, and address chemicals management and GHS implementation as part of a broader national strategy to work towards the full 2030 Agenda implementation. Other low-income countries that have a more stable situation may benefit from specific capacity building for GHS implementation, but with the prerequisite that lessons learned from earlier design of capacity building as discussed above is taken on board.
The opportunities that lie in regional collaboration and coordination around GHS implementation has been highlighted before, see for example [58
]. Regional trade blocs and organisations could play a key role here in jointly implementing the GHS or in supporting national implementation processes. Countries within a trade bloc or organisation with more capacity can assist other member states that are less resourced for the implementation [60
The strong association between GHS implementation and government effectiveness again highlights the fundamental role of functioning institutions in countries for the ability to plan and implement policies. The case of Viet Nam with GHS implementation in place [61
] is interesting. Viet Nam has been supported by several donors and organisations in their chemicals management efforts, including the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI). KemI has supported Viet Nam through continued bilateral collaboration (2005–2013) [63
], as well as through the regional programme “Towards a non-toxic South-East Asia”, also a long term commitment now in its second phase [65
]. One of the outcomes of the collaboration was the establishment of the Viet Nam Chemicals Agency [63
]. This support is likely to have influenced GHS implementation through parallel institutional strengthening and broad chemicals management capacity building efforts. Indeed, the interviewee from Zambia also expressed that a key factor in the GHS implementation in Zambia has been that it has not been implemented as a stand-alone component, but been part of a comprehensive chemicals management planning and capacity building.
The role of private sector actors in GHS implementation is not specifically addressed in this study and merits further attention. For instance, the interviewee from the European Chemical Industry Council noted that from their perspective, there was in general less public consultation in countries related to the GHS implementation compared to that related to other chemical regulations. At the same time there is high interest from private sector actors for this issue. The interviewee also noted that the GHS may bring certain aspects of harmonization that facilitate trade, but that national GHS implementation also may result in additional costs for exporting companies for instance in terms of requirements on labels in local language.
For countries with higher income, where the lack of GHS implementation is not likely to be caused by lack of capacity, the increased rate of implementation must come from renewed or new motivation. Here it may be worthwhile to explore the role of private sector actors and trade ministries in lifting the benefits in increased harmonization for trade as a way to gain political support for GHS implementation. Likewise, the strong motivation to implement GHS that seems to come from occupational health and safety concerns could also be drawn upon in engaging more with stakeholders such as trade unions and other actors with strong buy-in in occupational issues as a driver for GHS.
To allow further probing into the barriers and opportunities of specific countries for GHS implementation, a more qualitative research approach would be a valuable complement to the quantitative focus of this study. Such an approach would entail more in-depth interviews with various stakeholders with broad representation, and would allow for more detailed answers as to causality of different factors. It would also allow for a discussion about regional contexts, and how these may require, or open for, different roads to increased implementation.
Summing up some of the insights from the present study on how to improve the GHS implementation coverage, low capacity needs to be increased through support, taking lessons learned from what is effective capacity building into account, and especially recognizing the importance of regulatory capacity. The strengthening of chemicals management should be addressed as part of the overall 2030 Agenda efforts in all countries, but it is of highest importance for the countries with lowest capacity. Further, drawing upon the potential in GHS as part of occupational health and safety commitment and as ways to reduce trade barriers, especially in a regional context, seem like promising options for increased GHS implementation across countries and regions with increased sustainability as one of the outcomes.