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Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety
World Health Organization
CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 791 36 50 / 3873/ 43 33
Fax: +41 22 791 48 75
E-mail: ifcs@who.ch 

Internet http://www.ifcs.ch 


The Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) was created by the International Conference on Chemical Safety held in Stockholm in April 1994. IFCS is a mechanism for cooperation among governments for promotion of chemical risk assessment and the environmentally sound management of chemicals. It is a non-institutional arrangement, whereby government representatives meet with intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations with the aim to integrate and consolidate national and international efforts to promote chemical safety. Intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations participate without the right to vote. 

Organization and Dynamics

Forum participants include representatives of governments, international and intergovernmental organizations and a range of NGOs. The Forum provides the mechanism for these partners to meet to consider all aspects of the assessment and management of chemical risks with the goal to seek consensus among these groups to achieve the implementation of Chapter 19 of Agenda 21. An essential element of the Forum's working mechanism is to fully recognize the role of all sectors of society governments, social partners, industry, scientific organizations, and environmental, public interest and worker groups in promoting the sound management of chemical risks. This approach serves to bring the element of 'global accountability' to bear on all parties in achieving the environmentally-sound management of chemicals. 

The functions of the Forum are consultative and advisory, and include a great number of issues such as to identify priorities for cooperative action on chemical safety, recommend concerted international strategies for hazard identification and risk assessment, assist in securing the collaboration of national, regional and international bodies active in the field of chemical safety, advise governments in their work on chemical safety, promote the strengthening of national coordinating mechanisms and of national capabilities and capacities for chemicals management, etc.

In establishing the IFCS, governments stressed the need for and benefits of strengthening regional cooperation in the area of chemical safety. At its first meeting, a set of 'priorities for action' were established for the effective implementation of Chapter 19 of Agenda 21. The Third Session of IFCS (Forum III) - see below - will consider and agree on revised Priorities for Action for beyond 2000. 

The Forum Standing Committee (FSC) provides advice and assistance in managing preparations for IFCS meetings as well as a mechanism for the IFCS to effectively and efficiently initiate the process for the IFCS to respond to new developments and issues as they arise. The greater involvement of the participants of the Forum ensures that future agenda of IFCS meetings more closely reflect current high priorities, including the priorities and special needs of developing countries. In addition, the closer involvement of representatives of the intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations actively participating in the Forum serves to strengthen the commitment of participants. 

There is an Inter-sessional Group (ISG) composed of the Officers of the Forum and not more than 26 Government Participants, which meets between sessions of the Forum in order to carry out its work. The ISG may make recommendations to the Forum, study special problems, and advise on the implementation of strategies and programmes as approved by the Forum. Forum III will take a decision in October 2000 on a Forum Standing Committee proposal that the ISG be discontinued 

Subject to the availability of funds, the Forum or ISG may establish ad hoc Working Groups of Governments and other agreed Participants for a set period of time to undertake specific tasks. 

One such Working Group was the Ad Hoc Working Group on POPs, which was created by IFCS to develop a work plan for assessing 12 POPs identified in UNEP Governing Council Decision 18/32, which are: 1) pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex and toxaphene; 2) industrial chemicals: hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and 3) unintended byproducts: dioxins and furans. The assessments included available information on the chemistry, sources, toxicity, environmental dispersion and socio-economic impacts of the 12 POPs. At a meeting in Manila, the Philippines, in June 1996, the Ad Hoc Working Group concluded that sufficient information existed to warrant international action to minimize the risks from the 12 POPs, including a global legally binding instrument. In 1997, the UNEP Governing Council adopted Decision 19/13C endorsing the conclusions and recommendations of the IFCS. Its working having been completed, the Ad Hoc Working Group was terminated. 

The Governing Council requested that UNEP, together with relevant international organizations, prepare for and convene an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) with a mandate to develop, by the end of 2000, an International Legally-binding Instrument for Implementing International Action on Certain POPs, beginning with the 12 specified POPs. Based on a recommendation of the IFCS, the first meeting of the INC (INC-1) was also requested to establish an expert group for the development of science-based criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for future international action. Thus, the Criteria Expert Group (CEG) was established. 

In response to the increasing concern of countries and other IFCS partners over the growing body of scientific research that indicates a number of chemicals may interfere with the normal functioning of endocrine systems, the Forum initiated a process to share information and coordinate research efforts and activities to the extent possible. It was generally recognized that although the body of information is growing, considerable scientific uncertainty remains and more research is needed. To address the concerns of endocrine disruption requires an open and transparent mechanism for assuring cooperation among governments, IGOs, NGOs, and other interested parties. This effort calls for coordinating research, testing, assessment and sound management of endocrine disrupting substances, in ways that minimize duplication of efforts, make research and information more accessible to all interested parties on a global basis and recognize the special needs and participation of developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Therefore, the Forum agreed on a strategy for effective coordination of the various efforts investigating, in depth, the human, environmental and ecotoxicological aspects of endocrine disrupting substances. The IFCS will consider how to address urgent issues and new developments related to endocrine disruption at the appropriate time as work progresses on the strategy. 

The Third Session of the IFCS (Forum III) will be held 15-20 October 2000, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Forum III will review IFCS and assess the progress that has been made on Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 (management of toxic chemicals), particularly regarding the Priorities for Action adopted by the Forum in 1994. Forum III will consider and decide on the future direction of the IFCS and Priorities for Action beyond 2000. Specific topics to be discussed include:
1. Prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products: with the aim to undertake a programme of action to address the objectives of programme area F of Chapter 19 in Agenda 21;
2. Alleviating barriers to information exchange: proposal for a global effort to assure that all of the world's government officials responsible for chemicals management have Internet access in the near term and the training to make effective use of it;
3. Information exchange for chemical production decision-making: to consider possible mechanisms for the provision of relevant information to support decision making on the establishment of new chemical production capacity;
4. Emission inventories: discussion will focus on the needs of developing countries and countries in economic transition when establishing emission inventories; how all countries can utilize the information for their regulatory and policy development will be addressed;
5. Capacity Building Network: concept for a Network and proposed Terms of Reference will be considered;
6. Raising Awareness: IFCS role in raising the priority of chemicals management capacity building issues at political levels; and,
7. Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) - brief description of GHS (scope, targets), work accomplished to date, implementation aspects: expected benefits, mechanism (new ECOSOC structures) and practical implication for countries. 


Other international scientific advisory bodies may participate in IFCS meetings and activities as defined in the IFCS terms of reference. A representative of Scientific NGOs is a member of the Forum Standing Committee. No separate cooperative activities are currently ongoing. 

Relations with other relevant bodies:
- Rotterdam PIC Convention no relationship with the Convention per se, though the organizations charged with serving as the Convention Secretariat (UNEP and FAO) participate in the IFCS as non-voting participants as do other intergovernmental organizations. Signatories to the PIC Convention and UN member states (including associate members of UN specialized agencies, etc.) are invited to participate in the IFCS as voting participants.
- WTO is invited to participate in IFCS (meetings and efforts) as a non-voting participant as are other intergovernmental organizations. 


Prepared by Jan-Stefan Fritz for the Second Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development, 2000
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