On April 15, 2021, the news magazine Universitas released an interview with environmental chemist Martin Scheringer about a recently published article he co-authored Science (FPF reported) calling for the establishment of a global body for chemical and waste management.
Knowledge gaps have been identified to hinder the effective management of more than 100 000 chemicals in use today. Even for known problematic substances with emerging evidence of concern such as bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7), regulatory measures taken by politicians have been seen as “limited” and “delayed”. According to Scheringer, a professor at Masaryk University and president of the board of the Food Packaging Forum, insufficient collaboration between science and politics, as it is happening today, causes extensive damage to human health and the environment.
To improve this situation, Scheringer and other academic researchers, have recently called for “the establishment of a global intergovernmental science-policy panel to provide information on the possibilities of reducing the levels of harmful chemicals.” The researchers propose a basic structure similar to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that helps to communicate the scientific consensus to policymakers.
In their article, the group highlights four major gaps in the way pre-existing science-policy interface bodies communicate and organize themselves that contribute to slow and insufficient political responses. First, there is a lack of coverage of the vast and growing space of chemical substances by pre-existing bodies, such as a current focus on persistent organic pollutants as addressed by the United Nation’s POPs Review Committee (POPRC). Second, there is a lack of horizon scanning, early warning mechanisms, and ways to include such evidence in political processes. Third, there is a lack of bidirectional communication between politics and science. Most interface bodies focus only on providing politicians with scientific evidence on issues but neglect to communicate relevant political actions and questions back to the scientific community, for example, funding agencies, which in turn cannot react to these political needs by granting timely research. Fourth, the wider scientific community is not involved in the decision processes, as it is difficult to participate in existing science-policy bodies, and such very important engagement is neither recognized nor rewarded in comparison to other academic work by the community.
Scheringer requests scientists around the world to support their recommendation for a global science-policy body by signing on through the website of the International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP) that has been set up specifically for this purpose. When asked about the risk of political inaction on chemical pollution even following the establishment of a new science-policy body, Scheringer commented “this is certainly a possibility, but we do not know what they will do as long as we do not try it. Given the problems and concerns caused by chemicals, it certainly worth a try.”
Zuzana Keményová (April 8, 2021). “Lack of collaboration between science and politics is harming the planet.” Universitas
Wang et al. (April 14, 2021). “We need a global science-policy body on chemicals and waste.” Science