Opening of the 5th World Chemicals Conference (ICCM5) – Welcome of the participants

German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke delivers a speech at the opening of the World Chemicals Conference (ICCM5).

– Check against delivery –

Minister Krischer,
Mayor Dörner,
Director Sheila Aggarwal-Khan,
ICCM5 President Anita Breyer,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Bonn and the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management.

Many thanks to the musicians for setting the tone so beautifully with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Beethoven is one of this city’s most famous sons, and his works, inspiration and creativity continue to touch us today. May this creative momentum spur us on in our work over the coming days.

Bonn is the perfect place for our conference. The city has become a sustainability hub, with the United Nations Campus at its heart. This is where future issues concerning the whole world are explored. Safe management of chemicals is crucial for achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda.

At first, this may not be self-evident, but the right to clean water, for instance, can never be implemented while chemicals continue to pollute water bodies and groundwater. Nor can there be decent work for everyone as long as one billion people worldwide are still exposed to toxic substances and fumes in the workplace, risking illness. As long as lead in the environment impairs children’s mental development, the right to education is not fully secured.

Chemicals and waste are a major cause of the global pollution crisis. Too often, however, their role has been overlooked. Yet global pollution with harmful substances is an existential threat to humans and the environment. It is up to us, and to this conference, to shine a light on the risks and tackle the pollution crisis with bold decisions.

Chemicals are found in cosmetics, textiles, batteries and electrical appliances. When fields are fertilised, raw materials extracted or houses built – chemicals are always involved. They can save lives, for example when used in medicine. Chemicals accomplish much.

On the other hand, when not used responsibly, chemicals pose considerable risks. Chemicals can have adverse effects if they end up in water, soil or air. Inhaling hazardous substances or ingesting them via food or water can harm human health and even cause premature death.

These risks exist worldwide, as chemicals do not stop at borders. Products and foodstuffs are traded globally. Air and water do not stop at borders either, and that makes chemicals pollution a global problem. This means that no country can adequately protect its people and its environment through national measures alone. We need cooperation on a global scale.

In the past, our endeavours in this context were not successful enough. The international community failed to achieve the 2020 target to minimise the adverse impacts of chemicals on human health and the environment. Global production of chemicals is growing rapidly, and environmental and health problems are growing with it. Let us take ICCM5 as an opportunity to do things better this time around.

From an economic point of view, we are well advised to make the manufacture and use of chemicals safer. Recent findings of the World Bank clearly show that mismanagement of chemicals creates huge costs: financial, social, health and environmental costs. These are costs we cannot afford and should not put up with. Instead, we should invest in a sustainable future. Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the week ahead of us we must steer a course towards this goal. Our aim is to agree on ambitious global chemicals management and strike a path towards modern, sustainable chemicals policy. We must decide which concrete goals to set at international level for chemicals and waste management and how these are to be achieved.

For effective chemicals management we need laws – laws which are also enforced – and governments willing to build and finance the necessary structures. We need education and knowledge about the day-to-day risks of chemicals and waste management. We need companies that not only observe the laws but also make their own business models and supply chains sustainable. And we need innovations: supplied by industry, supported by policy. Innovations which help us advance the energy transition, circular economy and resource conservation. Achieving this is no small feat, but it can be done. The key is to balance the diverse goals and interests, and that requires all stakeholders to work together.

Such close collaboration is at the very heart of SAICM and the International Conference on Chemicals Management, where governments, industry and civil society work together as equals. This cooperation is both a valuable asset and a great responsibility. I would like us all to remember that over the next few days as we work to find a consensus.

I wish us all successful negotiations, the necessary flexibility and the courage to make compromises. Let us bring new political momentum to SAICM. May ICCM5 send a clear message that we are ready to tackle the pollution crisis.

Thank you.

25.09.2023 | Speech Chemical Safety

Further information

  • Press Chemical Safety |

    ICCM5 opens in Bonn

    The goal is to make a commitment to safe chemicals management in all countries and reduce the risks posed by chemicals

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