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On 25 April, 2017, on the occasion of the 8th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions and the 13th COP of the Basel Convention, the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) implemented by UNDP, convened a panel of experts and practitioners in chemicals and waste management from civil society, government, and international organizations to share community experiences in innovative chemicals and waste management. The SGP Side Event titled “Local to Global Actions for Chemicals and Waste Management”, was moderated by Ms. Sulan Chen, Programme Advisor on International Waters and Chemicals for SGP. Ms. Chen pointed out the key challenges of chemicals and waste management, “how to localize global conventions and policies, as well as how to scale up community experiences,” inviting panelists to share their perspectives on these themes. She noted that SGP has supported 565 projects in 103 countries with an investment of more than $16 million in GEF grant funding, leveraging more than $18 million in co-financing over the past 15 years.

Opening the session, Ms. Xiaofang Zhou, Director of the Montreal Protocol Unit and head of the UNDP Chemicals team, highlighted the catalytic role the SGP has played since its inception in 1992, and the importance that UNDP attaches to its contribution in the area of chemicals management. Mr. Ibrahima Sow, Senior Environment Specialist at the GEF Secretariat, presented an overview of the GEF’s work and priorities in chemicals management. He noted that despite significant progress made in chemicals management, harmful practices such as open burning of waste, solid waste dumping, unsafe use and recycling of heavy metals and PCB transformers, were still widespread in many parts of the world. He indicated that the GEF places great value on the SGP for its ability to engage with stakeholders at the grassroots, observing that "its work is real and produces impact on the ground". He suggested that SGP should work towards greater engagement with private sector and central government bodies to amplify this impact.

The panelists speaking at the Side Event included Ms. Marina Belous from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus, Mr. Hovhannes Ghazaryan, SGP National Coordinator in Armenia, Ms. Alexandra Caterbow, Co-director of Health and Environmental Justice Support, Mr. Sumith Jaykoday from the Department of Agriculture of Sri Lanka, and Mr. Ram Charitra Sah, Executive Director of the Center for Public Health and Environment Development (CEPHED). Bringing diverse perspectives, the panelists presented key insights on the value of community engagement to implement and advocate for improved chemicals and waste management. Ms. Belous highlighted the demonstration value of SGP projects, which can pave the way for barrier removal and transformative change. She presented the example of an SGP grant which undertook the first effort in Belarus for the proper collection, packaging, transport and safe disposal of 20 tonnes of PCB waste. The success of this project helped to show the way for PCBs safe disposal to be addressed on larger scale, leading to the development of a Full size GEF project. According to Ms. Belous, "SGP Belarus has enabled the government to build on local efforts to eliminate POPs and ensure implementation of the Stockholm Convention."

Mr. Ghazaryan, presented several chemicals management projects supported by SGP Armenia, including in municipal solid waste management, agricultural chemicals management, and prevention of heavy metals release from mining dump sites. He noted among the broad impacts, the mutually beneficial collaboration established between CSOs, public and local government, the training of 1,600 people and 80 local trainers on chemicals management, the involvement of women’s groups, and the establishment of farmer field schools. According to Mr. Ghazaryan, “small scale innovations, stakeholder connections, local ownership and financial incentives, can lead to local behavior change which can have big impacts”. He noted several initiatives to scale up the initial work of SGP supported projects and noted that commercialization possibilities are being explored for toxic free technologies and models.

Highlighting the importance of gender perspectives and women’s involvement in chemicals work, Ms. Caterbow focused on what small projects could contribute. While convention texts clearly mention the need for involvement of women, a review of projects implemented showed that the gender perspective was missing in many projects. Ms. Caterbow noted that UNDP is developing gender guidelines, indicators and monitoring tools to enhance gender mainstreaming in chemicals projects. She noted that top down projects can improve their relevance through gender guidance, gender action plans, and being aware of local context. On the other hand, grassroots projects can bring the needs and views of women to the forefront and work with them to develop and implement the solutions that are locally appropriate. “NGOs can be key allies as they have big outreach, work with people, and can see the problems faced by impacted communities,” she observed

Mr. Jaykoday presented his experience of collaborating with SGP in Sri Lanka as an expert on chemicals and POPs. In particular he noted the ground breaking work done by SGP projects to study the impacts of POPS pesticides and chemicals on the health of farmers and farm workers, which found that 80 percent of the study sample had acute health impacts. A similar study supported by SGP focused on the impacts of PCB exposure on the health of industrial workers. He noted that "knowing the potential risks and understanding the impacts of chemicals was critical in pushing for regulations. The link between scientists, CSOs, communities, and government were important to establish." Mr. Sah, shared the experience of CEPHED, an SGP grantee, in launching demos of medical waste management and PCB elimination in small metalwork enterprises which led to wider replication and promoted the formulation of several national legislations. Noting that multiple agencies were engaged in waste management issues, often with conflicting or overlapping mandates, Mr. Sah emphasized the importance of coordination and collaboration among the key actors. "Research, awareness, capacity development, model development, and working closely with concerned private and public actors, in partnership with media and with involvement of vulnerable children, women, and workers, is necessary to achieve success in chemicals elimination and enforcement of chemicals regulations."

Ms. Tehmina Akhtar, Deputy Global Manager of the SGP, delivered the closing remarks, drawing upon the rich experiences and insights shared by the speakers. "While much has been achieved in the past 15 years since the Stockholm Convention came into force, there are still significant challenges in many developing countries in dealing with chemicals and waste. Resources are limited, thus efforts to address the risk of chemicals need to work more efficiently to be impactful. SGP’s experiences show the value of community engagement and action in delivering results and as a catalyst for broader adoption and policy change."

Announcing the launch of the publication "Community-Based Chemicals and Waste Management: Experiences from the GEF Small Grants Programme", Ms. Akhtar highlighted the importance of working in an integrated manner to address connected issues of chemicals, biodiversity, energy, and land management. She noted that the cases presented in the publication also demonstrate the positive influence that community chemicals management efforts can have on the environment as well as on health, employment, poverty alleviation and social inclusion. The event ended with the presentation of a short animated video on SGP's work in chemicals.