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Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS)

The Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) is a unique, over-arching mechanism to develop and promote strategies and partnerships among national governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, for the promotion of chemical risk assessment and the environmentally sound management of chemicals. IFCS provides an open, transparent and inclusive forum for discussing issues of common interest and also new and emerging issues in the area of sound management of chemicals, as well as plays a unique multi-faceted role as a flexible, open and transparent brainstorming and bridge-building forum for governments, intergovernmental (IGO) and non-governmental organizations (NGO), including from the private sector. This role has facilitated consensus building on issues and actions addressing the sound management of chemicals. It also contributes to the implementation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the work of other chemicals-related international organizations and institutions.


  • Provide policy guidance
  • Develop strategies in a coordinated and integrated manner
  • Foster understanding of issues
  • Promote the required policy support

Chemical safety is the prevention of the adverse effects, both short- and long-term, to humans and the environment from the production, storage, transportation, use and disposal of chemicals.


IFCS was created by the International Conference on Chemical Safety held in Stockholm in April 1994. It was established in response to the request by governments at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) to develop a mechanism for cooperation, coordination, and collaboration in achieving the goals of Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 (Environmentally Sound Management of Toxic Chemicals, Including Prevention of Illegal Traffic in Toxic and Dangerous Products). Agenda 21 also calls for effective co-ordination of activities and strong cooperation among stakeholders working in the field of chemical safety.

IFCS Forum sessions

IFCS Forum sessions are held approximately every 3 years. The participation is open to governments, IGOs and NGOs, and these meetings provide participants with the opportunity to discuss chemical safety issues, agree on priorities, and to monitor progress on action. The Forum Standing Committee guides the process of development of meeting materials and documents following the practice of lead country/sponsor/organization approach to preparing materials for agenda items.

From 1994 until 2008, IFCS had a total of 6 forums. The brief details of each forum are shown in the table below.

Forum Place and date Introduction to the forum

Stockholm, Sweden
25-29 April 1994

Representatives from 114 countries together with those from UN bodies, Specialized Agencies of the United Nations, other intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) took part in the Conference.

Agenda 21 calls for increased coordination both within and outside the UN system. Building on the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) as the nucleus, work is well underway to strengthen and improve the coordination of the efforts of international organizations. WHO, as one of the three partners in IPCS, pledged increased support to the collaborative programme, and offered to host an interim Secretariat for the proposed IFCS.

Priorities for Action provided initial guidance to governments and other stakeholder for the implementation of Agenda 21, Chapter 19 by elaborating the basic requirements for chemicals management at the national and international levels, and set priorities and timelines for action in the other programme areas.

For more information, please visit: http://www.who.int/ifcs/forums/one/en/index.html.


Ottawa, Canada
10 - 14 February 1997

83 governments participated in the meeting, together with representatives from 11 IGOs and 18 NGOs.

The theme for Forum II was "In Partnership for Global Chemical Safety". Delegates made recommendations on 5 Programme Areas:

A - Expanding and accelerating international assessment of chemical risks;

B - Harmonization of classification and labeling of chemicals;

C - Information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risks;

D - Establishment of risk reduction programmes;

E - Strengthening of national capabilities and capacities for management of chemicals.

Forum II also made recommendations on Emerging Issues, such as endocrine disrupting substances and on pollution release and transfer registers (PRTR) including:

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS): agreement to more forward as non-binding international instrument and undertake work to define the scope.

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs): recommendations outlining immediate work to address the emerging issue, such as the preparation of a State of the Science report, development of a database of ongoing research, and delineation of testing guideline requirements.

Rio +5: The Forum took stock of accomplishments and noted where progress has been slow or non-existent on its recommendations, charting its direction for the next three years. The outcome of its review was presented in a President's Progress Report to a special session of the UN General Assembly convened in June 1997 (Rio +5), five years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), to review progress and priorities in implementing Agenda 21.

For more information, please visit: http://www.who.int/ifcs/forums/two/en/index.html..


Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
15 - 20 October 2000

83 governments, 10 IGOs and 12 NGOs participated in IFCS Forum III, with the theme, In Partnership for Global Chemical Safety.

The IFCS discussed its future direction (Priorities for Action beyond 2000) and assessed the progress that has been made on Chapter 19, Agenda 21 (i.e. expanding and accelerating international assessment of chemical risks; harmonising classification and labelling; exchanging information on toxic chemicals and chemical risks; establishing risk reduction programmes; strengthening national capabilities and capacities for management of chemicals; and preventing illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products).

Forum III adopted by acclamation the Bahia Declaration, a statement reaffirming commitment to the Rio Declaration and recommitting to the challenges for chemical safety set in 1992 in Rio.

The Priorities for Action adopted by the Forum in 1994 were by designed to be fewer in number, more focused and measurable. The revised Priorities included the potential to: improve chemical safety at all levels; prevent or reduce adverse health and environmental effects of chemicals throughout their life-cycle; be suitable for immediate implementation by most countries; and to use existing tools for rapid implementation. These recommendations primarily set out responsibilities for governments, including detailed and achievable targets. Several also dealt with work by international bodies related to the development of effective tools for use by governments. These recommendations addressed both immediate actions and goals to be achieved in the long-term, clearly delineating the goals and target dates.

For more information, please visit: http://www.who.int/ifcs/forums/three/en/index.html.


Bangkok, Thailand
1 - 7 November 2003

126 governments participated in the meeting, together with 32 representatives from 12 IGOs and 81 representatives from NGOs.

Under the theme, "Chemical Safety in a Vulnerable World", the IFCS took stock of the progress achieved on the commitments and recommendations made at Forum III, such as the IFCS Priorities for Action Beyond 2000. Forum IV considered strategies and actions to achieve the agreed targets and also charted the course for work in a number of new areas. Forum IV participants also discussed the further development of a strategic approach to international chemicals management (SAICM) and the outcome of these deliberations were presented to the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the development of a SAICM, which took place from 9-13 November 2003 in Bangkok, Thailand. SAICM provides a policy and action framework for international efforts to achieve the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation's goal that, by 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.

Forum IV recommendations on:

  • Children & Chemical Safety - the decision document, "Protecting children from harmful chemical exposures", described environmental health risks to children, factors contributing to children's special vulnerabilities to chemicals, how exposure may occur, and cited the uncertainties about the health effects of exposure to chemicals. Delegates stressed that chemical exposures can occur during preconception, throughout gestation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and identified issues that should be considered, such as proper labelling of consumer and pharmaceutical products, training of health professional, education of parents, endocrine disruptors, and chronic poisoning from lead and arsenic. The Forum called on governments and stakeholders to "take action on children's health and chemical safety", and adopted recommendations to guide the work (framework for action by all stakeholders).
  • Occupational Safety and Health - The Forum paid special attention to occupational safety and health (OSH) concerns as they relate to the different programme areas of the IFCS Priorities for Action. The proposed actions suggest specific ways to address chemical safety in the workplace and incorporated efforts within the current and expanding framework of IFCS's action plans and priorities.
  • Hazard data generation and availability - This issue contains a proposal for an additional Priority for Action on the generation and sharing of hazard information for all chemicals in commerce, and a set of proposals for concrete actions. The OECD expressed its willingness to work on this issue.
  • Acutely Toxic Pesticides - Risk Management and Reduction - Key recommendations were outlined, highlighting: the prohibition of some acutely toxic pesticides as a risk mitigation mechanism; expanding research on safer alternatives; disseminating existing information; and improving reporting and health systems. The difficulties of enforcing regulatory actions to control pesticides in developing countries were recognized, and international organizations were asked to assist in strengthening national infrastructures. In addition to measures under the Rotterdam Convention, countries expressed a need for assistance to help exercise improved control over imported pesticides, and cooperation to prevent the import and export of banned pesticides. Several participants supported further consideration of problems relating to the chronic effects of pesticides, and the effect of pesticides on the environment.
  • Capacity building<
    • Capacity building assistance - Recognizing the importance of sound management of chemicals in poverty eradication, Forum IV recommended the promotion of a dialogue with international development assistance institutions (e.g. UNDP, World Bank) with the goal of integrating chemical safety issues into poverty reduction strategies and national sustainable development strategies, and relevant project activities.
    • Addressing the widening gap among countries in following the chemicals safety policies - Forum IV considered the issue of the widening gap between developed countries and developing countries in their ability to pursue chemical safety policies. It recommended that a systematic process to strengthen the sound management of chemicals in countries with an expressed need be implemented. The development and implementation of the process is to be done in active partnership with those working in the area and will enhance their on-going efforts.

Delegates also took decisions on the globally harmonized system (GHS) for the classification and labeling of chemicals, and illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products.

For more information, please visit: http://www.who.int/ifcs/forums/four/en/index.html.


Budapest, Hungary
25 - 29 September 2006

81 governments participated in the meeting, together with representatives from 12 IGOs and 64 NGOs.

The Theme of Forum V was "Chemical Safety for Sustainable Development". The main agenda item was consideration of the future of the IFCS in light of the final agreements on the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). Agreement was reached to establish a working group to draft a decision on the future of IFCS to be presented at Forum VI.

The Forum adopted recommendations and agreed actions on a number of priority topics; these support the implementation of SAICM and the work of other chemicals-related organizations and institutions:

  • "The Budapest Statement on Mercury, Lead and Cadmium" which recognized that the risks posed by these metals requires further action at all levels and called for a range of specific efforts;
  • Applying precaution in domestic chemicals management decision-making processes: tools and approaches were presented and discussed and the Forum identified a series of potential next steps to assist countries in this area;
  • Toys and chemical safety - actions for designers, manufacturers, decision makers in supply and sales and governments and regulators to ensure that toys are safe including work to fill the information gaps and working towards developing guidance for toy safety and harmonized international standards.

For more information, please visit: http://www.who.int/ifcs/forums/five/en/index.html.


Dakar, Senegal
15 - 19 September 2008

71 governments participated in the meeting, together with representatives from 12 IGOs and representatives from 39 NGOs.

The theme of Forum VI was "IFCS Global Partnerships for Chemical Safety - Contributing to the 2020 Goal". The main agenda item for the meeting was the future of the IFCS. Discussions were based on 3 options identified by the Working Group on the Future of the IFCS, created by IFCS V in light of agreement on the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) in 2006. After debating the 3 options and whether to maintain the institutional independence of the IFCS, delegates agreed to invite the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) to integrate the Forum into the ICCM as an advisory body. They also reached consensus on the 3 functions and key elements for operation of the Forum, and decided that its role is to provide an open, transparent and inclusive forum for considering new and emerging issues related to sound chemicals management.

Other key agenda item included the following topics:

  • Nanotechnology and nanomaterials: opportunities and challenges - this agenda item focused on the scope of the draft statement, and the need for recommendations on global codes of conduct and product labeling.
  • Substitution and alternatives - various topics related to substitution and alternatives were discussed, including: assessment; case studies; challenges in developing countries and countries with economies in transition; substitution strategies; lessons learnt to phase out DDT; and establishing tools and criteria for facilitating application of substitutes. The IFCS recommended that governments support international regulatory frameworks on substitution and research, as well as development of safe and effective alternatives.
  • International transport of lead and cadmium via trade: an international concern? - This issue focused on the link between international trade and risks posed by exposure to these chemicals, particularly during the process of waste disposal in developing countries. No consensus was reached.
  • Ecologically based Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Vector Management (IVM): key elements of pesticide risk reduction strategies - the IFCS encourages governments and other stakeholders to: adopt a pesticide-use reduction strategy as the first step in risk reduction; and to consider IPM and IVM as preferred methods in responding to challenges posed by potential increases in crop pests and vector borne disease transmission due to climate change.

*A series of side events and informal lunchtime presentations on special topics were organized by several groups of participants. These included:

  • Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Information Session (sponsor SAICM Secretariat)
  • An Example of South-South Cooperation: Capacity Building on Chemicals and Health: Protecting Children from Chemicals -Tools, Strategies and Successful Experiences (sponsors SAICM Regional Focal Point Africa, SAICM Regional Focal Point Latin America and the Caribbean, ISDE, in collaboration with the World Health Organization)
  • Chemical Leasing (sponsors UNIDO, Austria, Germany)
  • Lead in Paints in Developing Countries: An Unfinished Agenda (sponsors IPEN, Toxics Link)
  • Ethical and Other Fundamental Considerations on Nanotechnology and Manufactured Nanomaterials (sponsor France)
  • The Central Role of the International Code of Conduct and Use of Pesticides in Achieving Sustainable Chemicals Management (sponsor FAO)
  • Ecological Pest Management in a Sustainable World (sponsor PAN Asia Pacific)
  • Pilot Project for a Regional Chem Helpdesk to Strengthen the Sound Management of Chemicals: A Joint Initiative of the Chulabhorn Research Institute and World Health Organization Regional Office for South East Asia (sponsors Chulabhorn Research Institute, Thailand, WHO)
  • Information Session: Planning for Workshop on Substances in Articles (sponsor Sweden).

The Forum VI resolutions, recommendations and agreed action items provided an important contribution to the global efforts to advance the sound management of chemicals including the implementation of SAICM and the 2nd session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-2) in May 2009. The outcomes of Forum VI were submitted to ICCM-2 and other relevant entities and organizations for consideration and further action.

For more information, please visit: http://www.who.int/ifcs/forums/six/en/index.html.

Link to: http://www.who.int/ifcs/page2/en/