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Hazardous substances: a case study of environmental risk governance in the Baltic Sea region
Södertörn University, School of Life Sciences, Environmental science.
Södertörn University, School of Life Sciences, Environmental science.
Södertörn University, School of Life Sciences, Environmental science.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8536-373X
Södertörn University, School of Life Sciences, Environmental science.
2010 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This report aims to describe and analyse the structures and processes that shape risk governance of hazardous chemicals in the Baltic Sea area and, based on this, discuss conditions and opportunities that could improve chemical risk governance. With this purpose in mind we have analysed the risk governance of hazardous chemicals along three dimensions and Work Packages (WP): governance structures (WP 1), risk assessment-risk management interactions (WP 2) and stakeholder communication (WP 3). The report is an initial outcome of the RISKGOV project, in which risk governance in various areas eventually will be compared in order to gain new insights on environmental risk governance and to extract policy-relevant advise on how to better deal with environmental risks in the Baltic Sea context.

 

The report is based on a study of key documents treating policies and risks, 22 semi-structured in-depth interviews with stakeholders conducted in the period February–October 2010, as well as participatory observations at scientific conferences and stakeholder meetings.

WP 1 identifies the most important risk governance structures, and maps actors and regulations. In particular, it is concluded that development at the EU and HELCOM level are of main importance for the management of chemicals in the Baltic Sea region. Thus, actors within the EU and HELCOM, as well as regulations within EU – most notably the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), and the REACH regulation – and regulations and recommendations dealt with by HELCOM – in particular the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) – were identified as crucial for further analyses in WP 2 and WP 3. Although we recognise the importance and the substantial improvements that have been made in chemical regulation within the EU and HELCOM, these developments are not sufficient in order to meet key objective at hand, nor do they adequately manage relations with Russia. WP 1 concludes that, although there are numerous of national and international regulations creating a massive web of regulations, existing chemical regulation and informal governance structures are very far from covering all existing chemical risks (especially new chemicals and mixtures of chemicals) and to allow for a sufficient extent of safety. Care must be taken in the development of new regulations to promote synergies and data exchange rather than causing further barriers, overlaps and conflicts that could reduce the efficiency. Innovative policy developments, as well as improved international collaboration, are therefore needed, which will be placed in focus in further studies within the RISKGOV project.

WP 2 focuses on an in-depth understanding of the interactions between risk assessment and risk management of chemicals. The main assessment and management activities in the Baltic Sea region are identified and analysed. It is concluded that assessments commonly are based on a rather technocratic separation of assessment and management activities (with often unclear strategies for bringing these activities together in decision-making). Assessments also generally suffer from lack of data, insufficient harmonisation of methodology, as well as unclear strategies for assessing uncertainties and adjusted communication of assessment results. Consequently, assessments would benefit greatly from more harmonised assessment methodologies, not least for chemical mixtures, ecological effects as well as methods for integrating various lines of evidence. Both assessment and management might benefit from increased stakeholder participation. Furthermore, we have analysed risk assessment and management interactions through the prisms of uncertainty and the Ecosystem Approach to Management (EAM). These aspects have become top challenges for the assessment and management of chemical risks as well as for coping with science-policy interactions connected with the governance of chemical risks. We conclude that the enormous knowledge gap (for most chemicals, for the risks of chemical mixtures, for ecosystem-specific risks etc) need to be addressed by combining increased efforts on data and knowledge production with better ways of assessing, communicating and managing uncertainty. Hence, a main question is how much evidence is needed for motivating decision-making on risk reduction. This is a policy-related issue, not a scientific one. However, science does need to develop and implement improved methodology for assessing and communicating uncertainty to relevant stakeholders. On the management side, the precautionary principle is increasingly stipulated for coping with uncertainty. In spite of that, there is no consensus on the exact implementation of the principle in practice, and regulations such as REACH, the WFD, the MSFD and the BSAP ought to be developed on this point. Risk reduction is needed and motivated even, or even particularly, under uncertainty. Looking at the EAM, the approach is clearly receiving increase attention (e.g. in the BSAP and the MSFD), but only partially in the field of chemical regulation and concrete measures. So far, it is therefore not certain that the EAM will substantially improve risk management in cases of high uncertainty. On the contrary, requirements on implementation of the EAM may stall measures and increase complexity. These initial insights will be further developed in coming RISKGOV publications.

WP 3 describes and analyses how risks of hazardous chemicals are framed by key actors and stakeholders in the Baltic Sea region, such as governments, agencies, regionally inter-governmental agencies such as HELCOM, economic actors, academia, and civil society. It is shown that different actors have different ways of framing the risk of chemicals in the Baltic Sea. For example, differences were observed along a gradient spanning from framing chemicals and chemical products as basically useful for society, to framing chemicals as substantial threats to the environment and human health. Most interviewed stakeholders could be placed somewhere in the middle of this gradient between benefit and cost. This is reflected in the dominant opinions expressed on required general management approaches, which do not fundamentally question abundant production of chemicals, but rather suggest a focus on managing chemicals with proven hazardous properties, thus tilting towards a market rather than an environmental starting point. This view on chemical risk management is rather surprising given the major uncertainties and lack of data described in WP 2. In light of this we propose that the management of chemicals might benefit from a shift towards seeing quality of life as based on sufficiency of chemicals rather than on (over)-abundance of them. Many of the interviewed stakeholders (e.g. politicians, journalists and NGO staff) also expressed a surprising lack of interest in the environmental risks of hazardous chemicals in the Baltic Sea region. If concern mostly expressed was health risks of chemicals. It is also clear that besides some NGOs and other stakeholders, quite few have a primary focus on taking initiatives for improving the management of chemicals, something that is a problem given the common political ambitions to increase participation in connection with implementation of the EAM. WP 3 also analyses existing institutional arrangements for and procedures of risk communication at the regional Baltic Sea level. Clearly, communication between the EU and Russia is still in need of improvement, as is two-way communications and cooperation between stakeholders, as well as between actors connected with risk assessment and risk management and the general public. For example, in those (rare) cases when scientific information about chemicals does exist, it is not well communicated among knowledge producers and stakeholders, and current scientific assessment activities seldom relate directly to concerns of stakeholders or the public.

 

In conclusion our initial analysis and conclusions show that risks of chemicals are rather dealt with by traditional risk-based governmental strategies, than by broad environmental governance, based on precaution and the ecosystem approach to management. Furthermore, there are no clear strategies or guidelines on how to cope with uncertainty in assessment and management. As a result, even though there is a growing scientific capacity to develop new chemicals, there is at present no well functioning system for their safe management. We will address these challenges further in future RISKGOV publications.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Huddinge: Södertörns högskola , 2010. , 80 p.
Keyword [en]
chemical pollution, environmental management, science-policy, regulation, stakeholder participation, communication
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Environmental Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-15184Local ID: 1748/42/2008OAI: oai:DiVA.org:sh-15184DiVA: diva2:487372
Projects
Environmental Risk Governance of the Baltic Sea (RISKGOV)
Funder
The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, 1748/42/2008
Available from: 2012-01-31 Created: 2012-01-31 Last updated: 2016-10-04Bibliographically approved

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