• English

First Session of the Sub-Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Geneva, 9 July 2001

Opening address by Ms. Danuta Hübner
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is always a pleasure when a new useful process is being initiated. I am pleased to welcome you to your first session of the Sub-Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

As you may know, this Sub-Committee is a subsidiary body to the new reconfigured Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

The UNECE provides the secretariat to your Committee and Sub-Committee through its Transport Division. We have been doing it for the Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods since 1963.

I believe that this arrangement worked well and that is why when deciding to reconfigure the Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods into a GHS/TDG Committee, ECOSOC also decided that the secretariat services should continue to be provided by the Transport Division of the UNECE Secretariat. I have to say that this is a profound satisfaction for us here in the ECE, even though it means much more work for us.

As this is your first meeting, I should say a few words about the UNECE in general so that you can feel more comfortable within the Secretariat environment. Some of you know the UNECE very well already, others are more used to work within the ILO, the UNEP or the OECD environment.

The UNECE has 55 member States, including all Western, Central and Eastern European countries, plus Canada and the United States of America. Our intergovernmental machinery consists of seven principal subsidiary bodies, which are the Inland Transport Committee, the Committee for Trade, Industry and Enterprise Development, the Timber Committee, the Committee on Human Settlements, the Committee on Environmental Policy, the Committee on Sustainable Energy and the Conference of European Statisticians.

Each Committee has its own subsidiary bodies in specialized sectors, and the secretariat is provided by the ECE Divisions dealing with respective PSBs. You can see already that quite a range of expertise is available within the ECE secretariat, including that in various economic sectors of relevance to your work such as transport, trade, industry and environment. In addition, the ECE has been increasingly getting involved in inter-sectoral activities and approaches, providing also technical assistance to countries with economies in transition. I also hope that our analytical work on economic and social development of our region can be useful to you.

The secretariat services for the GHS/TDG Committee and your Sub-Committee will be provided by the Dangerous Goods and Special Cargoes Section of the Transport Division. The head of the Dangerous Goods and Special Cargoes Section is Mr. Olivier Kervella, who is already known to most of you and who will be the Secretary of the Committee and will also supervise the Secretary of your Committee.

I should share with you some concerns with regard to the issue of human resources. When the reconfiguration was decided, there was understanding that one additional P4 post and one general service post be granted to the Section. This has been agreed in principle by the General Assembly in 1999, but finally we could include only the P4 post in the UNECE proposal for 2002-2003 budget and this has still to be endorsed by the General Assembly this year. Pending the settlement of this staff resources issue, Mr. Kervella will act as Secretary of your Sub-Committee.

Coming back to the GHS Sub-Committee, I am not going to recall a long history that you certainly know better than me, but I would just like to underline the main salient points: the construction by ILO in 1992 of a Co-ordinating Group to ensure the follow-up to the recommendations of Chapter 19, Programme Area B of Agenda 21 and meet its objectives; and the designation by this Co-ordinating Group of focal points, ILO and the UN Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods for physical hazards; OECD for health hazards and hazards to the environment; and ILO for hazard communication.

The focal points designated by the Co-ordinating Group have all made immense efforts to carry out their missions and meet the Agenda 21 deadline under impressive time-pressure, and they have all succeeded thanks to the dedication of the many groups, chairpersons and individuals involved, should they be from Government administrations, non-governmental organizations or of the secretariat of intergovernmental organizations. They have to be congratulated, but they are so many that I could not cite all the names, for fear of missing any of them. I would like, however, to pay a special tribute to two of them.

First, Ms. Jennifer Silk, from the Government of the United States of America, who, as Chairperson of the Co-ordinating Group, successfully managed to stimulate the work, keep in mind objectives, coordinate all groups and perhaps the most difficult, remind all of them that the GHS was intended to reflect a global multisectoral approach. Thanks to her devotion, the GHS is now available, in time, and is going to serve as the basis for your future work.

The second person, who, I think, deserves a special mention, is the Secretary of the Co-ordinating Group, Mr. Isaac Obadia, from the International Labour Office. He has been involved in this ambitious programme since the very beginning including the drafting of Programme Area B of Chapter 19 of Agenda 21, and has dedicated himself to the accomplishment of all the tasks.

Ms. Silk and Mr. Obadia, I think you can both be wholeheartedly congratulated and you should be proud of your achievements.

I would also like to mention the other Chairpersons or Vice-chairpersons of the various groups involved and members of their secretariat, Mr. Bob Woodward from the United Kingdom, Ms. Anna-Lisa Sundquist from Finland, Mr. Gregor Oberreuter from Germany, Ms. Iona Pratt from Ireland, Mr. Sergio Benassai from Italy, Ms. Faiza Salie from South Africa, Mr. Fritz Wybenga from the United States of America, Mr. Herman Koeter from OECD and you certainly all remember Mr. Michael Gilbert from WHO who contributed so actively to the stablishment of the Co-ordinating Group and sadly passed away a few months thereafter.

A lot has been done, but the major work is still ahead of us and this is not an easy task. Apart from transport experts, for most of you the way of working and procedures of the ECOSOC are a novelty and it will probably take some time for you to get accustomed to them. Your Sub-Committee will work on a biennium basis, and it will have to submit, through the Committee and the Secretary-General, at the end of each biennium, the outcome of its work to the ECOSOC, as well as its proposed programme of work for the following biennium, and its recommendations to be addressed to all UN Member Sates and international organizations of the UN system for the purpose of effective implementation of the GHS.

The first biennium is a transition biennium. You will have to settle with the three focal points the very few remaining unresolved issues, and determine with the organizations concerned cooperation arrangements for the future. This being said, I should like to recall that the Coordinating Group was a non-institutional arrangement which had been put in place because there was no existing international body with a mandate which could cover all aspects of the development of the GHS. This international body now exists – it is your Sub-Committee. It is a direct subsidiary body of one of the highest organs of the United Nations and you have a mandate which encompasses that of all the three focal points. Such subsidiary bodies are decision-making bodies, with the power, as I said earlier, to make recommendations, through the ECOSOC, to all member States of the United Nations and UN Specialized Agencies. The Organizations which have been very actively involved in the development of the GHS, and I think particularly of ILO and OECD, but also of the Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, will most certainly continue to play a very active role in future developments, but the arrangements cannot be exactly the same as up to now. I should like to underline that, by its nature and the composition of its delegations, and by the very wide participation of intergovernmental organizations and NGOs, the GHS Sub-Committee is a unique forum allowing direct cooperation between various ministries, occupational health, transport, trade, environment and a multitude of economic sectors. I should like to exhort you to take full advantage of this unique opportunity and I can ensure you that the UNECE secretariat will do its utmost to help you and serve the very best of its ability.

If you have any questions I would be pleased to answer them right now, and then I will give floor to your Secretary, Mr. Kervella, who will explain a number of administrative matters and the rules of procedure for this Sub-Committee which, I believe, will be useful at this first session before you start electing the Bureau and discuss more substantial matters.

Thank you for your attention and my best wishes for your deliberations and the work ahead of you.