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Thematic Areas - Using Standards

UNECE encourages and empowers policy-makers to use international standards to develop and implement regulations in different sectors.

Using standards in technical regulations promotes international regulatory coherence; helps companies, communities and organizations move toward a more resilient and sustainable model of production and consumption; and help conserve Planet Earth’s precious resources.

  • Access to international markets and technical barriers to trade
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Sustainable development, in particular the achievement of Agenda 2030 and of the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Climate change and planetary boundaries

UNECE WP. 6 advocacy efforts

Access to international markets: prevent and eliminate TBT
Standards are very much a part of our everyday life. The blueprints of products we buy and use are developed in close reference to standards and technical regulations. When designs are developed into manufactured goods, firms cooperate with competent bodies that check conformity of their merchandise with relevant requirements. And finally, when products are on the market or are used as equipment at the workplace, specialized authorities monitor to protect consumers, workers and employees from the hazards of non-compliant products. More technically, standards are “documents, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provide ‘rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results’ ”. Technical regulations are set by competent authorities, and define criteria for the design, content, operation, and disposal of products. While technical regulations must be complied with, compliance with standards is voluntary.

UNECE encourages rule makers to base their regulations on international standards. These provide a common denominator to the norms that apply on different markets, and reduce the need to customize and retest the products whenever they cross a national border.

In order to avoid standards becoming a barrier to international trade, national regulators must work together to specify which international standards constitute the common denominator, and how compliance with the standards should be assessed. To this end, the START Team has developed a regulatory cooperation model based on good practice. Several ongoing Sectoral Initiatives (on Telecom, Earth-Moving Machinery, Equipment for Explosive Environments and Pipeline Safety)  are based on Recommendation L.

Read more about best practice developed by the Working Party in this think-piece showing how regulatory cooperation can enhance regulatory coherence and help remove technical barriers to trade.

Disaster risk reduction
Standards play three important roles in the prevention and management of disaster risk:

  • They help prevent the accumulation of new disaster risks, by assisting communities and organizations in moving towards a more sustainable pattern of sustainable and resilient development
  • They can be used as a methodology for managing all kinds of risks, including natural and man-made hazards that may cause disasters
  • And standards - such as those on business continuity and emergency management - enable both business and administrations to absorb shocks in a way that minimizes capital, human and eco-system losses.

The Working Party has promoted cooperation between the standardization communities on the one hand, and governmental authorities, and UN agencies on the other. It has:

  • Contributed a background paper on "Standards for DRR" for the 2015 edition of the Global Assessment Report;
  • Participated in the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan in March 2015 – in particular with an event on Standards for DRR;
  • Established a partnership with ISO TC 292 on “Security and Resilience” and contributed to its activities through a taskforce on “UN cooperation” which aims at contributing to the implementation of the outcome of the WCDRR and other important UN outcomes.
  • Contributed to an article on DRR to the August-September 2015 issue of the ISO Focus magazine;
  • Promoted the participation of ISO and IEC in the UNISDR Science and Technology Conference on the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (January 2016).

Read more about best practice developed by the Working Party in this publication on DRR and Standards!

Sustainable development
Standards are an asset to sustainable development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals also in the context of Agenda 2030.

Standards help companies conceive, produce and market cleaner and more energy-efficient products. They help reduce their ecological footprint and impact on the environment and fragile ecosystems. They also prevent industrial accidents and ensure that resources are used responsibly and are preserved for future generations.

The list of standards that will play a pivotal role in the achievement of the SDGs is potentially endless. The following are just a few example

  • Standards are the foundation of international trade and so support goal 17.10 “promote a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system”
  • Standards bring a reservoir of technological know-how and knowledge to the factory floor and are a fundamental tool for SDG Goal 8 “Sustainable economic growth” and SDG Goal 9 “Resilient infrastructure, industrialization and innovation”.
  • Systemic risk management standards – including ISO 31000 –help both business and policy-makers attain their objectives in the face of uncertainty and are crucial to designing a new pattern of development and promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation (Goal 9).
  • Standards such as emergency management standards and business continuity standards help make development resilient to disasters (Goals 1.5, 2.4 and 11.b)
  • Standards on electrotechnical equipment, electricity plants and electrically powered utilities including water utilities - such as those developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) contribute to the achievement of Goal 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and Goal 6 on the “Sustainable management of water and sanitation to all”
  • Standards – such as those being developed under the ISO Technical Committee on “Sustainable development in communities” - can contribute to Goal 11 as it refers to making cities inclusive, sustainable and resilient to disasters.

While standards are important, they are only so if they are properly used and implemented. Ultimately, the goal of standards is changing the characteristics of products and production processes. Clearly, this requires assessing the conformity of products, processes, and services, against the standards’ requirements.

In many cases, technical regulations are needed to complement voluntary standards, and to ensure and monitor compliance. Regulatory enforcement requires a complex system, the “national quality infrastructure system”, which includes an array of private and public sector bodies, i.e. metrology institutions, accreditation and conformity assessment bodies, as well as testing laboratories.

UNECE WP. 6 plays a unique role in developing the capacity of policy-makers and businesses to implement standards and technical regulations, especially in sectors that have a critical impact on sustainability and on resilience to natural and man-made hazards, especially as regards

  • promoting the use of standards by policy-makers and business
  • integrating standards in regulatory frameworks
  • furthering the use of standards in the implementation of UN-wide goals, including the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and the Sendai framework for action

Read more about best practice developed by the Working Party in this think-piece.

Planetary boundaries
Finally, another key role that standards play is in the context of climate change and planetary boundaries.

The Working Party organized a panel to discuss this topic, with contributions from the Stockholm Resilience Center: see related presentation and paper!