Multinational: Programs & Policies

MN: UN

Last updated: December 21, 2007

The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 to replace the League of Nations.

The UN Charter lists four purposes for the organization:

  • “to maintain international peace and security
  • to develop friendly relations among nations
  • to cooperate in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights
  • to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations”

Almost all nations belong to the UN, which currently has 192 Member States. Various other entities and intergovernmental organizations have been invited to participate as observers in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly.

The UN Department of Public Information has official relationships with 1,664 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which facilitates the dissemination of the UN’s work to the people of the world. NGOs whose work is related to issues covered by the Economic and Social Council (ESOCOC) can obtain consultative status with the ESOCOC.

The structure of the UN can be summarized as follows.

I. Six principal organs:

  • General Assembly – made up of the 192 Member States
  • Security Council
  • Economic and Social Council
  • Trusteeship Council
  • Secretariat
  • International Court of Justice

II. The UN family of organizations:

  • UN Secretariat
  • UN programmes and funds (such as the United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF)
  • Specialized agencies (such as the World Health Organization or WHO)

There are 16 specialized agencies, established as autonomous organizations, including the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

The UN plays an important role in the harmonization of standards and technical regulations among member countries. Certain UN committees provide guidance on acute health effects and hazards related to chemicals and the transport of goods between countries.

Activities of primary interest to AltTox stakeholders are some of the activities of the UN’s ECOSOC, whose work includes committees on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (TDG) and the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The regional commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), established by the ESOSOC, handles most of the TDG and GHS activities.

Test Guidelines

The UN Model Regulations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods provide guidance to governments and international organizations on the safe transport of hazardous materials. As of January 2007, the major international instruments regulating transport of dangerous goods by air, land, and sea will be harmonized with the UN Model Regulations as described by UN/SCEGHS/11/INF.2.

The Manual of Tests and Criteria (4th ed.) provides criteria and tests used to classify the physical hazards of dangerous goods and chemicals.

The GHS was recently adopted internationally, with the year 2008 as the goal for its implementation. The GHS was developed to promote the safe global transport, use, and disposal of chemicals. The harmonized classification and labeling schemes provided by the GHS are intended to serve as the foundation for national regulatory programs. The official GSH text (Rev. 1) is available, and many countries are in the process of implementing the GHS guidelines. Amendments to the first revised edition of the GHS have been published, and will be included in the second revised edition.

To facilitate GHS’s implementation, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has prepared Guidance Document No. 70, Report on Preparation of GHS Implementation by the OECD Countries. The UNECE provides information on the status of implementation of the GHS in different countries. In the United States, the regulatory agencies that will implement the GHS are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The specific activities that each agency is taking to evaluate and align their regulations with GHS can be found on the agencies websites.

Relevant Programs

United Nations Environment Programme
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is comprised of thirteen scientific centres. The center of major interest to AltTox stakeholders is UNEP Chemicals.

UNEP Chemicals
The goal of the UNEP Chemicals Programme is to promote globally the sound management of chemicals. UNEP Chemicals provides information to governments on the safe use and management of chemicals, and assistance with building national capacity for the safe use, production, and disposal of chemicals.

The UNEP Chemicals Programme provides databases and informational resources, a few of which are described below:

  • Persistent Organic Pollutants(POPs) – provides information on chemicals that persist in the environment and may pose a threat to human health through bioaccumulation in the food chain;
  • Specific programmes and information for mercury, lead, and cadmium
  • The “Legal File”provides information on the regulation of chemicals for over 10,000 substances by different governments. “The File offers a unique possibility to compare regulatory actions of different countries on specific chemicals.”
  • Publication of Screening Information Dataset(SIDS) chemical data obtained under the OECD High Production Volume (HPV) Chemicals Programme
  • Activities to implement the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), “an international policy framework to foster the sound management of chemicals”
United Nations Institute for Training and Research

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) provides support to governments for the management and disposal of hazardous chemicals. The 131 projects of the UNITAR “Chemicals and Waste Management Programme” include national and regional projects in GHS implementation, SAICM implementation, and POPs. The “UNITAR/ILO Global Capacity Building Programme” provides guidance documents and training materials on the GHS.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

The UNECE was established by the ECOSOC as one of the five regional commissions of the UN. UNECE has 56 member countries including various European countries, the United States, Canada, the Russian Federation, and others.

Environmental protection and the transport of dangerous goods are two of the five priority areas of activity for the UNECE. The UN Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals oversees the development and revision of guidance in these areas. The UNECE facilitates harmonization of standards and technical regulations relevant to their areas of activity among member countries.

UN Model Regulations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (TDG)

The TDG provide guidance to governments and international organizations on the safe transport of hazardous materials. The UN Sub-committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods oversees amendments to the UN Model Regulations on TDG. This committee therefore deals with guidance on regulatory testing that affects many countries. Much of this UN effort is related to providing guidance on hazards important in the transportation of substances between countries, such as labeling for the physical hazards of chemicals. As part of this effort, guidance on the acute health effects and environmental hazards of chemicals are also provided. The Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals has worked to implement the GSH for transport.