SkullAt the Rio “Earth Summit 1992”, a call was made to provide an easily understandable set of symbols for the labelling of chemicals and hazardous substances which would be recognized internationally, by 2000. This was to be known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The benefits of such a system would be to improve protection to human health and the environment and facilitate global trade in chemicals whose hazards have been assessed on an international basis.

Activated by this call, a process of negotiation and development took place, with the first version of the GHS being adopted in December 2002 by the UN Sub-Committee of Experts on the GHS. The Plan of Implementation adopted in Johannesburg on 4 September 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) encouraged countries to implement the new GHS as soon as possible, with a view to having the system fully operational by 2008.

Also in 2002, a global Partnership was formed between UNITAR, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with the goal to strengthen capacities at all levels - in particular in developing countries - to ensure a higher degree of chemical labeling and related safety measures.

An event to showcase this work, “The GHS: a success story from Rio to Rio’’ is being held at the Rio +20 conference. After 10 years of successful collaboration between UNITAR, ILO, OECD and many government, industry and NGO stakeholders, the event will launch a publication about this success story, as well as a discussion to review lessons learned and prepare for the next phase of strengthening chemical safety using the GHS as a key tool. It is being supported by Switzerland and Brazilian host organizations.

More information about the publication and Rio+20 event will be posted on the UNITAR website in coming weeks.