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Conflicts of Interest in the Assessment of Chemicals, Waste, and Pollution

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In 2022 countries agreed to establish an intergovernmental science-policy panel on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention like those that have been established to address climate change and a loss of biodiversity. To ensure the success of this group, experts identify how to avoid conflicts of interest—and why doing so is of critical importance.

Abstract: Pollution by chemicals and waste impacts human and ecosystem health on regional, national, and global scales, resulting, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, in a triple planetary crisis. Consequently, in 2022, countries agreed to establish an intergovernmental science–policy panel (SPP) on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention, complementary to the existing intergovernmental science–policy bodies on climate change and biodiversity. To ensure the SPP’s success, it is imperative to protect it from conflicts of interest (COI). Here, we (i) define and review the implications of COI, and its relevance for the management of chemicals, waste, and pollution; (ii) summarize established tactics to manufacture doubt in favor of vested interests, i.e., to counter scientific evidence and/or to promote misleading narratives favorable to financial interests; and (iii) illustrate these with selected examples. This analysis leads to a review of arguments for and against chemical industry representation in the SPP’s work. We further (iv) rebut an assertion voiced by some that the chemical industry should be directly involved in the panel’s work because it possesses data on chemicals essential for the panel’s activities. Finally, (v) we present steps that should be taken to prevent the detrimental impacts of COI in the work of the SPP. In particular, we propose to include an independent auditor’s role in the SPP to ensure that participation and processes follow clear COI rules. Among others, the auditor should evaluate the content of the assessments produced to ensure unbiased representation of information that underpins the SPP’s activities.

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