Over the past 20 years, a cluster of international environmental agreements has developed aiming at reducing the risks associated with production and use of chemicals. The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is the newest addition to this cluster and serves to guide efforts to meet the 2020 goal to use and produce chemicals in a way that minimizes significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.

SAICM differs from other chemical and waste agreements on several key points: It is a policy framework that is legally non-binding; it comprises a broad scope of activities; and it allows for active participation of non-governmental stakeholders. A central aim of SAICM is to decrease the gap between developed and developing countries in terms of capacities to manage chemicals safely.

This article examines the early implementation of SAICM, based on a national-level case study in Cambodia and interviews with SAICM stakeholders. The results show that SAICM has generated a clear momentum in Cambodia and has led to several implementation projects. Based on the interviews, the overall conclusion is that design features of the SAICM – its broad scope, multi-stakeholder participation and voluntary status – are appropriate for the purpose of improving chemicals management in a developing country like Cambodia. However, these features also bring about difficulties in measuring progress on implementation. The future development of SAICM therefore needs to balance the benefits of its key design features with the need to more effectively and precisely monitor progress toward the 2020 goal.

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