Sustainability Blog

Linking Chemical Disarmament with Sustainable Chemistry

By Apurva Gosalia - Apr 29, 2022

Today marks 25 years since the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC, came into force on April 29, 1997. The convention aims to prohibit the large-scale use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons and their precursors.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, administers the CWC. The CWC’s 193 signatory member states, representing more than 98% of the world’s population, commit to the prohibition and destruction of all current chemical weapons. 

As of February 2021, signatories had destroyed more than 98% of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles. For its achievement, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to the OPCW in 2013. The committee said it had, “defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law.”

How does this connect to sustainability?

First, OPCW Day – the day on which the CWC was implemented and the OPCW was founded – is listed among the environmental dates of the year, which are designated for creating awareness of sustainability and environmental issues. (Today was formerly the Day of Remembrance for All Victims of Chemical Warfare but has been moved now to November 30.)

Secondly, the OPCW launched the Initiative on Green and Sustainable Chemistry in 2016. The initiative aims to enhance the implementation of Article XI of the CWC, which concerns the economic and technological development of OPCW signatory states and international cooperation in the field of chemical activities.

By supporting green and sustainable chemistry, the OPCW seeks to sensitize stakeholders to possible alternatives for toxic chemicals. The OPCW also aims to facilitate stakeholder partnerships in order to ensure a safer, more secure and sustainable chemistry. It aims to achieve this through education, research, innovation and implementation of best practices.

Altogether, the OPCW has supported more than 20 research projects and fellowships in the past 10 years. And through its Conference Support Program, it has also supported six events on the topic of green chemistry since 2014. The issues connected with green and sustainable chemistry are part of a diverse array of capacity-building programs under Article XI, such as Responsible Care.

Finally, although the operationalization of an international arms treaty and the research into green and sustainable chemistry may appear incongruous initially, I think the aspirations of both activities are complementary, especially in these times. Both seek to realize and maintain a safer, more secure and sustainable world, free of arms and chemicals that can harm humans and the environment.

And speaking of arms, this month also marks 40 years since the outbreak of the Falklands War in 1982. The conflict prompted British rock band Dire Straits to record the anti-war song “Brothers in Arms.” The song comes to my mind quite often these days, especially its last verse, which explicitly expresses the message of the song “We’re fools to make war – On our brothers in arms.” 


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