Novel entities: Our burgeoning chemical problem

Project #D – Planetary Limit #9 Pollution; #2 Biodiversity loss




By Jane Fiona Cumming


One of our nine planetary boundaries, novel entities, relates to any synthetic chemicals designed and produced by humans (including plastics). These chemicals can have irreversible effects on biodiversity and on the physical environment. Uptake (and bioaccumulation) of chemicals can kill organisms but also cause permanent genetic damage. For example, reduced fertility has led to severe reduction in bird populations globally.


Due to the nature of synthetic chemicals and a lack of transparency about their waste streams, the complete picture of the environmental impacts of these chemicals is complex and not fully understood. However, new research published at the beginning of this year has calculated that we have already exceeded the planetary limit for novel entities.


“There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950. This is projected to triple again by 2050” - Patricia Villarubia-Gómez, Stockholm Resilience Centre.

There are approximately 400,000 types of manufactured chemicals sold commercially. As suggested by the term ‘novel’, the impacts of these chemicals are largely unknown. As this number continues to increase, it is imperative that regulation ensures that the environmental impacts of these is chemicals is firstly understood (as much as possible) and that mitigation measures are put in place.


ARTICLE 13 VIEWPOINT - What does this mean?

Our latest practitioner research shows that 83% of the world’s largest companies are measuring against novel entities - primarily regarding plastic/ packaging pollution. However, only 11% of the companies reviewed are setting a target at scale with what the planet needs.


See a snapshot of our latest research here.


Businesses must firstly commit to measuring their full impact on the planet’s resources – not just carbon reduction - and base reduction targets on what the world needs them to do. Secondly, businesses can help mitigate the impact of the novel entities they produce by providing full disclosures related to their supply chains, areas of operation and markets that they serve.



If you would like help to measure your impact and ensure your targets are set at scale with what the world needs, get in touch.


SOURCES:

https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989421004480

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.1c04158


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