Campaigners call for global mercury ban

A global coalition of environmental NGOs is putting pressure on governments around the world to phase out mercury and ban exports of the toxic metal.

The Zero Mercury Coalition, which include veteran lobbyists from the European Environmental Bureau and South African grassroots network groundwork, are using next week’s meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) meeting in Nairobi to argue the case for a global ban.

The European Union is in the process of banning the use of mercury from a number of applications (see related story) but campaigners say there is a need for wider legislation for it to be effective.

“Governments must now agree tough and binding rules to reduce mercury contamination” said the coalition’s Elena Lymberidi, arguing that the UNEP’s governing council must put in place an international agreement with the teeth to enforce it

“Mercury poisons the brain and threatens all of us and future generations, at both high and low levels.”

According to the coalition, In the five years since UNEP’s Global Mercury Assessment report, there has been no significant reduction in mercury use worldwide.

Trade has stabilised at about 3,500 tonnes per year for the past decade. As mercury use has gone down in industrialised nations, developing countries have become increasingly reliant on this toxic metal.

Air pollution experts also report that global mercury releases into the atmosphere have increased over the past 15 years

“UNEP’s Governing Council first identified mercury as a serious global threat over six years ago,” said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project. “It has since supported extensive research that all leads to one conclusion: serious, concerted global action must be taken immediately to reduce the level of mercury in the environment and protect fish as a viable world protein source.”

Anti-mercury campaigners believe that the fundamental cause of failure over the past two years has been that governments have only supported voluntary programmes, instead of putting legal obligations on companies, with the necessary financial assistance and explicit reduction goals.

Advocates insist that global, binding agreements are the only way to curtail mercury’s worldwide reach.

“Governments must demonstrate their commitment to immediate and meaningful action, by adopting legally-binding multilateral agreements,” said Rico Euripidou, from groundWork South Africa.

“The scope and direction of current measures are too limited and on their own they are insufficient to reduce the risks resulting from mercury exposure.”

Sam Bond

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