Minority stop global fight against mercury crisis

World governments have missed another chance to develop an international strategy to reduce and control global mercury levels, according to NGOs.


Environmental Ministers from around the world agreed on several important steps to reduce global mercury pollution at a recent UNEP Governing Council meeting, recommending actions that individual countries could take to reduce the use, trade and release mercury, as well as improve research on supply, demand and trade.

However, non-governmental organisations and indigenous peoples have expressed their concerns that the final UNEP mercury agreement will not be enough to combat the current global mercury crisis.

"The USA hijacked the process, despite the overwhelming evidence from the UN about the mercury crisis and the need for immediate and long-term international action," said Michael Bender from the Ban Mercury Working Group. "All the US proposed were voluntary partnerships to address mercury, which, based on past experience in other areas do not produce meaningful results."

Representatives from developing countries also voiced their concerns that such voluntary partnerships would not prove to be effective enough in practice.

"Although developing countries showed strong recognition that the issue of mercury and the disproportionate effects it has on them at the meeting, the international community is still not addressing the crisis in a meaningful and accountable manner," Indian NGO Toxics Link director Ravi Agarwal stated.

Taking more positive action than just suggesting voluntary agreements, the European Union recommended immediate complementary concrete actions, as well as a treaty proposal following adoption of a mercury strategy by the European Commission.

But the global NGO community said that certain measures needed to be enforced as soon as possible on an international basis, including:

  • Curbing primary mercury mining and introducing commerce into excess mercury supplies
  • Undertaking full analysis of the global mercury trade, supply and demand to improve understanding of the extent and patterns of international usage
  • Enforce a global ban or restriction on the use of mercury in products like batteries and processes such as chlor-alkali facilities
  • Control and reduce mercury emissions
  • Provide developing countries with financial resources in order to reduce their mercury pollution
  • Reassess the situation in two years at the 24th Governing Council meeting, with the possibility of then introducing a legally binding instrument

    Speaking on behalf of the NGOs, Greenpeace said that strong coordinated international action combined with the implementation of legally binding measures was the only way to tackle the mercury problem, and all governments in the international community needed to recognise this and urgently act upon it in the future.

    "The EU has played a strong role in highlighting the need for a legally binding instrument and other important policy measures," commented Elena Lymberidi for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). "We are disappointed that other countries did not allow the proposal to move forward."

    By Jane Kettle

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