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    Finally, a Chance for a Global Mercury Accord / Por fin, un chance para un acuerdo global sobre el mercurio

    By Keith R | February 21, 2009

    Topics: Electronic/Electrical Equipment, Extractive Sectors, Hazardous Substances | No Comments »

          
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    When the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Governing Council (GC) considered and agreed on the draft decision on chemicals management, including mercury, this past Thursday, I was in the room. It’s difficult to say which emotion filled the conference room more — joy or excitement. There was plenty of both.

    This decision had been many years in the making, and its scope and content went much beyond what anyone dared hoped before the GC session opened on Monday. For years getting such a mandate had been blocked by the three principal sources of mercury emissions, China, India and the US. This year the US changed its position to willingness to discuss an international accord (yes, elections do have consequences!) and in the resulting excitement China and India chose to reiterate their discomfort with the idea but not to stand in the way of launching treaty talks.

    So after three days of intensive horse-trading, a GC mandate was finally agreed to launch negotiations on a global agreement on mercury, the first-ever chemical-specific global accord. In itself an accord on mercury has many important implications, but seen in the broader context — as perhaps only the first of several global rules on specific hazardous substances — it may be even more significant.

    For a very concise summary of the week’s debate and the final decision on mercury, I would suggest reading the Earth Negotiation Bulletin’s (ENB) wrap-up.

    Mercury and LAC

    Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is not a major producer of mercury, although small amounts of it are mined and produced in Mexico and Peru. LAC is not a major user of the metal — at least not compared to the industrialized nations of the OECD and China. The major use of mercury in LAC is in mining, particularly for gold and silver and particularly among small-scale, informal (and less supervised and controlled) operations, such as those in Amazonian portions of Brazil and Guyana. LAC is also not a major source of mercury emissions: according to UNEP, all of South America accounted for about 6.9% of global mercury emissions in 2005 (the latest year for data on a global level) [UNEP does not provide figures for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean).

    In what ways might an international accord on mercury impact LAC? Depending on the final contents of such an agreement (of course), it would probably affect most the region’s gold and silver mining, copper, lead and zinc smelting, and cement and chlor-alkali chemical production. There will also be some impact on the few nations relying on coal combustion for heat and power generation and the few that practice waste incineration. Its most visible impact in the LAC marketplace may be, however, its impact on mercury-containing productsfluorescent lamps, batteries, thermometers, electrical and electronic switches, manometers, dental amalgam and in rarer cases even some vaccines, cosmetics, paints and pesticides.

    __________________

    From the Un Environment Programme (UNEP):

    Historic Treaty to Tackle Toxic Heavy Metal Mercury Gets Green Light

    A global crackdown on the poisonous pollutant mercury was agreed by environment ministers at the end of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Governing Council.

    The landmark decision, taken by over 140 countries, sets the stage for the lifting of a major health threat from the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

    Governments unanimously decided to launch negotiations on an international mercury treaty to deal with world – wide emissions and discharges of a pollutant that threatens the health of millions, from fetuses and babies to small – scale gold miners and their families.

    They also agreed that the risk to human health and the environment was so significant that accelerated action under a voluntary Global Mercury Partnership is needed whilst the treaty is being finalized.

    The eight – point partnership plan includes:

    – Boosting the worldwide capability for nations to safely store stockpiled mercury

    – Reducing the supply of mercury from for example primary mining of the heavy metal

    – Carrying out awareness raising of the risks alongside projects to cut the use of mercury in artisanal mining where an estimated 10 million miners and their families are exposed

    – Reducing mercury in products such as thermometers and high-intensity discharge lamps to processes such as some kinds of paper-making and plastics production

    Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “UNEP has, for some seven years, coordinated and contributed to an intense scientific and policy debate on how best to deal with the issue of mercury. Today the world’s environment ministers, armed with the full facts and full choices, decided the time for talking was over – the time for action on this pollution is now”.

    “Only a few weeks ago nations remained divided on how to deal with this major public health threat which touches everyone in every country of the world. Today we are united on the need for a legally binding instrument and immediate action towards a transition to a low-mercury world,” he said.

    “I believe this will be a major, confidence-building boost for not only the chemicals and health agenda but right across the environmental challenges of our time from biodiversity loss to climate change,” said Mr Steiner.

    _______________

    Desde el Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente (PNUMA):

    Histórico Tratado relativo al metal pesado Mercurio recibe luz verde

    Un ataque global al contaminador venenoso mercurio fue decidido por los ministros del medio ambiente al final del Consejo de Administración del Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente (PNUMA).

    La histórica decisión, tomada por más de 140 países, pone fin a una grave amenaza a la salud para cientos de millones de personas.

    Los gobiernos unánimemente decidieron lanzar negociaciones para un tratado internacional del mercurio para ocuparse de emisiones y descargas a nivel global de un contaminante que amenaza la salud de millones, desde fetos y bebes a pequeños mineros y familias.

    También se pusieron de acuerdo en que la amenaza para la salud humana y el medio ambiente era tan importante, que una acción acelerada bajo una Sociedad Global del Mercurio hacía falta, mientras se concluía el tratado.

    El plan de la asociación incluye ocho puntos:

    Achim Steiner, Subsecretario de las Naciones Unidas y Director Ejecutivo del PNUMA, dijo “El PNUMA ha, por siete años, coordinado y contribuido a un intenso debate científico y político en como mejor ocuparse del tema del mercurio. Hoy los ministros del medio ambiente, equipados con todos los datos y concientes de todas las opciones, decidieron que el tiempo para hablar había terminado—el tiempo para la acción contra este contaminante es ahora”.

    “Solo unas semanas atrás las naciones se mantuvieron separadas en cuanto a como abordar esta importante amenaza a la salud global que toca a todos en todos los países del mundo. Hoy estamos unidos en la necesidad de un instrumento legal vinculante y acción inmediata hacia una transición a un mundo bajo en mercurio,” dijo.

    “Creo que este será un importante impulso para sentirnos más confiados no solo en la agenda de químicos y salud, pero a través de los desafíos medio ambientales de nuestro tiempo, desde pérdida de biodiversidad a cambio climático,” dijo el Sr. Steiner.

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