Sea Change in U.S. International Environmental Policy on Mercury, Say Environmental Groups

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Signaling an about face in U.S. international environmental policy, the Obama administration has dramatically reversed the former U.S. position on controlling mercury pollution worldwide. To a surprised audience at the UN Environment Program Governing Council meeting in Nairobi today, the U.S. delegation strongly endorsed negotiations for a new global treaty to control mercury pollution, to begin this year. Environmental groups from the U.S. and around the world applauded the change.

“The Obama administration has clearly shown a new day has dawned for U.S. leadership and engagement with the rest of the world,” said Michael Bender, director of the U.S.-based Mercury Policy Project, and a coordinator of the international Zero Mercury Working Group. “And the momentum created by the U.S. appears to be galvanizing other governments around the world to step up to address the global mercury crisis.”

In stark contrast, the Bush administration position had steadfastly opposed legally binding measures to control mercury, despite broad support among a majority of countries in the Governing Council.

“Skeptics doubted that the U.S. position on mercury could change so quickly, but the Obama administration made it happen in record time,” said Susan Egan Keane of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’ve shown that Obama is serious about a new approach of cooperation and collaboration, rather than obstruction and unilateral action, on the international stage.”

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that can make its way up the food chain into humans, and poses an increased exposure risk to developing fetuses and young children and to adults exposed to mercury.

Rico Euripidou of groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa believes that “a comprehensive solution to address mercury will directly benefit Africa through the control of unregulated and uncontrolled flows of mercury onto the Continent.”

Mercury is a persistent, bioaccumulative, transboundary pollutant that contaminates our air, soil, water and fish.

“Because of this potential for global contamination, mercury pollution requires a coordinated international response, including a legally-binding treaty on mercury,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Project Coordinator of the ‘Zero Mercury Campaign’ at the European Environmental Bureau.

Other countries expressing support for developing a legally binding agreement on mercury include the 53 countries in African, Switzerland, Brazil, Norway, Canada, Australia, Mauritius, Russia, Korea, Uruguay and Japan. In total, over 120 countries have expressed support for developing a legally-binding treaty on mercury.

For more information, see the U.S. proposal below.

Proposed Decision on Mercury

United States of America

Recalls the findings of the 2002 Global Mercury Assessment that mercury is a chemical of global concern specifically due to its long range transport, its persistence in the environment once introduced, its ability to bioaccumulate in ecosystems, and its significant negative effects on human health and the environment;

Acknowledges the progress made within the United Nations Environment Program to provide information and data on mercury and provide a forum for consideration of globally coordinated actions;

Commends the Executive Director and UNEP Global Mercury Partnership members for their progress in developing and implementing the UNEP Global Mercury Partnerships as a vehicle for immediate action on mercury and welcomes the progress made by the Partnerships to create an Overarching Framework for action in the priority areas identified in GC 24/3;

Welcomes the report of the Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Working Group on Mercury;

1. Agrees to further international action on mercury, including a legally-binding instrument, to reduce the risks to human health and the environment;

2. Requests the Executive Director to prepare and convene an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee with a mandate to prepare a globally legally binding instrument on mercury based on the mandate set forth in paragraph 8 of this decision. Participation in the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee should be open to Governments and relevant intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations consistent with United Nations rules;

3. Requests Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to commence its work in 2009 with the goal of completion prior to the 2012 GC/GMEF;

4. Requests the Executive Director as a priority action, to provide the necessary support to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, and UNEP Mercury Program and Partnership;

5. Calls upon countries to financially support the UNEP Mercury Program and Partnership and Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee;

6. Requests the Executive Director to conduct, concurrent with the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, a study to inventory facilities in sectors including coal-fired power plants, cement production, and non-ferrous metals mining and production in major mercury-emitting countries. For all sectors, but especially coal-combustion, the study should include analysis of the levels of existing emissions controls, and the potential to achieve further mercury emission reductions. The study should also assess the costs and effectiveness of alternative control strategies, considering mercury-specific controls, and reductions that can be achieved as a co-benefit from conventional pollution control measures as well as the relationship with actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report should be prepared to inform the work of the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, and the Executive Director should report the findings of the study at the 2010 GMEF;

7. Further requests the Executive Director to conduct interim studies, coordinating as appropriate with Governments, international government organizations, stakeholders and the Partnership, concurrent with the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, including:

a. Enhancing capacity for mercury storage;

b. Reducing supply of mercury from primary mining;

c. Conducting awareness raising and pilot projects in key countries to reduce mercury use in artisanal small scale gold mining;

d. Reducing mercury use in products and processes;

e. Raising public awareness and supporting risk communication.

8. Agrees the mandate of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee is a comprehensive approach to mercury including provisions to:

a. Reduce the supply of mercury and enhance capacity for its environmentally sound storage;

b. Reduce the demand for mercury in products and processes;

c. Reduce international trade in mercury;

d. Reduce atmospheric emissions of mercury;

e. Address mercury-containing waste and contaminated sites;

f. Increase knowledge through awareness raising and scientific information exchange.

9. Further agrees the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee should take into account the need for this instrument to:

a. Contain flexibility to allow countries discretion in selecting measures to implement obligations aimed at achieving common goals;

b. Apply approaches tailored to the characteristics of specific sectors, and utilize transition periods and phased implementation for proposed actions, where appropriate;

c. Set priorities to focus actions on major sources of emissions;

d. Consider possible co-benefits with conventional pollutant control measures and greenhouse reduction strategies;

e. Include provisions to assist countries, as appropriate, in meeting their obligations under a legally binding instrument.

For more information:



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