Friday, July 06, 2012

International Negotiations Towards A Global Treaty On Mercury

Jul 5: Over 500 representatives from governments and civil society organizations took part in a United Nations-backed meeting in Punta del Este, Uruguay, seeking to negotiate a global treaty that would reduce the use of mercury. The meeting was the fourth of five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC4). After INC4 there is only one remaining session before the diplomatic conference that will convene in Japan in 2013.
    The Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, said the six-day meeting will help governments work towards a common goal in reducing "the exposure of significant numbers of people across the globe to a highly hazardous substance whose impacts on human health are well known -- and in doing so make a serious contribution to sustainable development and a transition to an inclusive green economy in the wake of Rio+20."

    The meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee covered a wide range of areas, from products and processes that contain mercury, to the supply, trade, storage and waste of the element. UNEP also launched a practical guide at the meeting on methods and techniques to reduce mercury use and non-mercury alternative practices in Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM). Developed in collaboration with the Artisanal Gold Council and other partners, the guide informs policymakers, miners and civil society about available techniques for reducing and ultimately eliminating mercury use in ASGM.

    With the value of gold having soared amid the recent financial turmoil, small-scale, artisanal gold mining is booming throughout the world. The Artisanal Gold Council estimates that between 12 and 15 million people in over 70 countries are employed in the sector, producing up to 20 percent of the total gold supply. However, the often informal and sometimes illegal status of the sector in many countries has been one of the biggest challenges in addressing the health and environmental issues of the sector. The UNEP guide seeks to also be a useful tool for governments to explain the technical fundamentals that underpin and encourage the formalization of ASGM.

    Steiner said, "[ASGM] is an important economic activity, which can contribute directly to poverty alleviation and regional well-being. The global mercury legal instrument under development gives an important opportunity to ensure that a small-scale activity, such as this one, continues in a safe and sustainable way."

    According to a summary report from International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) reporting service, which provided detailed day-by-day coverage of the meeting, "INC4 fulfilled many delegates' expectations expressed on arrival in Punta del Este. Clear progress was made swiftly on some issues like storage, wastes and contaminated sites, and narrowing options on other issues, such as articles related to information and reporting. Yet on the most crucial issues, compliance, finance and control measures for products and processes, divergent views prevailed, with discussions focusing on laying out the range of positions. Delegates met non-stop during the six-day meeting in both plenary sessions and contact groups. A full reading of the text, and division of work into several contact groups addressing key sections of the treaty, allowed delegates to advance towards a 'cleaner' version of a convention text on some issues, leaving brackets around topics that require political resolution for consideration at the next, and last, session of the INC in January 2013."

    The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), a global network of more than 700 health and environmental organizations working in 116 countries for a toxics-free future issued a release indicating they are "deeply concerned that, with current text, the treaty may actually legitimize increased global mercury releases to protect short-term economic interests. The price tag may appear to be 'cheap' but the cost of inaction on mercury pollution will be huge." They indicated that, "Allowing the importation and use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) will create new contaminated sites, and more mercury polluted communities and suffering in ASGM countries." Additionally, they said, "The treaty creates no obligation for responsible parties to pay for mercury pollution cleanup or provide compensation for victims. "This lack of action runs contrary to the treaty objective."

    Access a release from the UN (click here). Access a release from UNEP and link to a video and the ASGM guide (click here). Access the INC4 website for complete details on the meeting including meeting documents (click here). Access the IISD Summary Report issued on July 5 (click here). Access the IISD INC4 Meeting Coverage website (click here). Access a release from IPEN (click here). Access the IPEN website for more information (click here). [#Toxics]

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