Governments at UN forum agree on treaty to tackle mercury emissions

By Michelle Yeomans

- Last updated on GMT

Governments at UN forum agree on treaty to tackle mercury emissions
After meeting at a UN forum last week, global governments have agreed on the first legally binding, global treaty to tackle mercury pollution after a recent UNEP report revealed that emissions were on the up particularly in Africa, Asia and South America.

The ‘Global Mercury Assessment 2013’ ​ featured the United Nations Environment Programme revealing that due to the use of the toxic element in small-scale gold mining, and with cosmetics noted amongst other products as their contributors; parts of the aforementioned countries have increasing emissions.

On the back of that report, delegates from over a hundred countries met in Geneva last week for the fifth and final round of treaty negotiations, where all agreed on attendance, that action is urgently needed to reduce mercury emissions, despite the process of achieving it, not necessarily being easy.

After complex and often all-night sessions here in Geneva, nations have laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized for well over a century​,” says UNEP executive director, Achim Steiner.

Going forward

Now, UNEP says the goal going forward, is to clean up unrestricted emissions of the toxic metal, and to limit future contamination from sources as diverse as coal-fired power plants and gold mining.

Everyone in the world stands to benefit from the decisions taken in Geneva. I look forward to swift ratification of the Minamata Convention so that it comes into force as soon as possible​,” adds Steiner.

By late February, UNEP’s governing council will debate the draft treaty that will emerge from the meeting at the Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, and expects countries to ratify the treaty later this year.

Influential report..

The report causing much widespread debate, also breaks down mercury emissions by region and economic sector, while also highlighting that significant releases into the environment is linked to contaminated sites and deforestation. It further estimates that 260 tonnes of mercury, previously held in soils, are being released into rivers and lakes.

Sources noted as driving this exposure included cosmetics such as skin-lightening creams and mascara, as UNEP warns that mercury contained in such products can also enter the waste stream.

To see more on this report, please click here​.

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