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Global Mercury treaty to be signed in October

Ten years of efforts by NGOs, governments and UNEP were concluded on 19 January with the agreement of the final text of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The agreement is scheduled to be signed in Japan in October 2013.

The fifth and final session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury (INC5) was held in Geneva in January 2013.

Governments agreed to the text of a global legally binding instrument on mercury, naming it the “Minamata Convention on Mercury”, after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid 20th Century. The treaty is scheduled to be signed at the Diplomatic Conference in Japan, at the Kumamoto Prefecture in October 2013.

Although the agreement is a major accomplishment, the instrument is weighed down by weak controls on significant mercury pollution sources. UNEP concluded that mercury was a global pollutant of major concern in 2003, but only in 2009 did the UNEP Governing Council decide that a legally binding agreement was needed to address this crisis. Four years later a new global treaty has been agreed.

The treaty is a mixture of mandatory and voluntary elements intended to control the growing global mercury crisis. There are some concerns that the treaty is not reaching far enough or fast enough to address the spiralling human health risks from mercury exposure. For example, there are weak controls on mercury emissions from major sources such as coal-fired power plants, which contribute significantly to the burden of disease from environmental pollution.

It is not only the right time to reduce exposure to mercury from a public health perspective but also economically speaking. The most worrying aspect of human exposure to mercury is the effect of maternal levels on the foetus’ brain as it still develops in the womb. A recent assessment gathered from an EU bio-monitoring project showed that preventing environmental exposure to mercury could save the EU €8-9 billion per year by protecting children’s brain development.

In spite of its shortcomings, the new mercury treaty presents a real opportunity to work towards the significant reduction of mercury globally. It contain provisions that may be used to positive effect by governments, NGOs, and others that wish to undertake mercury minimisation and reduction efforts. We hope that the EU will contribute to supporting actions to reduce our exposure to mercury.

More information on the report here

More information on the study “Economic benefits of methyl mercury exposure control in Europe’ here

Originally posted on 11 April 2013

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