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Historic milestone reached in global fight against mercury pollution


Mercury Pollution

In a landmark display of international cooperation, more than 160 countries committed to tackling one of the world’s greatest chemical health threats at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

The world’s first environmental and health treaty in a decade saw many countries pledge political and financial support to help reduce and eliminate mercury, a heavy metal affecting the health of millions of people worldwide from Guyana and Kiribati, to Uganda and Japan.

In her opening speech, the President of the Swiss Confederation, Doris Leuthard, described the Minamata Convention as a success of multilateralism, “The Minamata Convention is a global solution to a global challenge. From now on the name Minamata will no longer only be associated with a problem, but with a solution,” she said.


Opening the high-level segment, Erik Solheim Head of UN Environment said that in order to really address the mercury challenge solutions had to be integrated into public health and environmental strategies at all levels – from local to international – and embodied into the wider pollution control agenda. He called on ministers and delegates to use the tragic legacy of Minamata to propel the convention forward.

A high level panel debate opened by the President of Guyana featuring the Head of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Naoko Ishii, Erik Solheim, the Head of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, the Head of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, and representatives from the United Nations Development Programme also drew attention to mercury use in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining which accounts for up to 20% of the world’s gold supply.

Through the Global Opportunities for Long-term Development (GEF GOLD) programme, the GEF will provide funds to eight countries with a sizable gold mining sector, and where many artisanal miners still rely on mercury for gold extraction. The funding amounts to US$45.2 million and will be managed by implementing agencies, including UN Environment to support policies and market incentives that favour gold which uses less or no mercury in its extraction.

Several guidelines were adopted, in particular for the regulation of artisanal gold-mining and the reduction of mercury emissions in this sector. The States will receive support to enable them to gain a better understanding of the informal artisanal gold-mining sector and to make optimal use of the available state-of-the- art technology. Another guideline specifies how the atmospheric mercury emissions generated by coal-fired power plants, waste incineration plants and cement plants can be reduced.

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