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. UN Forum Makes Limited Progress On Mercury Emissions

Experts are concerned about the rising mercury (pictured) levels in the atmosphere, particularly about the emerging reliance on this toxic compound in developing economies. They lamented that developing nations were unwilling to push for a treaty. "Coal (producing) countries, specifically growing economies in southeast Asia and eastern Europe, are seeing increasing levels of mercury but they see a legally binding treaty to cap emissions as a threat to their development," Donald Hannah, UNEP special envoy on mercury said. "These (countries) may end up in mercury-free zones but also in unemployment zones" if a legally binding treaty were to take effect, he said, calling on such nations to back the envisaged treaty.
by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) Feb 09, 2007
A key UN environment meeting Friday agreed to launch partnerships between governments and industries to slash mercury emissions, officials said. Environmentalists have been pushing for a legal framework to cap emissions, but governments attending the UN Environment Programme's 24th governing council settled for partnerships, they said.

"They agreed on an enhanced mercury programme, which will be focused on partnerships between government and industries to reduce emmissions," UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall told AFP.

The next UNEP conference in 2009 will review progress made towards slashing emissions blamed for brain damage as well as water pollution and decided on whether a framework is necessary, he said.

"I am encouraged," Donald Hannah, UNEP special envoy on mercury, told reporters at the end of the five-day conference in Kenya.

"No one said no to establishing a legally binding framework and we decided to work out how and if this system could work and then we can make a decision in a much more informed way," he explained.

Experts say the toxic emissions are by-products of coal combustion used in power generation and in the refining of gold products. Mercury poisoning can result in foetal deformities in pregnant women and neurological damage.

UNEP chief Achim Steiner welcomed the limited progress, but said more action was needed the clinch a legal framework that would make reduction of emissions binding.

"What we have ensured with the decision today is that they can proceed as individual countries, but also with international efforts to work on the issue of mercury while we still look at the final tool," he added.

Activists though said the deal was a setback in efforts to rid the environment of mercury alongside greenhouse gases and lead.

"(The) environment ministers failed to set global demand reduction goals and export bans to reduce the impacts of mercury around the world," said Michael Bender of the Zero Mercury Coalition.

"The steps they agreed on are inadequate to address the urgency of the global mercury crisis," he added.

Experts are concerned about the rising mercury levels in the atmosphere, particularly about the emerging reliance on this toxic compound in developing economies.

They lamented that developing nations were unwilling to push for a treaty.

"Coal (producing) countries, specifically growing economies in southeast Asia and eastern Europe, are seeing increasing levels of mercury but they see a legally binding treaty to cap emissions as a threat to their development," Hannah said.

"These (countries) may end up in mercury-free zones but also in unemployment zones" if a legally binding treaty were to take effect, he said, calling on such nations to back the envisaged treaty.

United States and developing powerhouses India, Brazil and China are opposed to the legal framework and instead prefer voluntary reductions measures.

While Japan, whose staple food is fish -- the most vulnerable to mercury poisonong -- leads other nations in calling for an urgent treaty.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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