ICC “disappointed” by lack of progress in global mercury treaty talks
"Their own population will suffer the same health effects from mercury that Inuit do"
More than 700 representatives from governments and non-governmental organizations met last week at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi to discuss a global treaty on mercury, which they hope to reach by 2013.
But they left Nairobi without any consensus about what needs to be done to reduce the release of mercury into the environment, where it has toxic effects on humans and wildlife
Parnuna Egede, environmental advisor for the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Greenland, who represented ICC at the meeting, felt “very disappointed with the lack of progress on commitments for regulating atmospheric emissions so far.”
The most recent negotiations, which started Oct. 31 and wrapped up Nov. 4, were the third of five sessions to address the release of mercury into the environment.
That release occurs mainly from energy production and industrial activities, small-scale gold mining, consumer goods like cosmetics, medical instruments such as thermometers, and mercury-containing hazardous wastes from batteries and fluorescent lamps.
“Some countries specifically pointed out that if they have to choose between providing energy for their people and worrying about other people having to change their traditional diet, they will select energy for their people,” Egede said in a Nov. 9 news release from ICC. “They don’t seem to understand that their own population will suffer the same health effects from mercury that Inuit do. To provide energy and reduce mercury emissions at the same time does not have to be mutually exclusive.”
The World Health Organization lists mercury as one of the top 10 chemicals of public health concern, because human exposure to mercury can damage the nervous system and cause behavioural disorders.
When released, mercury persists in the environment where it circulates between air, water, sediments and soil, and can enter the food chain through contaminated fish.
Almost all mercury found in Arctic marine mammals, seabirds and freshwater fish comes from industry far to the south, mainly from metal and cement production in east Asia, carried north by winds, ocean currents and rivers.
Duane Smith, president of ICC-Canada, praised Canada and Sweden for pressing “the importance of the Arctic as a sensitive area for mercury pollution” in Nairobi.
“There is a lot of work to do to convince governments such as India and China to take serious action to cut their mercury emissions. Without their commitment to reduce emissions, we will not see any decreases of mercury in the Arctic environment, and the health of our people and millions of people all over the globe will be compromised. We can only hope that the next negotiation meeting will be more successful,” Smith said.
That takes place next June in Punta del Este, Uruguay.