UNEP Executive Director Links Mercury Pollution to Climate Change


13 February 2009: UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner linked climate change and mercury pollution in an open editorial in the UK Guardian. The editorial was published prior to the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council (UNEP GC-25), which is convening from 16-20 February 2009, in Nairobi, Kenya.

In the editorial, Steiner highlights the clear and positive links between decisions taken by environment ministers at the Governing Council and the ones to be taken later in the year at the UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen. He notes growing concerns that, as climate change leads to the melting of the Arctic sea-ice, mercury trapped in the ice and sediments are being re-released back into the oceans and into the food chain.

The editorial emphasizes that mercury pollution may be on the rise in part as a result of increased coal-burning in Asia, which also causes increased greenhouse gas emissions. According to the article, around 6,000 tons of mercury enter the environment annually, of which some 2,000 tons come from power stations and coal fires in homes. Once in the atmosphere the toxin can travel hundreds and thousands of miles.

Steiner also discusses the opportunity for countries to take a landmark decision at UNEP GC-25. During the meeting, delegates will discuss a policy framework, representing the first coordinated global effort to tackle mercury, and may recommend the setting up of an international negotiating committee for a legally-binding agreement on mercury.

The draft decision on chemicals (UNEP/GC.25/5) that participants will discuss proposes that the UNEP Executive Director investigate the potential to achieve major reductions in emissions of mercury, including those from coal-fired installations, through the contribution of measures being taken for traditional pollutant control and other initiatives being taken in the context of climate change, and to report to the 26th meeting of the Council in 2011. The draft decision also proposes requesting the Executive Director to establish a programme to monitor global emissions by updating the global emissions report every four years. [The Article] [The Draft Decision]