News

UNEP GC25/GMEF Takes Decisions on Climate, International Environmental Governance and Mercury

25th Session of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum

23 February 2009: Delegates to the 25th Session of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC25/GMEF), which met from 16-20 February 2009, in Nairobi, Kenya, took 17 decisions including on international environmental governance, a significantly increased UNEP budget, support to Africa on climate change, and mercury. In the decision on support to Africa, the GC requests the UNEP Executive Director to work with the UN Economic Commission for Africa to provide technical support to the African Climate Policy Centre once established, and to promote the mainstreaming of climate change into social and economic development processes. On coordination within the UN, the GC welcomes the Executive Director's efforts as chair of the UN Environment Management Group, including in promoting the UN's commitment in moving towards climate neutrality. In addition, the GC approved funding to support climate change activities.

Another key outcome of the meeting was a decision to elaborate a legally binding instrument on mercury, which may have significant co-benefits with the climate regime. 

It is projected that mercury pollution will rise in part as a result of increased coal-burning in Asia, which also causes increased greenhouse gas emissions. Out of the 6,000 tons of mercury entering the environment annually, some 2,000 tons come from power stations and coal fires in homes. There are also growing concerns that, as climate change melts the Arctic sea-ice, mercury trapped in the ice and sediments is being re-released back into the oceans and into the food chain.

The decision (UNEP/GC/25/CW/L.4) established an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to develop a legally-binding instrument on mercury, and states that the INC is to develop a comprehensive and suitable approach to mercury, including provisions to reduce atmospheric emissions and specify arrangements for capacity building. It further states that the INC should consider the following: approaches tailored to specific sectors; achieving cooperation and coordination to avoid unnecessary duplication of proposed actions with provisions in other agreements; and possible co-benefits.

The decision represents the first coordinated global effort to tackle mercury and the proposed legally-biding instrument could include both binding and voluntary approaches, together with interim activities, to reduce risks to human health and the environment.  

An open-ended working group meeting will be convened in the second half of 2009, to prepare for the work of the INC, which will hold its first meeting in 2010, with the goal of completing its work by GC-27 in 2013. The decision also recognizes the mandate of the INC may be supplemented by further decisions of the GC, potentially paving the way to further work on lead and cadmium. [IISD RS Coverage of the Meeting]