UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Forum Rediscovers Responsibility for Environmental Pillar of Sustainable Development
Nairobi, 9 February 2007--An enhanced programme to reduce health and environmental threats from toxic mercury pollution was agreed by 140 governments at the close of an international gathering of environment ministers. The decision includes developing partnerships between governments, industry and other key groups to curb emissions of the heavy metal from power stations and mines to industrial and consumer products. After two years, governments will gauge its success and reflect on whether the voluntary initiative has worked or whether negotiations should commence on a new international and legally-binding treaty. The mercury decision, along with 15 other key decisions, was made on the final day of the United Nations Environment Programmes (UNEP) Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum. Part of the new programme may mirror a successful UNEP-coordinated partnership to clean up vehicle fuels in developing countries. In four years this voluntary partnership, launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, has phased out another notorious heavy metalleadfrom petrol pumps across sub-Saharan Africa. Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: The mercury decision, along with ones on water, municipal waste and monitoring the state of the global environment to technology support and capacity building for developing countries under the Bali Plan, underlines a new determination by environment ministers to rise to the challenges of our time. For too long environment ministers have met and spoken but their collective voice has not been loudly and decisively heard in the world. This, I believe has changed at this 24th session of the UNEP Governing Council, he added. Mr. Steiner said the new momentum was partly driven by growing global concern over the impacts of globalization and climate change and partly by a new understanding, cemented at the meeting, of the economic importance of natural or nature-based assets.
Ministers brought forward creative and constructive ideas and proposals on how to maximize the benefits and minimize the environmental risks of globalization and booming international trade onto a more sustainable and intelligent path which is vital if the Earths resources and life support systems are to survive and thrive, he said.
The 16 decisions, including the one on mercury, came after five days of discussions against the backdrop of United Nations reform and the request of governments and the Secretary General to deliver as one.
It also came against the backdrop of growing momentum among nations to dramatically improve international environment governance including strengthening UNEP as the global authority and environmental pillar of sustainable development.
Mr. Steiner said it was therefore significant that governments agreed to increase UNEPs core biennium budget from $144 million to $152 million.
He said it was equally significant that the GC/GMEF was attended by the heads of the World Trade Organisation, the UN Development Programme, the UN Industrial and Development Organization and World Tourism Organisation.
During the week UNEP and UNDP launched a new Poverty and Environment Facility underlining growing cooperation between both bodies. It builds on a recent agreement to build the capacity of developing countries to adapt to climate change and access carbon funds under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.
We were also joined by the two UN ambassadors from Mexico and Switzerland who are spearheading the environment governance reform discussions in New York. I am sure that they will take back a great deal of new thinking which will guide and inspire them in their important work to a satisfactory conclusion, said Mr. Steiner.
Other decisions taken include one to ask the UN General Assembly to declare 2010-2020 as the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification.
The Billion Tree Campaign, launched at the recent climate change convention meeting held in Nairobi, also received a boost during the GC/GMEF.
Close to 90 million trees were promised including a plantings pledge of 45 million trees by Cameroon; Haiti, one million; Myanmar, 20 million and Venezuela, 20 million. Pledges also came from Kenyan groups including youth networks.
This brings the total number to over a quarter of a billion trees putting the campaign, aimed at empowering governments to the grass roots to take practical steps to fight climate change, on track to the one billion goal.
Notes to Editors
Details of the 24th Session of the UNEP GC/GMEF, including the global civil society forum held prior to the session and speeches available at:
UNEPs Mercury Programme
UNEPs Global Mercury Assessment Report, published in 2002
For more information, please contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP spokesperson, on Tel +254 207623084, Mobile +254 733 632755 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNEP News Release 2007/08