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NAIROBI, 9 February, 2001 - A global study on the health and environmental impacts of mercury is to be undertaken by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) it was announced today.

The study, which will also undertake an assessment of the cost effectiveness of mercury anti-pollution measures and technologies, was one of several important decisions adopted at the close of the twenty-first session of UNEP's Governing Council.

It was also decided "to establish an open-ended intergovernmental group of ministers or their representatives" to examine how to strengthen international environmental governance and the funding of UNEP in the run up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio + 10) to be held in 2002 in Johannesburg.

The first meeting of the new group will take place within three months and is likely to coincide with the meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development taking place in New York in April.

UNEP's 2002-2003 work programme and budget of nearly $120 million was also approved by environment ministers from over 80 countries.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, however, said that to meet the ambitious work programme UNEP needed more financial support.

He said it was vital to broaden the donor base and stressed the need for reliable contributions.

Mr Toepfer said the European Union was responsible for 60 per cent of UNEP's core funding and he thanked Northern European countries, the United States of America and Canada for their support.

Mr Toepfer said he would be working to encourage other States including those in the Arab world to contribute more to UNEP's work.

Among several important decisions on UNEP's chemicals agenda was a new initiative to tackle the issue of lead in petrol and one aimed at getting nations to ratify the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

The Governing Council, which was for the first time in Nairobi, run in conjunction with the Global Ministerial Environment Forum, expressed concern about the "slow progress in ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to the Convention".

Lynn R. Goldman, Professor of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences of John Hopkins University told the assembled ministers that the Convention and the recent Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty covering 12 chemicals brokered by UNEP, were major steps forward in fulfilling the goals of chemical risk reduction.

She said that from a standpoint of public health, especially the protection of children, governments should be encouraged to make every effort to ratify the POPs convention, and that its implementation was critical.

In his closing remarks, Mr Toepfer thanked Laszlo Miklos, the outgoing President of the Governing Council, for his efforts since taking over the role at the 20th session of the Governing Council in February 1999.

David Anderson, the Environment Minister of Canada who was elected as the 21st session's President, summed up the outcome of this week's talks.

He highlighted several key items for special mention.

One was the review of international environmental governance which he said was vital for guiding UNEP's work in the run up to Rio + 10.

Mr Anderson said the agreement to set up the intergovernmental group of ministers was a major achievement and thanked Ambassador Raul Estrada Oyuela of Argentina for his work in reaching a consensus.

"We had a working group hammering out the text. Nobody lost, everybody won," he said.

Mr Toepfer also praised Ambassador Estrada, who was the chair of the Kyoto climate change conference of 1997.

During the talks held in The Hague last year, participants discussed ways of achieving the targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol. However countries failed to reach an agreement.

Mr Toepfer said the best compliment countries could give to Ambassador Estrada was to "ratify the Kyoto Protocol".

Mr Anderson said he had been delighted that the Governing Council had been "inclusive" by involving youth, parliamentarians, children and the private sector as witnessed by this week's Global Compact side event which is an intiative of Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations.

He said that another key agreement made was to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to implement environmental laws within their own domestic legislation.

Mr Anderson said he fully supported funding from the Global Environment Facility to assist developing countries and Economies In Transition in implementing the Rotterdam and POPs Conventions.

Both Mr Toepfer and Mr Anderson highlighted the growing importance of The Internet and telecommunications for raising environmental awareness.

This week UNEP launched UNEP.net, a pioneering "one stop" web based Service that is set to transform the way knowledge about environment and degradation, is disseminated to the world. This was dramatically demonstrated by a satellite link, set up at this week's meeting, to a research vessel skippered by Sir Peter Blake, the world renowned yachstman.

He described in graphic detail how his vessel. located at 71 degrees South and sporting the UNEP flag, was then sailing in clear water in an area previously covered by ice.

Sir Peter linked the dramatic disappearance of the ice to global warming.

For more information please contact Tore Brevik, UNEP spokesman tel, 254 2 623292, Nick Nuttall tel, 254 2 623381, mobile 254 0733 632755, nick.nuttall@unep.org , or Robert Bisset on 254 2 623084, e-mail robert.bisset@unep.org

Official documentation from the Governing Council can be seen on UNEP's web site at: www.unep.org/GC_21st/

UNEP News Release 01/22