Remarks by Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP, at the Fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury zo, jan 13, 2013

The task is to finalize a mercury instrument and provide an international response to a notorious heavy metal whose impacts on human health North and South, East and West are well known and well documented.

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His Excellency Mr. Bruno Oberle, State Secretary, Directorate Geneva for Environmental Assessments, Federal Office For the Environment

Mr. Lugris, Special Representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Environmental Affairs of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay and Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee

Ministers and Ambassadors

Distinguished Delegates

Ladies and Gentlemen

Your meeting here this week marks the end of a journey that began in earnest almost four years ago when, at the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council, ministers responsible for the environment gave the green light to negotiate a global, legally-binding treaty on mercury.

That sense of excitement, that moment of responsibility and the courage shown then should be the guiding stars for this fifth and final negotiation.

As should the science and the impacts on our citizens and economies: because often in international negotiations the reasons why a treaty is needed can get lost in the minutiae and detail.

Only a few days ago in Nairobi, UNEP launched a report Time to Act and before you is the companion report the Global Mercury Assessment 2013.

  • Both reports underline a myriad of reasons why this week should be a resounding success given the opportunity to lift a range of serious and significant health threats from the lives of millions upon millions of people world-wide and babies yet to be born.

There is every reason to be optimistic and constructive-substantive progress has been made on a range of issues via the previous four negotiations and intersessionals.

The text of the Chair here in Geneva proposes a way forward for outstanding ones which will, as is usual in any international negotiation, require some heavy lifting and above all flexibility over the coming days.

Honourable delegates,

often with environmental issues we need to make a cost benefit analysis of options and actions.

Are the benefits of such and such a chemical or process bigger than its costs to human health or ecosystems or not?

We are not in the same space in respect to mercury.

To put it bluntly, mercury is a substance that is far more harmful than beneficial to us, and the harmful effects have been well recognized for more than a century.

Activities to bring down mercury releases and emissions are already underway-including ones under the Global Mercury Partnership.

There is also progress in assisting the government of the Kyrgyz Republic in respect to primary mining of mercury.

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining is an important economic activity, which can contribute directly to poverty alleviation and regional well-being.

However, it needs to be less hazardous to workers and their families and there are many ways by which this can be done.

  • The Blacksmith Institute for example has been piloting a device called a retort in Indonesia that can reduce air borne emissions of mercury in this informal sector by perhaps as much as 95 per cent it is claimed-it costs just $5.

Meanwhile assistance is being provided to governments to develop inventories of their main national mercury sources-vital base line data that will be key to the success of the new treaty.

Honourable Delegates,

The task this week is to finalize a mercury instrument and provide an international response to a notorious heavy metal whose impacts on human health North and South, East and West are well known and well documented.

Negotiations often can boil down to finance-a tough topic in a world where large parts of the global economy are still in economic and financial crisis.

But time and time again, when the numbers have been crunched we have often seen investments in a healthier and more environmentally sustainable world paying back with interest and with dividends.

  • Whether it be the climate protection benefits and technology leaps generated by action under the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer.

  • Or the global phase-out of leaded petrol which, according to some estimates is saving the global economy over $2 trillion a year in reduced health care costs, improved productivity as a result of improved IQ and even perhaps reduced criminality.

  • Or many of the findings from the UNEP Green Economy report that provided analysis to governments and Heads of State at Rio+20

Let me conclude by thanking those countries and donors that have provided financial support to ensure the organization of the committee sessions and the secretariat's inter-sessional work.

At the reception hosted by the Government of Switzerland at lunchtime, through the "Mercury Awards" ceremony established by the UNEP Deputy Executive Director at the first session in Stockholm, we will be recognizing the individual Governments and organizations that have contributed, financially or in other ways, since the third session to ensuring the successful outcome of these negotiations.

Honourable Delegates,

If the media coverage from the launch of various mercury-related reports over the past few days is the litmus test, then the eyes of the world are on this meeting.

Exposing babies and mothers via contaminated fish or other mercury sources is a cruel and increasingly unnecessary risk given the science and knowledge we have and in a world rich in alternative processes and technologies.

This fifth and final negotiation comes just weeks before the 27th session of the UNEP Governing Council-the first ever to be held under universal membership as a result of the decisions by Heads of State at Rio+20 last June.

Positive environmental change is underway in support of a sustainable 21st century-the challenge is to scale it up and to accelerate.

Positive steps are also being made in respect to mercury-a global, legally-binding treaty is the catalyzer and the accelerator that can make the difference for tens upon tens of millions of lives.

I look forward to welcoming all of you to Nairobi in February confident that we can also welcome a new instrument for sustainable development as a result of your negotiations here in Geneva.

Thank you

 
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