Global: Environment ministers OK mercury treaty talks
February 20th, 2009
Nairobi, Kenya - More than 140 countries agreed Friday to begin talks on a legally binding treaty to reduce mercury emissions worldwide.
The unanimous agreement, reached at a U.N. gathering of world environment ministers in the Kenyan capital, is a change from previous years, when major powers including the United States, China and India sought voluntary reductions. On Friday, they agreed to consider the binding treaty.
"This consensus is a huge breakthrough," said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group, a coalition of 75 environmental non-governmental organizations.
Formal negotiations on a treaty on mercury are set to begin next year and to conclude in 2013.
Mercury is widely used in chemical production and small-scale mining. The dense, toxic metal persists in the environment once released and can travel across the globe. Mercury collects in some species of fish, prompting health warnings in many countries.
While substitutes exist for almost all industrial processes that require mercury, more than 50 percent of mercury emissions come from coal-fueled power plants, making its regulation politically charged and extremely difficult.
The European Union has banned mercury exports effective 2011. The U.S. has a similar ban that will be effective 2013.