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Action on Chemicals Pollution and Support for Africa Agreed at End of Global Environment Ministers Meeting

10.02.2003


Action on Chemicals Pollution and Support for Africa Agreed at End of Global Environment Ministers Meeting



UNEP’s 22nd Governing Council Starts Making Johannesburg Plan of Implementation Operational


A global crackdown on mercury pollution, an agreement to help rescue the environment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and assistance for small island states to reduce their vulnerability to climate change, were among the key agreements made at the end of an international environment ministers meeting.


Over a thousand delegates and more than 130 nations attended the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said at the close: “ The level of attendance, the intensity of the negotiations and the fruitful outcome of our 22nd Governing Council undeniably underlines the growing importance of the environment, and its role in delivering, sustainable development”.

“It also underlines the importance that governments attach to our work in a wide range of fields. I have been particularly delighted to see the level of support given to the meeting from our host country. The Vice-President of Kenya, Michael Wamalwa, spoke at the opening of the ministerial session and we have been graced by the presence of not only the environment minister and his assistant minister but Kenyan ministers from areas such as trade and energy,” he said.

“The presence of President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and his commitment to the environment component of the New Partnership for African Development only goes to further underscore Africa’s commitment to UNEP, and UNEP’s commitment to this Continent,” said Mr Toepfer.

Nations today re-emphasized their commitment to Africa and the environmental part of NEPAD and urged UNEP to work closely with not only governments on the Continent but bodies such as the specialized committees of the African Union, the African Development Bank and other UN organizations.

The mercury decision follows discussions on a global assessment report, compiled by UNEP and experts and presented to delegates earlier in the week, which highlighted the threat to humans and wildlife from this persistent, health-hazardous, heavy metal.

Countries agreed that ‘there is sufficient evidence of significant global adverse impacts from mercury and its compounds to warrant further international action to reduce the risks to human health and the environment”.

Under the action plan agreed today, UNEP has been asked to assist all countries, particularly developing ones and countries with economies in transition such as former states of the Soviet Union, in a wide ranging initiative to cut emissions of mercury from sources such as coal-fired power stations and incinerators.

Measures may include advising countries on cleaner coal methods, improving the efficiency of power stations and advice and help on switching to other forms of electricity generation including renewables such as wind and solar power. Assisting countries on reducing other sources and causes of mercury pollution, including contaminated waste sites, dental amalgams and equipment, will also be part of the plan.

The agreement also calls for UNEP to help develop public awareness programmes to alert the public to the risks, especially vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and babies and workers and communities involved in small-scale gold and silver mining.

Mr Toepfer said: “We have been meeting to make the Plan of Implementation, agreed five months ago at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), operational. In Johannesburg, it was agreed that by 2020 chemicals should be used and produced in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment. This decision on mercury sets us on course for delivering that in respect of one of the most worrying heavy metals”.

Today delegates also welcome the progress in phasing out of lead from gasoline and emphasized the need to press ahead with similar phase-outs in other areas such as paints and household water pipes.

Countries backed a new effort to strengthen environment laws and their use especially in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. The initiative, which has grown out of the Global Judges Symposium held at WSSD, aims to boost knowledge of environment laws among judges, prosecutors and other relevant individuals and groups.

One of the most intensively debated issues concerned the setting up of an Inter-governmental Panel on Global Environmental Change (IPEC). It was decided to invite governments, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations and scientific bodies, to submit their views to the Executive Director on issues, such gaps in knowledge in global environmental change. A report on these submissions will be prepared and submitted to the Global Ministerial Environment Forum next year.

Nations also gave backing to more research by UNEP in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on the links between environment and cultural diversity.

A rescue plan for the environment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories was also agreed. (Please see UNEP News Release 2003/11 posted on www.unep.org today)

Nick Nuttall | alfa

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