Pre conference conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant

This is a brief summary of the Press Conference that preceeded the Mercury 2013 conference in Edinburgh (28 July – 2 August 2013 Scotland).
mercurypconf

Panel members: Loic Viatte, Swedish Ministry for the Environment, Dr Lesley Sloss, Chair of Mercury 2013 and Principal Environmental Consultant at IEA Clean Coal Centre and Lead – Coal Mercury Partnership area at the UNEP, John Topper, Managing Director, IEA Clean Coal Centre and Managing Director of the GHG Group, Dr David Piper, Deputy Head of the Chemicals Branch of UNEP’s Division of Technology Industry and Economics, Michael Bender, co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group, Eric Uram, Executive Director of SafeMinds, Prof. K. Clive Thompson, Chief Scientist at ALcontrol Laboratories UK.

The panel discussed the progress of legislation to reduce emissions from coal-fired power stations and Dr Lesley Sloss explained that, whilst mercury-specific legislation may take 5 to 10 years to be implemented in Europe, control technologies which can reduce mercury emissions by around 70% are already being utilised in many countries as part of initiatives to lower emissions for pollutants such as particulates, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. However, it was suggested that some developing countries and emerging economies may choose to implement these technologies as part of their commitment to the Minamata Convention.

rialtasalbaIn advance of the Press Conference, Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Government Minister for Environment and Climate Change, issued the following statement:“An international conference of this stature puts Scotland on the world stage and demonstrates the important part we are playing in addressing global issues.
“Sound science, strong evidence and engaged citizens means properly informed choices and effective action on the ground and this is essential if the harmful effects of mercury pollution are to be reduced.
“This event is a key part of the journey to a new legally binding international agreement – and Scotland should take great pride in being at the heart of that process. I’d like to warmly welcome all of the 850 delegates from over 60 countries to Edinburgh and wish them every success as they progress this crucial agenda.”

Discussing the different priorities for the week’s conference, Michael Bender said “Mercury knows no boundaries which is why it has been necessary to develop an international convention.” One of the main sectors facing a mercury emissions reduction requirement is illegal artisanal gold mining, but this is a challenging social issue because gold mining is the sole source of income for many of these miners. Enforcing legislation could have very serious social consequences. In contrast, the coal industry, responsible for around 25% of the global emissions from human activities, around half of that from artisanal gold mining, is easier to regulate so this is often regarded as a more tempting target for guaranteed results.

Michael Bender also referred to the benefits of trade barriers which are beginning to halt the flow of mercury between countries, so there is a need for this trend to continue and for more chain of custody regulations.

The panel explained the need to ‘’think globally, act locally” – to acknowledge that mercury distributes itself around the globe with no respect for national borders but to appreciate that all countries may play their part to clean up their own back yard.

One of the priorities will be to address the mercury issues that are the quickest and easiest to address; the low-hanging fruit. The panel felt that this would be the products that contain mercury; especially in the healthcare sector (thermometers and similar instrumentation) because of its ‘do no harm’ ethos and the increasing availability of alternative methods and instruments.

One of the most important issues in delivering the aims of the Convention is ‘political will’ to drive change. For example, the election of President Obama was seen as a significant moment in the development of the Convention because he had already addressed mercury issues earlier in his political career. David Piper said that the support of the United States was very significant in the development of the Minamata Convention.

Michikazu Iseri from the Kumamoto Daily News in Japan asked the panel if NGOs are likely to be disappointed with the Convention, but Michael Bender from the Zero Mercury Working Group (an international coalition of over 100 NGOs) said that, whilst many of them might have preferred greater rigour in the terms of the convention, the overall reaction was very positive because the Convention combines both a financial mechanism and a compliance mechanism. David Piper agreed, describing the Convention as a ‘giant step forward’ but Lesley Sloss said the challenge now is to flesh the convention out with more ‘what and how’ detail.

The final question referred to the adoption of low energy compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) that contain a small amount of mercury; whilst helping to lower energy usage, they contribute to mercury emissions. Responding, David Piper said that he did not expect this to become a significant issue since these technologies are likely to be replaced with even more environmentally friendly options in the near future.

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