The United States has secured international consensus to develop a new, legally-binding agreement on mercury. The agreement came at the conclusion of the United Nations Environmental Programme biennial Governing Council session and Global Environmental Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, on February 20th. It is a major step forward in protecting human health from this toxic metal.
"Mercury poses a serious threat to public health in communities around the world," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "The world's environmental leaders agreed that we must take immediate action to reduce mercury emissions."
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Reifsnyder headed the U.S. delegation to Nairobi. He notes that "many have called for a legally binding agreement on mercury," and "the United States joins that call."
Discussions to develop a comprehensive mercury agreement will begin this year and aim to conclude in 2013 with provisions to reduce mercury from sources such as products and industrial processes, coal fired power plants, and mining through a combination of legally binding and voluntary commitments. In the meantime, efforts to reduce mercury will continue through the UN's Global Mercury Program and Partnership, which were re-endorsed at the Governing Council session in Nairobi.
The U.S. has been a strong supporter of both these programs. We have contributed over $5 million to the Partnership and are pleased with the significant work done by the United Nations Environmental Programme and its Global Mercury Partnership.
As Nancy Sutley, environmental adviser to President Barack Obama, noted, "It is hard to miss the significance of the fact that one month to the day after the President was inaugurated, the United States led an effort to secure international consensus on the fact that we must take immediate action to reduce mercury emissions across the globe."
This agreement between the United States and 40 other countries marks a major step forward in protecting human health from a deadly environmental threat.