Rich countries reluctant to help finance mercury treaty, UN officials say

Jan 17, 2013
A man shows a wooden basin with mercury to find gold in a creek in the mountains of San Juan Arriba, 130 km south of Tegucigalpa, on February 7, 2012. Crisis-weary developed countries' reluctance to help finance a ground-breaking international treaty to rein in the use of health-hazardous mercury is threatening the accord, UN officials warned Thursday.

Crisis-weary developed countries' reluctance to help finance a ground-breaking international treaty to rein in the use of health-hazardous mercury is threatening the accord, UN officials warned Thursday.

"Because of the financial crisis ... there's a showdown taking place here," a UN official said of ongoing negotiations in Geneva, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Developed nations were dragging their feet on the difficult matter of financing, he said, pointing out that several had objected to being asked to foot part of the bill to help the far harder-impacted transition away from mercury.

Delegates from more than 130 countries have gathered in Geneva this week to try to hammer out the world's first legally-binding treaty aimed at limiting emissions the , also known as quicksilver, that affects development of the brain and nervous system and poses the greatest risk to and infants.

Mercury is found in products ranging from electrical switches to thermometers to light-bulbs, to amalgam and even facial creams, and large amounts of the heavy metal are released from small-scale , coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and .

While all participants at the Geneva talks seem to agree the use of mercury needs to be phased out in most products, the negotiations have stumbled on the issue financing and how ambitious the treaty should be in terms of the very pricy transitioning away from the metal in , participants said.

The talks, which are set to wrap up late Friday or early Saturday, are "in the most volatile phase," the UN official said, acknowledging that "there is a possibility that three years of intense negotiations ... could fall apart."

He was especially critical of reluctance to pitch in financially, pointing out that "very little money is being demanded," without mentioning specific numbers.

The developing countries themselves would meanwhile probably cover some 90 percent of the cost to phase out their mercury use, he said.

A participant at the talks, who also asked not to be named, meanwhile described the wealthy nations' foot-dragging as "pitiful", hinting they were only being asked to dish out $30-40 million of the billions it would cost each year to transition away from mercury.

The UN's environment programme stressed in a report released last week on mercury pollution that it is not only a health problem in developing countries with high usage, since the metal has entered the global food chain especially through contaminated fish.

"It's not aid we're talking about here," a second UN official stressed, also lamenting that developed nations seemed to be clutching their purse-strings.

"We're talking about a global health problem."

Explore further: Red tide off northwest Florida could hit economy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

U.N. seeks global pact to curb mercury

Nov 13, 2007

Worldwide government leaders meeting in Bangkok have been asked to step up efforts to develop an international agreement curbing mercury.

Talk of treaty ban on mercury concerns scientists

Oct 21, 2011

(AP) -- Scientists are warning officials negotiating a global treaty on mercury that banning the deadly chemical completely would be dangerous for public health because of the chemical's use in vaccines.

3 Questions: Noelle Selin on curbing mercury

Jun 07, 2010

The first United Nations negotiating session for a global, legally binding mercury treaty begins today in Stockholm. Continuing through Friday, this is the first of five planned negotiating sessions that will ...

Recommended for you

Coral growth rate plummets in 30-year comparison

3 hours ago

A team of researchers working on a Carnegie expedition in Australia's Great Barrier Reef has documented that coral growth rates have plummeted 40% since the mid-1970s. The scientists suggest that ocean acidification ...

Environmentalists and industry duke it out over plastic bags

4 hours ago

Campaigns against disposable plastic shopping bags and their environmental impact recently scored a major win. In August, California lawmakers passed the first statewide ban on the bags, and Governor Jerry Brown is expected ...

Global change: Trees continue to grow at a faster rate

6 hours ago

Trees have been growing significantly faster since the 1960s. The typical development phases of trees and stands have barely changed, but they have accelerated—by as much as 70 percent. This was the outcome ...

User comments : 0