Group urges DENR to negotiate for strong Mercury Treaty at Geneva meeting

CIVIL society organizations have urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to push for a strong treaty as the intergovernmental negotiation advances to its fifth session next week from January 13-18 in Geneva, Switzerland.

In a letter sent to Environment  and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje and Environmental Management Bureau Director Juan Miguel Cuna, the International POPs  Elimination Network (IPEN), together with the EcoWaste Coalition, expressed concern that the current text of the draft treaty is weak.

“We are writing to express concern that the treaty now being negotiated will likely not be sufficient to prevent future outbreaks of Minamata disease, will not mandate adequate responses to any future Minamata-like tragedy, and will not reduce global levels of methyl mercury pollution in fish and sea food,” the groups said.

IPEN Co-Chair Manny Calonzo said that “unless the weak provisions of the draft treaty are strengthened, it will only be ethical and just that the treaty is not named after Minamata,” he said.

“The treaty has to reflect the lessons learned from the tragedy so that future incidents are avoided, and that victims do not suffer the same treatment and fate as the Minamata victims,” he emphasized.

The proposal to name the global mercury treaty the “Minamata Convention” suggests that this treaty would – at least in part – commemorate and honor the victims of the Minamata Tragedy, the first documented incident of large-scale methyl mercury poisoning in a human population that is referred to as the Minamata disease, he said.

According to the groups, it is essential that Minamata-type tragedies are prevented, for example, by imposing mandatory control on the use of mercury catalysts as in the production of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), and requiring compulsory reporting on emissions and releases from such use.

The groups also noted the weakness in the current proposed provisions on the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), which allows import of unlimited quantities of mercury for use in ASGM with no phase-out date.

In addition, the groups noted the following limitations of the current text proposals:

1. No requirement to clean up a contaminated site because that is voluntary.

2. No requirement for the polluter to pay for clean-up or compensation.

3. No requirement to compensate the victims because the treaty does not contain any measures dealing with compensation of victims.

4.  No requirement for measures to address health, as the entire health section is currently in brackets.

5.  No obligation to include a mercury pollution or poisoning tragedy in a national plan, because National Implementation Plans are optional under current proposals.

6.  No predictable, sufficient, or timely funding to address the problem, as all three words are in brackets in current text.

“We hope that government delegates, including our own, will see the wisdom of incorporating mandatory measures that will effectively control mercury releases from all pollution sources,” said Edwin Alejo, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“We also deem it essential for the principles of precaution and public access to information to be explicitly reflected in the treaty,” he added.

“Mercury pollution represents a large and serious global threat to human health and the environment and a robust and ambitious global response to this threat is needed,” EcoWaste and IPEN said.

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