The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The year 2020 is a milestone for the Convention – it is when parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Convention, reflects on its impact.
Mercury has been mined and utilized since ancient times. People used it in burial ceremonies, in paints in their houses, as a sedative, an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive, in cosmetics, to treat syphilis, to name a few. Alchemists believed that mercury was the component in all metals that gave them their “metal-ness.”
The chemical properties of mercury make it popular for many uses. It is the only common metal, which is liquid at ordinary temperature, it has high density and amalgamates easily with many metals, such as gold, silver, and tin.
If only people in the past knew what we know today. Health effects of metal and especially of its more toxic and bio-accumulative form called methylmercury, are devasting. It can damage brain functions, nervous system and is especially dangerous to women and unborn children since it is transmitted through the placenta.
Over the last decades, scientific evidence about the environmental fate of mercury and its compounds has grown tremendously. Past and present human activities have increased total atmospheric mercury concentrations by about 450% above natural levels (UNEP, 2019). Mercury from human activities can now be found in the most remote areas, in marine mammals and fish in the Arctic and at the bottom of the Mariana Trench—the deepest oceanic trench on the planet.
Despite all this evidence, mercury use continues – it is used to extract gold from ore on four continents and in certain products and industrial processes in countries around the world. But the scientific knowledge has not been produced in vain.
In 2013, a new treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, was adopted by a global community under the auspices of UNEP. The Convention is named after Minamata Bay in Japan to remember the lessons of the tragic health damage by industrial mercury pollution in the 1950s and 1960s.
The aim of the treaty is to protect the environment and the human health from anthropogenic emissions and releases of the toxic heavy metal. It regulates the entire life cycle of mercury – its supply, trade, use, emissions, releases, storage, and the management of waste and contaminated sites.
This new piece of international law entered into force on 16 August 2017 and it already has 123 Parties, with new countries joining all the time.
2020 is a major deadline in the Convention. By the end of this year, Parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. These products are in every-day use and include batteries, switches and relays, certain types of lamps, cosmetics, pesticides, biocides and topical antiseptics, and certain types of measuring devices such as thermometers and manometers. Mercury use in two major manufacturing processes, Chlor-alkali industry and acetaldehyde production, is being phased out as well, along with restricting use in other industrial processes.
Science will continue to be instrumental to ensure effective and cost-efficient implementation of the Convention by its Parties. For instance, we know that artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest user and emitter of mercury into the environment globally, accounting for 37% of total consumption and 38% of total anthropogenic emissions in 2015 (UNEP, 2019).
The Minamata Convention Parties work to reduce, and where feasible eliminate, the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, without pushing the often-informal sector underground. This is done primarily through formalization, including improving transparency and accountability in global gold supply chains. ASGM generates income for an estimated 10-15 million miners and another 100 million or more in the secondary economy and is thus an essential focus of economic recovery from COVID-19 and building back better.
Apart from the intentional use of mercury in processes and products, industrial activities to produce power and other commodities are a major source of mercury contributing to air pollution. Mercury emissions can be controlled by a wide range of technologies and best practices, including many which reduce other air pollutants at the same time. Shifting away from coal is an effective measure too.
For many years, four behavioural factors – unhealthy diets, tobacco-smoking, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity – were cited as the top risk factors for non-communicable diseases. In 2018, the United Nations High-level Meeting on non-communicable diseases included air pollution as a fifth risk factor. Non-communicable diseases, respiratory diseases included, currently account for the deaths of seven in every 10 people worldwide. A correlation between the level of air pollution and the number of COVID-19 cases does not come as a surprise (WEF, 2020).
In implementing the Minamata Convention, we are all working to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Coral might be back in once heavily-polluted Minamata Bay in Japan, after decades of restoration. However, Minamata Bay people still suffer from past methyl-mercury poisoning. Building back better is also about creating a world where people can live in good health for generations to come.
We celebrate the third anniversary of the Convention with the great enthusiasm that we can #MakeMercuryHistory.
Global Plastic Action Partnership Making an Impact in Fighting Plastic Pollution
The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) released its second annual impact report, which highlights strides made over the last two years in building coalitions, extending global reach, and helping nations make a difference by confronting plastic waste.
“Plastic pollution was already a global emergency, and with the pandemic-induced explosion in packaged goods, as well as increased of use of single-use plastics through masks, gloves and other PPE, it has become a global disaster,” said Kristin Hughes, GPAP Director and a member of the World Economic Forum Executive Committee. “The good news is that our GPAP 2021 impact report proves that what we’re doing works, and if we act together now, we can halt the plastic pollution crisis in its tracks.”
On the heels of a challenging year dominated by the COVID pandemic, GPAP and its partner governments have met critical milestones, including:
– Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Viet Nam came together as early adopters in the Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership
– Viet Nam pledged to reduce marine plastics by 75% by 2030
– Ghana committed to a 100% circular economy for plastics
– Indonesia’s action and investment roadmap is poised to prevent 16 million tonnes of plastic leakage into the ocean; Create 150,000 jobs; and Generate $10 billion in annual revenues.
Taking collaborative action to tackle plastic pollution
“The Forum’s platform approach aligns various stakeholders from public and private organisations, works toward common objectives, and creates outcomes far greater than could be achieved by any nation or organization acting alone,” said Hughes. “It’s a great honor to lead the GPAP platform, and to see what we can accomplish through the convening power and influence that the Forum brings to bear. Our second annual report shows what can be done and, now more than ever, what needs to be done.”
In the face of global disruption and re-set, GPAP’s initiatives are performing and moving the needle on climate change by promoting a circular economy for plastics. The report outlines key progress in the following impact areas:
Transforming behaviour – GPAP amplified initiatives that help citizens and consumers form more sustainable relationships with plastics
– Raised awareness of the COVID-19 impact on the plastic ecosystem through public town hall communications
– 14 solutions to address plastic waste and pollution were developed in collaboration between government, business, and media influencers on the GPAP platform
– 116 recycling points were identified in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, up from just 10 before the National Plastic Action Partnership was initiated
Unlocking financing – GPAP engaged stakeholders to promote investments that tackle plastic waste and pollution
– $196.7 million was committed by GPAP members to National Plastic Action Partnership countries
– 13 financial institutions engage in GPAP finance events and task forces
– 140,000 people will be reached through financing committed by GPAP partner, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste in Indonesia
– GPAP collaborated with HRH The Prince of Wales Sustainable Markets Initiative to host a Roundtable on Financing Plastic Action in Emerging Markets to unlock opportunities for investing in plastic action
Informing policy – Supporting the collaboration of policy makers with stakeholders to confront plastic pollution, GPAP has established National Plastic Action Partnerships (NPAPs) in Indonesia, Ghana, Viet Nam, and Nigeria
– 57% of GPAP’s members have been involved in government policy consultations; 53% report being involved in corporate policy decisions
– GPAP’s National Action Roadmaps offer a suite of solutions for policy makers to consider when developing plans to address plastic pollution.
Boosting innovation – GPAP created opportunities for high-potential innovators to access partners who are helping to scale their ideas
– Established a platform for connecting innovators, experts, and investors through the Global Plastic Innovation Network in partnership with UpLink where 70+ solutions are now showcased
– Crowdsourced plastic waste solutions in Indonesia and produced videos of innovators engaged in the plastic space, which reached 1.75 million views on social media
Harmonizing metrics – GPAP has facilitated evidence-based, country-level analysis and action planning to create consistent, best-practice frameworks for measuring plastic waste reduction
– Forum research determined that almost 50% of ocean waste can be prevented by reusing only 10% of plastic products (see The Future of Reusable Consumption Models Report)
– Baseline assessments and scenario analyses were completed with Indonesia, Ghana, and Viet Nam to give governments clear evidence and inform action roadmaps
Promoting inclusivity – GPAP maintained its commitment to ensure that diverse voices and inclusive perspectives are integrated across all partnerships
– Established gender-responsive principles for plastic action through GPAP’s Guide to Ensure Gender-Responsive Action in Eliminating Plastic Pollution
– Conducted a ground-breaking Gender Analysis of the Plastics Sector in Ghana
– Brought together key youth leaders through the inaugural Plastic Action Champions cohort
Most agricultural funding distorts prices, harms environment
Around 87% of the $540 billion in total annual government support given worldwide to agricultural producers includes measures that are price distorting and that can be harmful to nature and health.
The report, A multi-billion-dollar opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems, was launched on Tuesday by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Global support to producers in the form of subsidies and other incentives, makes up 15 per cent of total agricultural production value. By 2030, this is projected to more than triple, to $1.759 trillion. The OECD defines agricultural support, as the annual monetary value of gross transfers to agriculture, from consumers and taxpayers, arising from government policies.
Current support mostly consists of price incentives, such as import tariffs and export subsidies, as well as fiscal subsidies which are tied to the production of a specific commodity or input.
The report says these are inefficient, distort food prices, hurt people’s health, degrade the environment, and are often inequitable, putting big agri-business ahead of smallholder farmers, many whom are women.
Last year, up to 811 million people worldwide faced chronic hunger and nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food. In 2019, around three billion people, in every region of the world, could not afford a healthy diet.
Change, don’t eliminate
The reports note that, even though most agricultural support today has negative effects, around $110 billion supports infrastructure, research and development, and benefits the general food and agriculture sector.
It argues that changing agricultural producer support, rather than eliminating it, will help end poverty, eradicate hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, promote sustainable agriculture, foster sustainable consumption and production, mitigate the climate crisis, restore nature, limit pollution, and reduce inequalities.
The Director-General of FAO, Qu Dongyu, said the report “is a wake-up call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support schemes to make them fit for purpose to transform our agri-food systems and contribute to the Four Betters: Better nutrition, better production, better environment and a better life.”
Agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change. At the same time, farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks.
According to the report, “continuing with support-as-usual will worsen the triple planetary crisis and ultimately harm human well-being.”
Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement requires shifting support especially in high-income countries for an outsized meat and dairy industry, which accounts for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In lower-income countries, governments should consider repurposing their support for toxic pesticides and fertilizers or the growth of monocultures.
For the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, “governments have an opportunity now to transform agriculture into a major driver of human well-being, and into a solution for the imminent threats of climate change, nature loss, and pollution.”
From India to the UK
The report shares several case studies, such as the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, that adopted a policy of Zero Budget Natural Farming; or the Single Payment Scheme, in the United Kingdom, that removed subsidies in agreement with the National Farmers Union (NFU).
In the European Union, crop diversification has been incentivized through reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and in Senegal a programme called PRACAS incentivizes farmers to cultivate more diverse crops.
UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, believes repurposing agricultural support “can improve both productivity and environmental outcomes.” For him, this change “will also boost the livelihoods of the 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide, many of them women, by ensuring a more level playing field.”
The report is being launched ahead of the 2021 Food Systems Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, due to take place on 23rd September in New York.
The Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.
Climate Change Could Force 216M People to Migrate Within Their Own Countries by 2050
The World Bank’s updated Groundswell report released today finds that climate change, an increasingly potent driver of migration, could force 216 million people across six world regions to move within their countries by 2050. Hotspots of internal climate migration could emerge as early as 2030 and continue to spread and intensify by 2050. The report also finds that immediate and concerted action to reduce global emissions, and support green, inclusive, and resilient development, could reduce the scale of climate migration by as much as 80 percent.
Climate change is a powerful driver of internal migration because of its impacts on people’s livelihoods and loss of livability in highly exposed locations. By 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa could see as many as 86 million internal climate migrants; East Asia and the Pacific, 49 million; South Asia, 40 million; North Africa, 19 million; Latin America, 17 million; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 5 million.
“The Groundswell report is a stark reminder of the human toll of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest—those who are contributing the least to its causes. It also clearly lays out a path for countries to address some of the key factors that are causing climate-driven migration,” said Juergen Voegele, Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank. “All these issues are fundamentally connected which is why our support to countries is positioned to deliver on climate and development objectives together while building a more sustainable, safe and resilient future.”
The updated report includes projections and analysis for three regions: East Asia and the Pacific, North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It builds on the novel and pioneering modeling approach of the previous World Bank Groundswell report from 2018, which covered Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
By deploying a scenario-based approach, the report explores potential future outcomes, which can help decision-makers plan ahead. The approach allows for the identification of internal climate in- and out- migration hotspots, namely the areas from which people are expected to move due to increasing water scarcity, declining crop productivity, and sea-level rise, and urban and rural areas with better conditions to build new livelihoods.
The report provides a series of policy recommendations that can help slow the factors driving climate migration and prepare for expected migration flows, including:
- Reducing global emissions and making every effort to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.
- Embedding internal climate migration in far-sighted green, resilient, and inclusive development planning.
- Preparing for each phase of migration, so that internal climate migration as an adaptation strategy can result in positive development outcomes.
- Investing in better understanding of the drivers of internal climate migration to inform well-targeted policies.
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