Global agreement to reduce mercury is within reach

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

FishDo you think it is only volcanic ash from Iceland that moves freely across national borders on the wind? Wrong. Mercury, one of the world's most dangerous environmental toxins, behaves in a similar way. Therefore, we must all work together to ensure that an ambitious global agreement is reached which will regulate the use of mercury and its release into the environment.

The Nordic countries have endeavoured to boost this important work and made efforts to ensure that such an international agreement is reached at the UN Mercury Conference in Stockholm from 7-11 June.

A Swedish household handbook from 1909 claimed that head lice could be treated by rubbing mercury and fat into the skin. Today we know better: we are aware that mercury is harmful to both health and the environment. The Nordic countries have deliberately limited the use of mercury in several products. However, keeping our own house in order is not enough. Most of the mercury that falls in the Nordic region originates in other countries far from our shores. In order to clean our home, we need a global agreement. Thus, the mercury agreement should be binding in all countries.

Mercury has many harmful effects on our health. Mercury can transform into a highly toxic form - methyl mercury - which then accumulates in, for example, fish and seafood. The population of the Arctic regions, whose diet is largely based on food from the sea, is particularly vulnerable. Research has shown that the babies of women in the Arctic, who are exposed to food with high mercury content, can be born with damage to the central nervous system, which can lead to, for example, impaired learning ability.

Many Nordic initiatives related to mercury have been initiated under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers i.e. jointly by the governments of the Nordic countries. The Nordic countries have a common view of mercury and problems associated with it. The powerful action of the Nordic countries in the global arena helped to unite the world's countries in 2009 to agree on negotiations about a binding global agreement on limiting the use of mercury within the framework of UNEP, the UN environmental programme.

This is an abridged article, signed by the Ministers of the Environment of the five Nordic countries and three Autonomous Territories of the Nordic countries: Karen Ellemann (Denmark), Paula Lehtomäki (Finland), Annika Olsen (the Faroe Islands), Anthon Frederiksen (Greenland), Svandis Svavarsdottir (Iceland), Erik Solheim (Norway), Andreas Carlgren (Sweden) and Katrin Sjögren (the Åland Islands).

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