03 Nov 2014 Speech Chemicals & waste

Occasion of the sixth session of the Intergovernmental negotiating committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury

Bangkok, Thailand, 3 November 2014 Your Excellency Mr. Suphot Tovichakchaikul, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand, Your Excellency Ambassador Fernando Lugris, Director General for Political Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay and Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, Ms. Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility , Dear Colleagues from the UN system, Representatives of the Private Sector, NGOs, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, A very good morning to you all, and a very warm greetings from the United Nations Environment Programme. I would like to warmly welcome you to the sixth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Mercury. At the outset, I would like to express my gratitude to the Government and the people of Thailand for hosting us here in this beautiful city of Bangkok. Last night, upon my arrival in Bangkok, I had fish on my plate for dinner. Fish -or shellfish- is what one of my favourite dishes. Fish is a fundamental part of the dairy of people whether they are poor or rich. Whether they live on the coast or inland. Though I eat that fish in full confidence, I was reminded of a striking fact: many doctors today, recommend to avoid certain types of fish due to high mercury levels in particular for women in child bearing age, nursing mothers and young children. This is tragic, this is not right. We have to reverse this logic. Instead of preventing people from fishing, it is of our collective responsibility to fight mercury levels which pollute our oceans, rivers and directly impact our health and livelihoods. In October 2013, Governments took the momentous step to adopt the Minamata Convention on Mercury in Kumamoto, Japan. Building on this remarkable achievement, we have gathered here in Bangkok to provide the Minamata Convention with the tools it needs to become a strong and rapidly operational instrument. Since the adoption of the Convention just over a year ago, a number of countries have continued their efforts to combat the global, regional and national threat posed by mercury pollution worldwide. I commend those countries for their efforts. It is inspiring and rewarding that the changes have begun and that countries are taking responsibility and ownership even before the Convention has entered into force. I believe I can say with certainty that such action is a response to the commitment that governments have shown throughout the negotiations. It is heartening to see the willingness to address the mercury threat of today which has become central in addressing the sustainable development challenges of the future. A renewed political commitment to the convention was demonstrated at a high-level special event held at the UN Headquarters in New York during the opening of the UN General Assembly. We are pleased that it resulted in six new ratifications and 24 further signatories to the Minamata Convention. In particular, I congratulate the seven countries that have deposited their instrument of ratification or acceptance. These are, in the alphabetical order : Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Guyana, Monaco, the United States of America and Uruguay. I also wish to express my thanks to the 128 States and regional economic integration organizations that have signed the Convention during the signature period thereby formally expressing their intent to be bound to its provisions. Ladies and Gentelmen, As many of you may know, the first United Nations Environment Assembly, held in Nairobi in June this year, adopted, among others, a resolution establishing a Special Programme to support institutional strengthening at the national level for the implementation of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, the Minamata Convention and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. This is a universal and unique recognition of the importance governments attach to tackling the chemicals and waste agenda. It is also a reflection of the fact that you, the chemicals and waste community, with your dedication and commitment, have made headway in placing chemicals and waste central in the sustainable development agenda. The Executive Director will shortly be sending out a notification to all Governments about the establishment of the Special Programme. In the same letter, he will spell-out the process for nominations to its Executive Board. This communication will also invite those Governments in a position to do so, to consider contributing to the Special Programme's trust fund. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of consolidating our resource-base to assist countries in need of institutional strengthening to implement conventions and activities that support the protection of human health and the environment from harm that may be posed by chemicals and wastes. I am confident that the Special Programme will constitute a significant tool towards the sound management of chemicals and wastes in an integrated way and that the capacity of developing countries and countries with economies in transition to implement chemicals and waste safety programmes and activities will be reinforced. But resources for sound management of chemicals and wastes, including the Minamata Convention go well beyond the Special Programme. In this regard, I wish to thank the GEF and in particular Naoko Ishii for her efforts in consolidating and thereby strengthening the chemicals and waste cluster under GEF. Naoko's personal commitment has been fundamental in ensuring that the Minamata Convention has a stable and sound financial mechanism through the GEF. Arigatou! Ladies and gentelmen, Before concluding I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to those countries that have provided financial support to support the INC process and to the ratification and early implementation workshops held during the course of the year. I wish to thank the Government of China, for having provided significant financial support, and the Governments of Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and United States of America as well as the European Union for also having significantly supported our work. However- there is always a however when it comes to resources -additional funding is still needed to support the work of the INC as well as activities to assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition in their preparation for ratification of the Convention and implementation of their obligations thereunder. I would like to close by inviting and encouraging all Governments that have not yet done so to expedite their ratification process such that the Convention may enter into force as soon as possible thereby equipping the international community with a strong tool to protect human health and the environment from the dangers of mercury. In addition to being a serious environmental issue, chemicals pollution has human rights dimension as we were reminded of yesterday, by the UN High Commission for Human Rights. I am also reminded that Mercury is one of the top six toxic threats, and is considered one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern by WHO. According to WHO estimates air pollution is causing 7 million premature deaths. Exposures to polluted soil and water caused another 1.4 million deaths in 2012. The total burden of pollution, with 8.4 Million per year is therefore three times higher than that of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Does it mean that the Special Programme will have three times more resources than the Global Fund for HIV, TB and Malaria ? Does it mean that the private sector, especially major foundations will respond in the same way as they did, rightly so, for diseases ? May you work in the next five days in this spirit, not only for you and me, but for humanity? Let all kinds of fish be again healthy to eat. Let the air that we breathe be clean. Let the products we use on a daily basis be free of mercury. Thank you.