Mercury Treaty Negotiations Begin in Geneva, Switzerland
By Sharon Khan
[Editor's note: Waterkeeper Alliance's International Director Sharon Khan is attending the mercury treaty negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, and is providing live updates from the conference. For information regarding the mercury treaty negotiations, read Mercury Rising, Political Will Falling by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Marc Yaggi, and the report Global Mercury Hotspots.]
IPEN "Honor Minamata" action as delegates arrive for the opening ceremonies for the mercury treaty negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland.
Waterkeeper Alliance joined other IPEN members from around the world to greet delegates as they arrived for the opening ceremonies of the mercury treaty negotiations. IPEN greeted delegates with a commemorative ribbon and the message to "Honor Minamata" with a treaty to "Resolve Minamata Claims," "Prevent Future Minamatas" and "Reduce Global Mercury Pollution."
After welcomes from our Swiss hosts, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) secretariat, the chair of the negotiations, and a heart wrenching film on the suffering of Mimamata victims, representatives for each region presented their opening statements. All reconfirmed their commitment to work collaboratively to agree to a treaty and reach a speedy conclusion to the negotiations this week. The Swiss delegate said he hopes to be dancing to "heavy metal" music on Friday evening.
Puns and hopes aside, delegates also noted many items to address, including financing for developing countries and small island states that may not have the capacity to implement and enforce the treaty. Other concerns heard repeatedly include the listing of sources of mercury emissions to land and water, with needs and suggestions for clear evidence. There were quite a few more items noted for attention. But will they get the attention they deserve?
At least after only two days here, I am confident that after this week Waterkeeper Alliance will continue to work with even more grassroots advocates around the world for swimmable, drinkable and fishable waters. We share the same strong feelings and commitments to take actions in our local communities. Stay tuned for introductions and more insights into the mercury treaty negotiations.
Here's a statement by Yoichi Tani from the Collaboration Center for Minamata Disease Victims:
IPEN member Yoichi Tani from the Collaboration Center for Minamata Disease Victims delivering keynote address. He said Minamata disease is not over. There have been 65,000 compensation claims filed to date.
Good morning. It is my pleasure to be with you today to talk about the plight of Minamata victims in Japan and my concern about the proposed name for the treaty.
My name is Yoichi Tani from the Collaboration Center for Minamata Disease Victims in Minamata, Japan. My work has been to provide support to Minamata victims and their families for more than 40 years. You may be surprised to know that the tragedy is still happening. In fact, two months ago more than 65,000 victims have applied to the government for compensation under the Minamata Relief Law.
Many Minamata victims are opposed to the proposed name of the Minamata Convention. I also want to inform you that the local authorities from the Minamata City Council have asked that the treaty be given another name.
Minamata victims oppose the name for several reasons. Many authentic victims have been denied recognition. A comprehensive health study of the disaster was never performed. Currently, there is 1.5 million m3 of mercury-contaminated sludge still at the site. How can we in good conscience accept the name Minamata Convention when mercury-related injustices continue to plague Minamata?
The treaty is very weak in addressing contaminated sites. It ignores critical provisions on victim compensation and environmental remediation. This makes it ironic to call it the Minamata Convention. We could simply follow the example of The Biodiversity Convention and the Desertification and Land degradation Convention, and just name it the Mercury Convention.
Finally I want to express my strong support for the GRULAC proposal to have an article 20 Bis on health aspects to ensure a stronger treaty.
We appeal to you at the GRULAC to choose a different name for the treaty. We would like you to consider naming it, the Mercury Convention.
Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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