News

Countries commit to eradicate pollution at UN Environment Assembly

December 7, 2017

Small-scale gold miner next to tailings pile in Peru
Small-scale gold mining's role in mercury pollution was one topic covered at the 2017 UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, where the world's Environment Ministers gathered to commit to and find solutions for a world free of pollution. For the first time at a UN Environment Assembly, environment ministers issued a declaration declaring that nations would honor efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater, and oceans.

The world’s Environment Ministers gathered at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi this week to commit to and find solutions for a world free of pollution.

According to UN Environment, over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials, civil society representatives, activists and celebrities gathered at the summit, which ran for three days. 

For the first time at a UN Environment Assembly, environment ministers issued a declaration. This declaration said nations would honor efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater, and oceans – which harms our health, societies, ecosystems, economies, and security.

As the Assembly closed December 6th, UN Environment said, two and half million pledges from governments, civil society, businesses, and individuals were made. If all commitments are met, 1.49 billion more people will breathe clean air, 480,000 km (or around 30 percent) of the world’s coastlines will be clean, and USD 18.6 billion for research and development and innovative programs to combat pollution will come online.

Chile, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka all joined the #CleanSeas campaign, which is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies, targeting industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products, and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits before irreversible damage is done to our seas. The campaign now includes 39 countries. 

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) supports the #CleanSeas campaign, and over the course of the year has committed to several initiatives to help clean up oceans and conserve them for future generations. This includes the the Meloy Fund for sustainable fisheries and the Blue Abadi Fund that will help protect Indonesia’s vast marine resources. 

The GEF and UN Environment have been working together since the GEF’s inception over 25 years ago. Together, the organizations have invested over $1.6 billion to help 160 nations tackle the challenges of climate change, manage harmful chemicals, cut emissions, preserve forests and protect biodiversity.

“More than just a financial mechanism or a partnership agreement, the Global Environment Facility sits at the very heart of global action to protect and restore our environment,” wrote Erik Solheim, UN Environment Executive Director in a recent edition of Our Planet magazine. “The GEF is the foundation stone of much of the current global action, supporting multilateral environmental agreements to make a real difference to people’s lives, and enabling direct action on the greatest threats to our shared future,” he wrote.

In line with its role as a financial mechanism of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the GEF is also helping countries address the effects and risks that mercury contamination poses to human health and the environment.

“Mercury use and emissions are tied to many of our key economic activities, including the production of commodities such as gold, the generation of energy, and the production of plastics and cement, all important parts of the modern life,” said Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO and Chairperson.

To address one of these key economic activities, the Convention aims to regulate and eliminate, among other things, the use of mercury in artisanal mining. The GEF addresses this issue through the Global Opportunities for Long-term Development (GOLD) in the Artisanal Small Gold Mining Sector program.

Through UN Environment, UNDPUNIDO and CIthe GEF will provide funds in countries with a sizable gold mining sector, where many artisanal miners still rely on mercury for gold extraction. Through GOLD, governments can support artisanal and small-scale enterprises by creating policies and market incentives, and connecting them to international markets and supply chains that favor gold which uses less or no mercury in its extraction. 

At the first Conference of the Parties (COP1) to the Minamata Convention on Mercury in September 2017, the GEF premiered the documentary Making Mercury History, which presents the challenges and possible solutions to eliminating the use of mercury in key economic activities that present a threat to the global environment.