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India fight rich nations on mercury emissions

Just not carbon emissions, India is fighting to protect its economy from new salvo of rich nations to bring down mercury emissions from thermal plants and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

delhi Updated: Nov 22, 2011 19:18 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Just not carbon emissions, India is fighting to protect its economy from new salvo of rich nations to bring down mercury emissions from thermal plants and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

Most of the mercury emissions are coal fired thermal stations and from use of mercury in products such as thermometers and CFLs. Annual mercury emissions are estimated to be between 4,400 to 5,700 metric tonnes with 53 % being from Asian countries.

China is the biggest mercury emitter followed by India and United States. Emissions of China are more than double of India and US combined.

High exposure to mercury could lead to cancer and recent study by non-government organization Toxic Link has found that Indian CFLs don't confirm to international standards on mercury.

Impact of mercury emissions has caught imagination of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which wants an international protocol to reduce mercury emissions by 2013.

The negotiations for the new protocol have become another warring zone, other than climate change, between the developing and the developed world. Rich nations want developing countries to reduce emissions seen as another attempt by the developed world to check economic growth of the developing world.

India has refused to accept any emission cuts or phasing out of mercury from its products until the rich countries are willing to provide money for it. "We want the Montreal Protocol type arrangement where the rich nations paid for phasing out ozone depleting substances," an environment ministry official said.

Montreal protocol is described as one of the most successful international environmental agreements where the target to phase out chemicals termed bad for ozone layer have almost been phased out. It happened because rich countries provided finance or incentives for it.

The new mercury protocol is being seen as a direct assault on growing economic power of two biggest mercury emitters India and China highly dependant on thermal power. "The cost of phasing out mercury emissions would double generation cost," the official said.

Another area of concern for India is absence of proven technologies on trapping mercury emissions from thermal plants. India also believes that phasing out of mercury from thermometers and reducing mercury in CFLs will not be possible unless finances are provided for the same.

The Indian negotiators are at recent negotiations made country's position clear that they cannot agree for any protocol unless international funding is provided and action on emission should be voluntary in nature.