LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News Vol 3 no 2 Autumn 1995 ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Lead petrol phase out decision at
UN Commission on Sustainable Development

Representatives of the NOO Earth Summit Watch who attended the third session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UN CSD) from 11th-28th April 1995 in New York called on the Lead Group for help. Jacob Scherr and Jared Blumenfeld of Earth Summit Watch wrote that the Australian Leaded delegation was the sole exception to full CSD acceptance of a proposed decision on leaded petrol. The proposed decision was basically that those countries who had developed action plans for leaded petrol phase out as well as international financial institutions should assist developing countries in various ways to bring about a global phase out of leaded petrol.

Blumenfeld reported that the Australian delegation raised a series of procedural objections. They misrepresented Australia's won efforts to reduce leaded gasoline at home as inconsistent with the language of the proposed decision. (One of the members of the delegation admitted to us that their concerns were a "red herring".) They said that they would be willing to negotiate, but proposed as a substitute that nations "develop appropriate national programs to address all hazardous chemicals, including lead."

The LEAD Group then wrote a media release and a fax to environment minister John Faulkner who was attending the UN CSD meeting in New York making the following points:

  • The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) is one of the outcomes of the Rio Earth Summit of three years ago, which some commentators have criticised as a continuation of the talkfest. The proposed global phase-out of leaded petrol, without increasing aromatics, and preferably through the use of biomass ethanol, is being hailed by NGO observers at the UN, as the first real actionable decision on the part of participating nations, as opposed to general statements about the environment unbacked by real commitment.

This is why the actions of the Australian Ambassador for the Environment, Penny Wensley, and her team, in raising what are piffling and nit-picking objections to the statement calling for a phase-down of lead in petrol, are so disappointing

As well as petrol, the phase-out would apply to lead in paint, in food and beverage containers and drinking water, if the Australian Environment Minister, John Faulkner, can in the final days of the CSD Meeting, turn around the growing concern of other nations, that Australia bows to domestic vested interests on environmental matters.

It is a great pity that Australia, which acted so decisively at home in the past - for example, being one of the first countries to legislate for all new vehicles to run on unleaded petrol after 1986 - should now appear in the international arena as blocking decisions with such significant implications for public well-being, particularly that of millions of young children.

The eyes of the world are again on you Mr Faulkner, this time over the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development proposed decision regarding global phase-out of leaded petrol.

Both Graham Richardson's world-beating legislation [that all new vehicles in Australia should run on unleaded petrol after 1986] and the huge consensus forged by Ros Kelly's Lead Roundtable in July 1993 [that speeding the phase out of lead in petrol was the priority for lead risk reduction activities in Australia], have brought substantial progress at home in reducing the lead content of petrol, and resulting exposures to our children and the environment.

We are thus puzzled as to why the Australian delegation at the CSD did not support the international consensus, including all developing countries, to reduce the health and environmental harm caused by leaded petrol.

We urge you to make Australia's stand at the CSD consistent with what we are doing at home, and in so doing, you will be making an even bigger contribution than either of your predecessors. Any other course of action would make Australia appear hypocritical and damage our nation's reputation as a global environmental leader.

We trust that you, Mr Faulkner will act to secure our nation's support for this vital global initiative.

On May 1st Jacob Scherr and Blumenfeld wrote to the LEAD Group "thanks so much for your quick action which helped to completely turn around the Australian delegation. Around 4am - a few hours after we spoke - they dropped all of their procedural objections. In fact ambassador Penny Wensley then took the lead in gaining a consensus with the G-77 [Group of 77 developing countries] and the EU [European Union] on the language - for which we expressed to her our appreciation.

"We plan to monitor the implementation of this decision, and would welcome your further co-operation. Below is the excerpt from the final decision from the Commission on Sustainable Development regarding the phase out of leaded gasoline. We were very pleased with this language, which, by UN standards, is highly specific and prescriptive."

Excerpt from the final decision from the Commission on Sustainable Development

The Commission takes note of the initiatives of the Summit of the Americas (Miami, 9-11 December 1994) and the follow-up US and Mexico hosted International Workshop on Phasing Lead out of Gasoline (Washington, D.C., 14-15 March 1995), in particular the efforts by developing countries and the commitments made by countries in the Western Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas to develop action plans to achieve a phase out of the use of lead in gasoline.

The Commission calls upon all countries to consider and all interested countries to develop action plans with a view to phase out or reduce the use of lead in gasoline, and invites them to inform the CSD of their decisions and progress as appropriate at the fourth session of the Commission in 1996 To this end, in the context of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, donor countries and international financial institutions should assist developing countries in the financing and transfer of relevant technologies in accordance with Chapters 33 and 34 of Agenda 21. furthermore, developing countries are encouraged to disseminate their acquired knowledge, including the use of biomass ethanol as an environmentally sound substitute of lead in gasoline. The Commission further calls upon countries to guard against the replacement of lead in gasoline with the excessive use of aromatics that are also harmful to human health.

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