Global Mercury Negotiations
History of the Global Mercury Negotiations
In February 2009, at the 25th Session of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Governing Council, in Nairobi, Kenya, the United States and 140 other countries agreed to begin negotiations on a legally-binding instrument for the global control of mercury pollution. This historic agreement is anticipated to lead to the development of measures to reduce risks from the neurotoxic effects of mercury to United States citizens and to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Negotiations commenced in 2010 and took place through an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) process , which developd a set of approaches to strengthen global action on mercury. From 2010-2013, a total of five negotiating sessions took place, covering the following issues:
- reducing mercury emissions to the air
- reducing mercury use in products, industrial processes, and small-scale mining
- mercury supply, storage, and waste management, and
- delivering technical assistance and finance.
The Minamata Convention will be signed by governments at a Diplomatic Conference in October 2013 in Minamata, Japan.
A United States delegation, including representatives from EPA, led by the U.S. Department of State, participated in the fifth and final round of negotiations to establish a legally-binding convention directed at reducing global mercury pollution. The text of the Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted by delegates from over 140 countries on January 19, 2013, following an intense round of negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland.
Update: The final text of the Minamata Convention on Mercury has been posted by UNEP, along with the report of the final negotiating session.
The Convention will require actions to reduce mercury emissions to the air from power plants and other sources, reduce the use of mercury in products and industrial processes, and to address mercury supply and trade. In addition, it contains provisions to address the severe and growing problem of mercury use in artisanal gold mining.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the environment and poses a major public health threat, particularly for children, women of child-bearing age, and populations such as those in the Arctic and elsewhere that rely heavily on fish and marine mammals as part of their diet. Mercury warrants global attention due to its ability to be transported for long distances, its tendency to bioaccumulate in the food chain and persist in the environment for long periods of time, and its significant negative effects on human health and the environment. According to some estimates, global sources contribute at least 70 percent of total mercury deposited in the United States.
The Convention is named after the Japanese city of Minamata, which experienced a severe, decades-long outbreak of mercury poisoning after industrial wastewater from a chemical factory was discharged into Minamata Bay. The wastewater contained methyl mercury, a highly toxic mercury compound, which bioaccumulated in fish and shellfish in the bay. Local people who consumed seafood from Minamata Bay became very sick, and many died.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury will be opened for signature by governments at a Diplomatic Conference in October 2013 in Japan. It will enter into force once 50 countries have ratified it or otherwise agreed to be bound.
Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Program, which convened the negotiations, said, “After complex and often all night sessions here in Geneva, nations have today laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized for well over a century.”
“Everyone in the world stands to benefit from the decisions taken this week in Geneva-- in particular the workers and families of small-scale gold miners, the peoples of the Arctic and this generation of mothers and babies and the generations to come,” he said.
Fernando Lugris, the chair of the negotiations, said: “Today in the early hours of 19 January 2013 we have closed a chapter on a journey that has taken four years of often intense but ultimately successful negotiations and opened a new chapter towards a sustainable future. This has been done in the name of vulnerable populations everywhere and represents an opportunity for a healthier and more sustainable century for all peoples.”
- Learn about the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) mercury negotiations process.
- Explore EPA's leadership and specific activities in the Global Mercury Partnership.
- Interested in becoming a partner? See Information for New Partners at UNEP Global Mercury Partnership.
- Our work on the international stage to control mercury use and emissions is an important complement to our strong domestic actions on mercury.
- UNEP Global Mercury Partnership
- United Nations Environment Program Global Atmospheric Mercury Assessment: Sources, Emissions and Transport (2008)
- Decisions adopted at the 25th Session of the UNEP Governing Council (see Decision 25/5, Chemicals including Mercury)
For additional information on EPA's work with mercury, contact:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2670R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460