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A global agreement to restrict the use of mercury may finally be on the way. The UN’s first intergovernmental Mercury Conference took place in Stockholm this month; the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has released a summary

of the negotiations.

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can have lifelong effects. Nordic countries have the world’s toughest restrictions on mercury;[i] Sweden adopted a ban on mercury last year.[ii] However, mercury emissions readily cross national boundaries, and are notable sources of ocean pollution. Even developed countries, such as Canada and the US, are inexcusably lax about mercury. The Nordic countries are therefore funding five rounds of international negotiations, in the hope of reaching an international treaty to control mercury pollution everywhere.[iii][iv]

Designing a treaty will be challenging, starting with the usual North/ South divide on who should pay for what. The strong connection between mercury and coal also takes the debate into the contentious area of energy supply. The first meeting therefore focussed on a week-long exchange of views on issues such as, supply; storage; use in products and processes; artisanal small scale gold mining; trade; atmospheric emissions; waste and contaminated sites; as well as on compliance. [v]

132 countries participated in the conference.[vi] The second session will be held from January 24 to 28, 2011 in Chiba, Japan.[vii] The sponsors hope to have the text of an agreement ready by 2013.[viii]

References


[i] Nordic Council of Ministers. “More on mercury and the conference”, At http://www.norden.org/en/nordic-council-of-ministers/council-of-ministers/council-of-ministers-for-the-environment-mr-m/events/uns-mercury-conference-in-stockholm-preparation-for-a-global-agreement-on-mercury/more-on-mercury-and-the-conference

.

[ii] Government Offices of Sweden. (June 7, 2010). Global mercury agreement goal for UN process to start on 7 June – Andreas Carlgren to deliver opening address. Ministry of Environment Press Release, At http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/12872/a/147563

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[iii] Nordic Council of Ministers. “More on mercury and the conference”, At http://www.norden.org/en/nordic-council-of-ministers/council-of-ministers/council-of-ministers-for-the-environment-mr-m/events/uns-mercury-conference-in-stockholm-preparation-for-a-global-agreement-on-mercury/more-on-mercury-and-the-conference

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[iv] International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). (June 14, 2010). First Meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury: 7-11 June 2010. Earth Negotiating Bulletin, 28:1-13. Available at http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb2806e.pdf

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[v] PR Newswire. (June 11, 2010). W.H.O. Lauded for Supporting Amalgam ‘Phase Down,’ Ban on Mercury in Skin Cosmetics as Treaty Negotiations Start in Stockholm. At http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/who-lauded-for-supporting-amalgam-phase-down-ban-on-mercury-in-skin-cosmetics-as-treaty-negotiations-start-in-stockholm-96160449.html

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[vi] PR Newswire. (June 11, 2010). W.H.O. Lauded for Supporting Amalgam ‘Phase Down,’ Ban on Mercury in Skin Cosmetics as Treaty Negotiations Start in Stockholm. At http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/who-lauded-for-supporting-amalgam-phase-down-ban-on-mercury-in-skin-cosmetics-as-treaty-negotiations-start-in-stockholm-96160449.html

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[vii] International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). (June 14, 2010). First Meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury: 7-11 June 2010. Earth Negotiating Bulletin, 28:1-13. Available at http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb2806e.pdf

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[viii] Government Offices of Sweden. (June 7, 2010). Global mercury agreement goal for UN process to start on 7 June – Andreas Carlgren to deliver opening address. Ministry of Environment Press Release, At http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/12872/a/147563

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