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Summary of the First Conference of the Parties for the Minamata Convention on Mercury

24th-29th September, Geneva, Switzerland.

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) closely followed the First Conference of the Parties for the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP1) in Geneva, Switzerland, 24th-29th of September 2017 and intervened as appropriate[1]. We were pleased to see the COP1 reached consensus on pending matters from prior meetings of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC) which resulted in establishing an effective Convention operational framework for achieving significant mercury reductions.

Our main priorities for COP1 included adoption of forms and guidance that was approved at INC 7, and addressing the issues of reporting, waste thresholds, interim storage guidelines, effectiveness evaluation, and matters for future action, which included the following decisions.

  • Article 3 guidance on identifying mercury stocks, and the forms/instructions for complying with mercury trade consent and related certification requirements;
  • The product and process exemption forms and associated register of exemptions under Article 6 of the Convention; a registrar will be kept by the Secretariat and these will also be available to the public
  • Article 8 (air emissions) guidance on BAT/ BEP, options for existing facility control requirements, preparing emissions inventories, and selection of “relevant sources” within the specified source categories; and
  • The Guidance for preparing the ASGM National Action Plan (NAP) under article 7.

COP1 also saw significant progress concerning various other ZMWG priorities, including :

Reporting:          Forms were adopted for use by Parties to report back on the measures undertaken to meet Convention obligations and on the effectiveness of those measures.  In particular, ZMWG most welcomed the decision for a shorter reporting cycle for supply and trade, reporting per year data on a biennial basis. For other obligations, Parties will report every four years. It was also agreed that each Party will submit its first biennial report by 31 December 2019 and its first full report by December 2021. Parties are also encouraged to submit an electronic form,  and the Secretariat is requested to make the Parties electronic reports available.

Furthermore, it was agreed that Parties would provide access to their data related to mercury emissions, under Article 8. Parties would also provide the rational on how they plan to ensure that facilities responsible for at least 75% of the emissions from a source category are subject to controls.

Waste Thresholds:          COP1 established an intercessional work group to further elaborate on waste thresholds, building on a document introduced by Japan. As recommended by NRDC/ZMWG, the terms of reference for the working group were focused more on determining which mercury wastes warrant thresholds rather than assuming thresholds are appropriate for all wastes. The expert group will identify the types of waste that fall within the categories specified in paragraph 2 of Article 11, provide related information; prioritising the types of waste identified that are most relevant for the establishment of waste thresholds, and identify possible approaches to establishing any needed thresholds for those prioritised waste for consideration at COP2. We were also pleased to see COP1 approving the participation of civil society within the working group, another ZMWG priority.

Interim Storage:                             COP1 requested the Secretariat to undertake further revision of the draft guidelines through input from relevant experts, including technical experts from the Basel Convention and present a revised draft for consideration at COP2. Provisional use of the current draft guidelines is encouraged.

Effectiveness Evaluation:             COP1 adopted a draft road map for establishing arrangements both for providing comparable monitoring data and elements of an effectiveness evaluation framework, as ZMWG had sought.  To that end an ad hoc group of experts was established including 25 experts nominated by the Parties – 5 per region, as well as 10 civil society experts, including NGOs, as observers.

Matters for Future Action (Article 3) - (Article 14):              Several matters were brought up for consideration. Under Article 3, trade in mercury compounds was one of several issued identified for future consideration by the COP. In regards to Article 14 – Capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer, Parties and other stakeholder were invited to submit relevant information on capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer for the Secretariat to compile and present at COP2.

Despite progress made, challenges remain, both related to the location and structure of the Minamata Convention Secretariat and the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the financial mechanism of the Convention with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The Secretariat will be temporarily located in Geneva, with further review of arrangements at COP2.

In summary, the final road map is now in place to ‘zero down’ global mercury pollution, but critical work remains.   ZMWG looks forward to a productive second meeting of the Conference of the Parties, which will be held in Geneva 19-23 November 2018.   

[1] All ZMWG interventions are available on our website http://www.zeromercury.org/index.php?option=com_content&;;view=article&id=309:unenvironment-minamata-mercury-cop1-24-29-september-2017-geneva-switzerland&catid=54:developments-main-category&Itemid=104

Mercury Fact sheet PDF Print E-mail
Article Index
Mercury Fact sheet
Mercury sources, uses and emissions(2)
Mercury exposure and effects

Mercury is highly toxic, causing damage to the nervous system at even relatively low levels of exposure. It is particularly harmful to the development of unborn children. It collects in human and animal bodies and can be concentrated through the food chain, especially in certain types of fish. The Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection has recommended that women who are breastfeeding or who are or might become pregnant should limit their consumption of large predatory fish, such as swordfish, shark, marlin, pike and tuna.

It is well known that mercury has no respect for national or regional boundaries, travelling long distances through the atmosphere, and has contaminated both the European and global food supplies at levels posing a significant risk to human health, according to the World Health Organisation, food safety authorities, medical and public health professionals around the world. Even the arctic, which has no sources of mercury pollution, is experiencing dangerous levels of contamination in its marine mammals and other species which are part of the food supply.

The chemistry of mercury and its forms in the environment(1)

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and exists in different forms. In pure form it is known as “elemental” or “metallic” mercury (Hg(0) or Hg0). Mercury is rarely found in nature as the pure, liquid metal, but rather within compounds and inorganic salts. Mercury can be bound to other compounds as monovalent or divalent mercury (also expressed as Hg(I) and Hg(II) or Hg2+, respectively). Many inorganic and organic compounds of mercury can be formed from Hg(II).
Several forms of mercury occur naturally in the environment. The most common natural forms of mercury found in the environment are metallic mercury, mercuric sulphide, mercuric chloride, and methylmercury. Some micro-organisms and natural processes can change the mercury in the environment from one form to another.

Mercury is mined as mercuric sulphide (cinnabar ore). Through history, deposits of cinnabar have been the source ores for commercial mining of metallic mercury. The metallic form is most simply refined from mercuric sulphide ore by heating the ore to temperatures above 540º C. This vaporises the mercury in the ore, and the vapours are then captured and cooled to form the liquid metal mercury.
Elemental mercury is a shiny, silver-white metal that is a liquid at room temperature and is traditionally used in thermometers and some electrical switches. If not enclosed, at room temperature some of the metallic mercury will evaporate and form mercury vapours. Mercury vapours are colourless and odourless. The higher the temperature, the more vapours will be released from liquid metallic mercury. Some people who have breathed mercury vapours report a metallic taste in their mouths. Elemental mercury in the atmosphere can undergo transformation into inorganic mercury forms, providing a significant pathway for deposition of emitted elemental mercury.

Inorganic mercuric compounds include mercuric sulphide (HgS), mercuric oxide (HgO) and mercuric chloride (HgCl2). These mercury compounds are also called mercury salts. Most inorganic mercury compounds are white powders or crystals, except for mercuric sulphide, which is red and turns black after exposure to light. Some mercury salts (such as HgCl2) are sufficiently volatile to exist as an atmospheric gas. However, the water solubility and chemical reactivity of these inorganic (or divalent) mercury gases lead to much more rapid deposition from the atmosphere than for elemental mercury. This results in significantly shorter atmospheric lifetimes for these divalent mercury gases than for the elemental mercury gas.

When mercury combines with carbon, the compounds formed are called "organic" mercury compounds or organomercurials. There is a potentially large number of organic mercury compounds (such as methylmercury, dimethylmercury, phenylmercury, and ethylmercury); however, by far the most common organic mercury compound in the environment is methylmercury. Like the inorganic mercuric compounds, both methylmercury and phenylmercury exist as "salts" (for example, methylmercuric chloride or phenylmercuric acetate). When pure, most forms of methylmercury and phenylmercury are white crystalline solids. Dimethylmercury, however, is a colourless liquid.

The most common organic mercury compound that micro-organisms and natural processes generate from other forms is methylmercury. Methylmercury is of particular concern because it can build up (bioaccumulate and biomagnify) in many edible freshwater and saltwater fish and marine mammals to levels that are many thousands of times greater than levels in the surrounding water.

Being an element, mercury cannot be broken down or degraded into harmless substances. Mercury may change between different states and species in its cycle, but its simplest form is elemental mercury, which itself is harmful to humans and the environment. Once mercury has been liberated from either ores or from fossil fuel and mineral deposits hidden in the earth’s crust and released into the biosphere, it can be highly mobile, cycling between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere. The earth’s surface soils, water bodies and bottom sediments are thought to be the primary biospheric sinks for mercury.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 July 2010 16:40