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New treaty’s entry into force set to curtail global mercury crisis, say NGOs


“While there are alternatives to mercury, there are no alternatives to global cooperation,” said Michael Bender, coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group. “Mercury respects no boundaries and exposes people everywhere”
“Only a global pact can curtail this dangerous neurotoxin.”

In October 2013 the convention text was adopted and signed by 128 countries, but would not take legal effect until at least 50 countries had ratified it formally.  This milestone was reached in May of this year, and the convention enters into force today 16 August. 

“We are now on the right track,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Project Manager, European Environmental Bureau and ZMWG co- coordinator. 

“Over time, the Convention is expected to provide the necessary technical and financial resources to reduce the risk of exposure to mercury worldwide. Governments must therefore move swiftly towards efficient implementation of the Treaty’s provisions”.

The aim of the Convention is "to protect the human health and the environment” from mercury releases.

The treaty holds critical obligations for Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.  In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.

The First Conference of the Parties will take place from 24 to 29 September 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.  Over 1,000 delegates and around 50 ministers are expected to assemble in Geneva to celebrate and lay the groundwork for the treaty’s overall effectiveness.

The Minamata Convention joins 3 other UN conventions seeking to reduce impacts from chemicals and waste – the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.


For more information, see:




Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Project Coordinator ‘Zero Mercury Campaign’, European Environmental Bureau, ZMWG International Coordinator
T: +32 2 2891301,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Michael Bender, ZMWG International Coordinator, T: +1 802 917 8222,   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Notes to the editors:

Mercury is a global pollutant that travels long distances. Its most toxic form – methylmercury - accumulates in large predatory fish and is taken up in our bodies through eating fish, with the worst impacts on babies in utero and small children. 

*The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project.  ZMWG strives for zero supply, demand, and emissions of mercury from all anthropogenic sources, with the goal of reducing mercury in the global environment to a minimum.  Our mission is to advocate and support the adoption and implementation of a legally binding instrument which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury, the global demand for mercury, anthropogenic releases of mercury to the environment, and human and wildlife exposure to mercury.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe's largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations, standing for environmental justice, sustainable development and participatory democracy. Our experts work on climate change, biodiversity, circular economy, air, water, soil, chemical pollution, as well as policies on industry, energy, agriculture, product design and waste prevention. We are also active on overarching issues as sustainable development, good governance, participatory democracy and the rule of law in Europe and beyond.

We have over 140 members in over 30 countries.

EC register for interest representatives: Identification number 06798511314-27
International non-profit association - Association internationale sans but lucratif (AISBL)

Home Our work at UNEP Level Towards a Mercury Treaty
Report from the Zero Mercury Working Group representation at the 24th UNEP Governing Council, 5-9 February 2007, Nairobi, Kenya PDF Print
Friday, 10 September 2010 13:11

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) held the 24th session of its Governing Council (GC) in Nairobi Kenya, February 5-9, 2007. Several topics relating to chemicals management were on the agenda. The topic receiving most attention was international action to reduce risks to human health and the environment from exposure to mercury.

Other topics included action on lead and cadmium, the prevention of illegal international traffic in hazardous chemicals, and the strategic approach to international chemicals management (SAICM).

Organisational Aspects and NGO Participation

Throughout the week, there were two main meetings running in parallel: the Ministerial/Plenary Sessions and the Committee of the Whole(COW). In addition, the Global Civil Society Forum (GCSF) met every afternoon after the main meetings for debriefing and distribution of the badges, which gave NGOs the right to speak. All civil society organisations (CSOs) who were accredited by UNEP could attend all meetings as observers. However if a CSO wanted to make an intervention, the CSO needed to present a badge to the chair in order to be recognized.  Civil society was given 9 badges for the plenary sessions and 9 badges for the Committee of the Whole.  For the ministerial sessions, the sessions were split into 6 roundtables; two badges were available for every roundtable, for a total of 12 badges. The Global Civil Society Forum (GCSF) had agreed earlier that one badge would be distributed among each of the following civil society groups: women, indigenous peoples, industry, local authorities, and trade unions.  The remaining badges where shared by the environmental NGO group, which had the largest representation (the youth NGO representatives gave their badges to environmental NGOs). On the basis of the topics to be covered at each of the meetings, the GCSF distributed badges for the meetings to the persons who were most knowledgeable on the issues and prepared to intervene.

Zero Mercury Working Group Activities on Mercury

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) was represented at the GC meeting by Elena Lymberidi (EEB, EU), Xueyu Li (Global Village of Beijing, China), Zuleica Nycz (Association for the Combat Against POPs, Brazil), Rico Euripidou (groundWork, Friends of the Earth S. Africa), Ravi Agarwal (Toxics Link, India), Michael Bender (Mercury Policy Project, USA), Susan Keane and David Lennett (NRDC, USA), Eric Uram (Sierra Club, USA) and Jack Weinberg (IPEN/HCWH, USA).

As during the last GC meeting in 2005, our group made clear from the very start the reason for its presence. Having such a wide coverage from a geographic point of view – EU, US, India, South Africa, Brazil, and China, made it quite easy to approach all countries interested and involved to the mercury debate.  Throughout the week of the GC meeting, the ZMWG engaged in a range of informal actions to educate delegates and advocate for strong, meaningful action on mercury:

  • On the Saturday 3 February, the ZMWG co-organised a cocktail party for African delegates.  Professor Jamidu Katima, Tanzania, was the co-organiser.  Amongst the people who attended was the Ambassador of Uganda, who was also representing the G77 at the Committee of Permanent Representatives meeting in Nairobi, and who expressed interest on our views.
  • On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (February 4, 5 and 6), regional governmental meetings were held. The Zero Mercury Working Group was invited to brief the African and Latin America Regions on the NGO mercury position. Elena Lymberidi, EEB, on behalf of the ZMWG, presented the NGOs position and answered questions at the African Regional meeting on Tuesday morning, assisted by Rico Euripidou, groundWork and Susan Keane, NRDC. On Tuesday afternoon, Elena gave a presentation to the Latin American group and answered questions, assisted by Jack Weinberg, IPEN/HCWH and Zuleica Nycz, ACPO.
  • A side event was organized on the Mercury Partnership Program. Amongst others, David Lennett, NRDC presented the NRDC project in China on developing a mercury inventory, and also expressed the NGO views on the inadequacy of partnerships as the only means to solve the global mercury crisis.
  • Throughout the week, the Zero Mercury Working Group met with many different governments in bilateral meetings including EU, the European Commission, Uganda, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, South Africa, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, India, Australia, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Russia and others.

The ZMWG also participated formally in both the Committee of the Whole and Contact Group meetings where the discussions and negotiations about mercury occurred.  On Monday February 5, in the Committee of the Whole, the first proposals relevant to mercury were presented.  Three proposals were presented: a joint proposal from Norway, Switzerland, Senegal, Gambia and Iceland, one proposal from the US and one from Canada. Discussion of these proposals took place on Tuesday morning in the COW.  David Lennett, NRDC on behalf of the Zero Mercury Working Group, presented the NGO position on mercury.
During the Tuesday morning session, there was a surprisingly high level of support for a political decision recognizing that global, legally-binding regulations are needed to protect public health and the environment from harm caused by exposure to mercury. The strongest support for global, legally-binding measures came from Switzerland, Norway, the European Union (EU) and the African regional group represented by Uganda. Several African countries – Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Gambia, Kenya, and Morocco -- also expressed themselves separately in support of the legally binding instrument. Others expressing important support included Japan, Brazil, Colombia and Russia. 
With a handful of important exceptions, the G77 countries appeared generally favorable to global legally-binding regulations on mercury providing their important concerns are met. Most prominently, G77 countries sought assurances that sufficient financial and technical support would be available to enable them to implement needed mercury control measures. Many G77 countries also expressed concerns about the burdens that result from a proliferation of global agreements, each with its own international meetings, its own reporting requirements, its own national focal point and national institutional arrangements, etc. Many wanted global action on mercury to be incorporated within existing global instruments or to be closely integrated with them.
Strong opposition to global, legally-binding regulations on mercury came from only a small handful of governments, most notably, from the United States (US), Australia, India and China. Canada was open to legally binding solutions but only if these were also considered together with other voluntary measures.
After the interventions in the COW, a Contact Group was created to deal especially with chemicals issues, primary with mercury. The Contact Group was chaired by Dr. Donald Hannah, General Manager, Environmental Risk Management Authority, New Zealand and Mrs. Abiola Olanipekun, Chief Environmental Scientist, Federal Ministry of Environment and Housing, Nigeria.
The Contact Group met from Tuesday 6 February afternoon until early afternoon of Friday 9 February. In general, direct participation in the Contact Group was largely limited to representatives of governments.  However, where possible and when allowed by the chair of the Contact Group, the views of the NGOs were expressed by David Lennett, NRDC and Michael Bender, MPP.
The Contact Group organized discussions around four proposals officially submitted to UNEP GC:

  • From Norway/Switzerland/Senegal/Gambia/Iceland in EN and in FR – asking for a legally binding instrument and the initiation of an International negotiating committee to prepare this work.
  • From the EU – asking that a working group is created to discuss only legally binding regulations in preparation for a decision in the next GC.
  • From Canada – asking that a working group is created to discuss all options including legally binding instruments, so that decisions can be taken at the next GC.
  • From the US – asking only that partnerships should continue at a global level.

In addition, the NGO position was submitted (with summaries available in EN, FR, D, PT, ES, CHI, and SWA), but since NGOs have observer status only, this position could not be considered as a working document.
The main regions/countries represented at the Contact group were: USA, EU represented by Germany as Presidency (present were Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Netherlands and others), G77 and China represented mainly by Brazil/South Africa/China/India, but also Philippines, Nigeria, Gambia, Kenya, as well as Canada, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, the Environment NGOs, and Industry.
After the first round of presentations and a general brainstorming discussion, the co-Chairs put together a text to reflect the different views, as a basis for further discussion.
This document was circulated to the Contact Group on Wednesday morning 7/2. However, governments expressed strong concerns that many issues were not reflected in that text; the chairs therefore decided to invite governments to submit additional text. As a result new draft text was circulated in the afternoon of 7/2. Finally the text started taking shape. The main points for discussion were:

  • Priorities where action on mercury should be taken – supported by all delegations
  • Request for further reporting on supply, trade, storage and a report on mercury emissions in the air and site based contamination– supported by all delegations.
  • Asking that demand reduction goals should be set – supported by Norway and Switzerland
  • Partnership structure for better results – supported by all delegations
  • The mandate for the ad hoc open ended working group: a) only legally binding regulations (supported by EU/NO/CH/JP/RU/G77 not including India and China) b) all options including legally binding regulations (supported by CA/US/AUS/India/China)
  • Whether the option for the future would be open to other global pollutants of concern. EU/NO and CH supported that there should be an opening for that, whereas US/India/China opposed that strongly)

At the end the delegates agreed on a decision to be reported to the full plenary.

The decision established key priority areas for focus of mercury reduction efforts, but no agreement on goals for reductions in these areas.  The decision also established an international ad hoc open ended working group to explore options for long term international action to reduce risks to human health and the environment from mercury. The working group was instructed to explore options for global legally binding regulations and also options for enhanced voluntary measures. The work of the working group should start immediately – one meeting will take place before the 10th Special Session of the GC (February 2008), and progress will be reported to the 10th Special Session of the GC.  A second meeting will take place before the 25th Governing Council (February 2009) and overall progress of working group will be reported at the 25th UNEP Governing Council meeting with the aim of taking a decision at that time. There was no agreement that whatever solution is decided for the future would be open to include other pollutants.

The report of the Contact Group was presented and adopted by the Plenary directly.  [This action was a deviation from normal procedures: work of the Contact Group should have finished on Thursday, and the report should have first been adopted by the Committee of the Whole, and then by the Plenary.]  During the closing the 24th Governing Council sessions, on February 9, Michael Bender, MPP on behalf of the Zero Mercury Working Group, presented the NGOs reaction to the adopted decision.

The decision document that was adopted by the plenary on the 9 February 2007, can be found here.

Following the closing session, UNEP held a press conference which included comments about the mercury report. The following press releases were published from UNEP:



The ZMWG's first reaction to the decision was made public through the released statement entitled “Mercury still rising! Governments fail to agree on global regulations”.

The ZMWG would like to give a big THANK YOU to all those other representatives of the NGOs, Women, Youth, Trade Unions who supported us and assisted our activities on mercury during the week.

Lead and Cadmium

Governments were generally not ready to agree that there is a need for global, legally-binding regulations on lead and cadmium. Many indicated they believe lead and mercury can be effectively addressed at the national and regional level and therefore do not require global action. Some indicated that further investigations are needed before deciding on whether global action is justified.

Switzerland, Norway and the EU unsuccessfully sought agreement that when a global instrument for mercury is established, it would include provisions to enable possibly adding, at a later time, measures addressing lead, cadmium and other chemicals of global concern.

The GC acknowledged there were data and information gaps identified in the UNEP Interim Scientific Reviews on lead and cadmium, and it agreed further action is needed to fill these gaps. These actions should take into account the specific situation of developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

The GC encouraged efforts by Governments and others to reduce risks to human health and the environment from lead and cadmium throughout their life cycles.

The GC requested the UNEP Executive Director to provide available information on lead and cadmium to address the data and information gaps identified in the Interim Reviews, and to prepare an inventory of existing risk management measures.

Illegal International Traffic

Nigeria presented a resolution to the GC on the prevention of illegal international traffic in hazardous chemicals. The resolution noted the incident of illegal dumping of hazardous waste in Cote d’Ivoire in August 2006, and it recognized that international cooperation between all countries is essential in preventing illegal international traffic in hazardous chemicals.

The GC invited the governing bodies of the Inter-organizational Program on Sound Chemicals Management (IOMC) to consider adopting decisions on the prevention of illegal international traffic in hazardous chemicals. (Note: the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization; the Food Agriculture Organization and others are members of the IOMC.)

The GC called upon Governments to provide UNEP necessary financial and technical resources for activities on illegal traffic. It invited the World Customs Organization to participate in these activities, and it requested a follow-up report by the UNEP Executive Director in one year.


The GC welcomed progress so far in SAICM implementation, especially the establishment of the SAICM Quick Start Program. It expressed appreciation for the co-responsibility of the World Health Organization in the SAICM Secretariat. It urged all stakeholders to integrate the Strategic Approach into their activities as a priority. It urged Governments and others to contribute to the SAICM Quick Start Program and Fund and urged the SAICM Secretariat to explore other financial support opportunities.

8th Global Civil Society Forum

In advance of the UNEP GC meeting, the Global Civil Society Forum (GCSF) met and took up many important topics. A number of NGOs participating in IPEN and in the Zero Mercury Working Group are also active participants in the GCSF.

On topics relating to Chemicals Management, the positions of the GCSF were in close alignment with those of IPEN and the Zero Mercury Working Group.

In relation to chemicals and mercury the Global Civil Society Statement that was agreed in advance of the meeting can be found here. After the discussions during the 8th GCSF a key message was sent to the UNEP Governing Council on chemicals.