Author Archives: Danya Rumore

About Danya Rumore

I am a PhD student in Environmental Policy and Planning in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. I am also a researcher for the MIT Science Impact Collaborative and an affiliate of the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My research and work focus on building consensus and supporting collaborative problem solving in the context of science-intensive environmental planning. Currently, I am the Project Manager for the New England Climate Adaptation Project, a research initiative focused on supporting collaborative climate change adaptation in coastal New England communities.

Insights from INC5 (from Danya)

by Danya Rumore

It’s a little more than a week after the completion of INC5, and I find myself reflecting on the insights I gained from the UN mercury negotiations in Geneva as I travel back to Cambridge via train. That brings me to my first important insight:

  • In stark contrast to public transportation in the US, Swiss trains and buses are—true to the stereotype—perfectly on time. If the train is scheduled to depart at 9:13am, you better be on the train by 9:12:45am. As fellow team member Leah Stokes unhappily learned, if the bus is more than a minute or two late, it probably won’t come for a while: there is almost certainly a crisis on the bus line.

As I look back, I am amazed by how intense the week of INC5 was. Hence, insight number two:

  • Being a delegate at international environmental negotiations is not for the faint of heart. Not only is it critical that delegates be on their game, constantly aware of what is going on in the negotiations and ensuring that they are advocating for their nation’s or organization’s interests, but they also end up basically living in the convention center for the week. After the first day, the negotiations generally continued late into the night or early into the following morning, making for 14+ hour days. Add to this the jet lag most delegates put up with as they travel from place to place, and you’ve got a pretty daunting, albeit potentially rewarding, job description.

In sum, our experience at INC5 convinced me that being a delegate might not be for me. However, watching the INC5 play out, talking to scientists on the scene such as David Evers and Celia Chen, and constantly reflecting on the negotiations with my MIT team members made me ever-more committed to working at the intersection between science and policy. Another take-away from INC5:

  • Effectively integrating scientific knowledge into policy making, particularly at the international level, remains a significant challenge. We need people who can effectively “advocate” for the appropriate use of science in informing political decisions.

While at INC5, I also discovered that, even if the negotiations seem to progress at a glacial pace, you really must remain attentive and pay careful attention to things as they play out. First off, if you don’t, you might miss some excellent analogies and metaphors (such as the nations’ “tangoing” metaphor during a technical working group session). More importantly, it only takes one delegate saying one sentence (such as “we’d like to strike ‘mercury compounds’ from that sentence”—see Mark’s and my blog for more about this) to entirely change the dynamic of the debate. Since careful attention to the proceedings is really quite important if you are to make sense of the seemingly slow but yet dynamic negotiations, here’s another insight:

  • If you hope to have even the faintest idea of what is really going on in the negotiations, don’t offer to manage the team’s blog and/or communications strategy. While I was entirely honored to be a blog manager for our team and honestly wouldn’t have had it otherwise, I finally had to accept that I would be lost for at least most of the discussions. Thank you to my team for keeping me abreast of what was really happening!
Sweet energy for delegates

Sweet energy for delegates

Another theme that stands out as I reflect on the week of INC5 is the amazing hospitality of the Swiss. From the much-anticipated Swiss Breaks (which far exceeded our expectations with fire-melted raclette, ceviche, wine, and even Heidi and Peter) to the omnipresent and much appreciated “Sweet energy for delegates” (i.e., little chocolates freely available throughout the week) to the surprise late night pizza and sandwich deliveries that sustained delegates as they negotiated into the wee hours: the Swiss definitely hosted a good INC5 party.

Raclette at a Swiss Break

Raclette at a Swiss Break

In addition to being entirely enjoyable, this hospitality appeared to serve the very critical function of bringing people together outside of the formal negotiations, building personal relationships to facilitate cooperation and collaboration, and keeping people feeling energized and appreciated so that they were willing to push through the late nights and challenging hours of the negotiations.  Another take-away:

  • Many important compromises and agreements are made outside of formal deliberations. Additionally, getting people to converse in informal settings can lead to the generation of new alternatives and possible solutions. Therefore, host nations should seriously consider throwing a good negotiations party.

A final and perhaps most important insight from our INC5 experience has less to do with what we took away from the negotiations and more to do with what we brought. Our team of ten graduate students and Professor Noelle Selin was utterly fantastic, as was our support crew back in Cambridge. Through this experience, I have developed a new cohort of brilliant, passionate colleaguesIMG_1718 and inspirational friends. I will forever appreciate the many things I learned from my conversations with fellow team members (did you know that polar bears’ fur is transparent?). I also fully intend to follow up on the crazy but amazing ideas we collaboratively generated (Science Train, anyone?).  And I can hardly believe how much fun we had—highlights include: making snow angels with fellow team members sometime after midnight while in our professional attire; laughing out loud with every reply to our “INC5 Playlist” email chain; and ongoing Heidi-related hilarity. In sum, a final point of reflection:

  • In negotiations—and in general—your team matters. Be thankful when you’ve got a good one.

Thanks to the National Science Foundation for funding this amazing learning and professional development experience, to Professor Noelle Selin for making it happen, to our amazing MIT Mercury team for all of the shared learning and fun times, to everyone who has offered their support and encouragement and/or has read our blog throughout the last couple of weeks.

The INC5 Playlist…Because Every UN Conference Needs a Soundtrack

by Danya Rumore

It’s Day 5, and we’re in what could be considered the “meat and potatoes” of the INC5 mercury treaty negotiations. With only one—or possibly two—days to go, the pressure is on.

Perhaps this is why the UNEP Convention gods (or whoever decides these things) chose to play Queen’s “Under Pressure” over the loudspeakers at the end of Tuesday’s afternoon plenary session. A stark contrast to the relatively quiet dispersal that often follows the plenary sessions, the sudden blast of music startled many of us MITers out of our late afternoon stupor. And as we filed out of the plenary room—amused by the not-so-subtle musical message—we had an epiphany: INC5 definitely needs a playlist.

This conclusion has become even more obvious throughout the negotiation proceedings of the last two days: “Under Pressure” has been played repeatedly before and after the plenary sessions.  It seems that UNEP either has yet to download iTunes or they’re seriously in need of some musical inspiration.

Thankfully, we’re here to help. Who better to consult on music than a team of nerdy MIT PhD and Masters students?

So here it is: our crowd-sourced recommendations for the INC5 negotiation’s playlist, as well as some guidance for the appropriate moments in which they should be played.


The INC5 Playlist:

  1. Under Pressure” by Queen—as the UNEP has figured out, this song is basically always appropriate in a final treaty negotiation. The Freddie Mercury connection is also amusing.
  2. Running on Empty” by Jackson Brown—to be played during sessions going later than 11:00pm, particularly those starting after 11:00pm.
  3. We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles—to be played at the beginning of each contact group, particularly those that have been stuck on the same issues for multiple sessions.
  4. Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin—to be played whenever one party has stated the same point 3 or more times.
  5. You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones—to be played as a reminder that, well, you can’t always get what you want.
  6. I Heard It through the Grapevine” by Creedence Clearwater Revival—to be played in the interpreters’ booth (look for Julie van der Hoop’s upcoming blog on this topic, you’ll see what we mean!)
  7. Fernando” by ABBA—to show our fondness for INC5 Chair Fernando Lugris
  8. If I Had a Million Dollars” by Barenaked Ladies—to be played during all financial assistant discussions.
  9. Heat of the Moment” by Asia—to be played as the negotiations get intense; it’s amazing what happens when things get intense.
  10. The Final Countdown” by Europe—to be played during the last 24 hours of the negotiation.
  11. If an agreement is reached:Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis –triumphant celebration!  If not:  “Disappointment” by the Cranberries—you get the message.

Bonus Tracks

Just in case no agreement is reached by the end of the day on Friday and we need a little extra musical inspiration:

  1. Spectacles” by Jenna Lindbo—to inspire some cooperation (the refrain is “”Do you wonder what things look like in other people’s eyes? I’ll take off my spectacles and give yours a try. You should put on mine. I think you might be surprised to see what the world looks like through someone else’s eyes”)
  2. Mercury Poisoning” by Graham Parker and the Rumour—to motivate some action on a really important issue.
  3. Running out of Time” by Hot Hot Heat— to remind the delegates that, well, they’re running out of time.

What else should be on the INC5 playlist? If you’ve got any ideas for other tunes to include, post a comment below and let us know!



Issue Overview: Mercury Waste

by Danya Rumore and Mark Staples

Danya and Mark here. During the INC5 negotiations, we’re covering issues related to mercury waste, mercury trade, and artisanal and small scale-gold mining (ASGM). We’ll be providing overviews of each of these issues separately, to make them more digestible. Here, in the first of our three Issue Overview installments, we provide an explanation of the mercury waste issue, what is already included in the draft treaty text about this issue, and what is likely to be discussed—and hopefully decided—in the week ahead.

The use of mercury in products and processes has a long history, with evidence of human use of mercury dating as far back as 5000 BCE.

Although awareness of the health and environmental impacts of the toxic metal has resulted in reduced use of mercury in many industries, it is still present in many products and processes, including light bulbs, cosmetics, and chlor-alkili production. Many mercury-containing products eventually end up in landfills or other waste sites, and leftover mercury compounds from industrial processes often enter the waste stream. When deposited in landfills, mercury-containing waste, over time, releases mercury into the environment. More problematically, incineration and the combustion of mercury containing waste can result in a sudden and significant release of mercury directly into the atmosphere. According to the UNEP Global Mercury Assessment 2013, waste-related sources made up approximately 5% of global anthropogenic emissions in 2010.

While mercury in the waste stream is a pressing issue, the good news is that solutions are available. Controlling and reducing the use of mercury in products can prevent mercury from entering the waste stream in the first place. Since significant amounts of mercury already exist in products and waste, efforts to capture, contain, and recycle mercury-containing wastes are necessary.  Such efforts are already underway, such as the US EPA’s fluorescent lamp recycling program and guidelines in case of releases and spills. Further, emissions controls on waste incinerators can greatly reduce mercury output from waste combustion and should be implemented wherever possible.

During the INC4 negotiations in Uruguay, progress was made on the question of how to address mercury waste in the globally binding agreement. Most prominently, the draft treaty text includes the provision that all parties to the agreement shall take appropriate measures to manage mercury waste in an environmentally sound way, in accord with the Basel Convention. This part of the treaty seems to be generally accepted, although the question of how to manage the transport of mercury across international boundaries in circumstances where the Basel Convention does not apply remains unresolved.

On Monday, the articles of the draft text relevant to mercury waste were introduced in the plenary session. Switzerland, with support from the EU, called for bringing all definitions and procedures for the trans-boundary movement of mercury in line with the Basel Convention. Lebanon expressed a desire for standards specific to mercury waste disposal, and Chile called for a more clear definition of “mercury wastes”. Additionally, whether and how to make parties who have not signed or ratified the Basel Convention comply with transboundary waste movement regulations was discussed.

The draft treaty also includes text related to the identification and management of sites contaminated by mercury. This topic appears to be much more contentious than the topic of waste management. While the draft treaty includes language indicating that action shall be taken to reduce the risk presented by contaminated sites, it remains to be seen whether capacity building and financial and technical assistance will be a necessary condition of including this in the agreement. In the plenary, Japan requested deletion of the capacity building and assistance provision, while Brazil, Iran and Morocco called for its inclusion.

At the conclusion of the plenary session on the second day of official negotiations, the Chair elected to move discussions of the treaty articles on storage, waste, and contaminated sites to the contact group for selected technical articles. Before addressing these issues, the contact group must first work through the products and processes articles. For now, storage, waste, and contaminated sites are on hold. We anticipate they will be picked up again late Tuesday evening or, more likely, early in the day on Wednesday.

As developments emerge, we’ll be posting updates here on our blog and via twitter @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore.  Stay tuned!

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 1—Sunday, January 13

by Danya Rumore

The fifth meeting of the International Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury (INC 5) officially began yesterday on an overcast, chilly day here in Geneva, Switzerland.

The morning began with a demonstration by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), an organization working for a toxics-free future, at 8:30am. Their main concern: the treaty should be called “A Global Mercury Treaty”, not “A Minamata Convention”, because this treaty may not be sufficient to prevent future mercury-related health tragedies like that experienced in Minamata, Japan.

Following IPEN’s demonstration, we spent about 15 minutes trying to find our way to the third floor balcony in the labyrinthine International Conference Center. Finally making our way through the maze of stairs, hallways, and doors to the NGOs nosebleed seats (to use another attendee’s term), we sat down to enjoy the traditional yodeling session that kicked off the day’s official events.


At 9:30am, the yodeling ceased and the plenary session began.  The session started with the opening ceremony, in which the attendance of about 900 delegates from 140 countries was noted and INC Chair Lugris urged participants to focus on finding consensus. While languages from around the world were spoken on the floor, everything was translated into English (and numerous other languages) and transmitted to participants through headphones available at each seat.


Then came the delegates’ opening statements. In statements ranging from 2-20 minutes, delegates gracefully thanked the Chair for his work, expressed their appreciation for Switzerland hosting the meeting, and made clear their positions on the treaty. I think we were all somewhat amazed by how not surprised we were by nations’ and NGOs opening statements; they were more or less exactly what someone familiar with the issues on the table would expect (opening statements are detailed in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) newsletter).  However, we were a little surprised—and quite amused—by the Philippines delegate’s mention that he hoped Chair Lugris enjoyed his recent holiday in the Philippines, to which the Chair replied that he did.

Opening statements continued until a little after 1:00pm, when everyone filtered out of the stadium-style plenary room, down the maze of stairs, to the host country’s welcome lunch reception. Despite having to fight against apparently hungry delegates to get food, we enjoyed a buffet including everything from cold cuts and salads to potato soup with truffle oil. We also enjoyed live Swiss music from a band of two musicians dressed in traditional Swiss garb (one barefoot) playing zithers with a third musician, wearing a black suit, playing a bass (it was an interesting trio, but the music was excellent).


Amid the music and buffet, we mingled with delegates and other NGO representatives, talked about our poster with people passing by our table, and discussed the happenings of the morning. Then we loaded up on dessert and plenty of coffee to get us through the afternoon session, and we returned to the plenary for a discussion of the draft treaty text.

The afternoon plenary began with a discussion of the treaty’s preamble, during which delegates proposed adding a direct mention of Minamata, referencing indigenous peoples, including health impacts, invoking the precautionary principle, and bringing the polluter pays principle into the preamble’s language.

Following discussion of the preamble, the plenary moved on to the topic of products and processes (watch for Bethanie’s and Ellen’s upcoming blog on this topic). After much debate about Articles 6, 7, 8, and 8b, it was decided that a contact group would meet in the evening to continue discussion of this topic area.

Before breaking for dinner, the delegate from Saudi Arabia represented the interest of the everyone at the conference by making the statement “We seem to be having problems with the internet…” At a paperless meeting where all documents are shared over the intranet, good internet connection is a non-negotiable issue.


Following a dinner break (i.e., a time to search for outlets in order to charge our laptops), our MIT team divided into two groups: one group returned to the plenary for the discussion of financial and technical assistance and the other group went to observe the contact group discussion on products and processes.

In the contact group on products and processes, the debate about Articles 6, 7, and 8 continued, with the US and Canada largely dominating the conversation. While some progress was made before the close of the session a little after midnight (see ENB newsletter for more details), much work remains to be done on the subject of products and processes.

In the plenary, the discussion about financial and technical assistance was largely dominated by a sharp divide between 1) the nations that love the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the nations that do not love the GEF, and 2) those that want technology transfer and those that are seemingly unwilling (or, as many developed nations put it, not able) to provide it.

The conclusion of the plenary discussion, ending late in the night, was that a contact group would meet today to continue discussion on Article 16 (technical assistance and, possibly, capacity building) but not Article 15 (financial resources and mechanisms). For now, the contentious Article 15 is on hold, and the first item on the agenda for the plenary during day 2 is emissions and releases.

So concluded Day 1 of the INC5 negotiations and, as I write this, day 2 is in full swing. Check out Ellen’s blog on “What to expect from day 2” to learn more about what’s coming up in today’s negotiations.