Tag Archives: partnerships

Forty Years of International Mercury Policy: the 2000s and beyond (Part 3 of 3)

By: Noelle Selin

In previous posts, we looked at the evolution of international mercury policy in the 1970s and 1980s-1990s. By the 2000s, countries began to realize that addressing the mercury problem would require global-scale action.

From the UNEP "Time to Act "report
Timeline of global mercury events from the UNEP “Time to Act” report

The process towards a global treaty began with a scientific assessment report, the 2002 Global Mercury Assessment. A main conclusion of that assessment was that there was sufficient evidence of significant global adverse impacts to warrant international action to reduce the risks to human health and/or the environment arising from the release of mercury into the environment. In 2003, in response to this report, the UNEP Governing Council launched a voluntary programme to address mercury. Between 2003 and 2009, this programme organized a series of awareness-raising workshops, developed guidance and training materials, and established a clearinghouse for mercury-related information. Much of this work was conducted under the auspices of mercury partnerships, which began in 2005 (see our blog post on that topic).

The UNEP Governing Council in 2009 established a mandate to begin negotiations for a global, legally-binding mercury treaty [pdf]. An ad-hoc open-ended working group met to prepare for the beginning of negotiations in 2009 in Bangkok. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee process began with a first meeting in Stockholm in June 2010. A second meeting was held in Chiba, Japan in January 2011, a third in Nairobi in November 2011, and a fourth in Punta del Este, Uruguay in July 2012. We are now in Geneva for the fifth and (hopefully) final session, before a treaty is expected be signed in Minamata, Japan in October 2013. More information about the negotiating process to date is available from the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Where in the World is Mercury? Part 1: The Atmosphere

by Noelle Selin

Mercury is a slippery little element. One of the reasons that it’s the topic of global discussions is that it’s present everywhere on earth. Mostly, this is a result of human activities, both past and present. Mercury concentrations, though, can be higher in some places than others. Identifying where the problem is, and tracking it through time, will be important scientific tasks as implementation of an eventual treaty moves forward. Here’s a quick summary of what we know about mercury concentrations worldwide, beginning with mercury in the atmosphere.

Mercury in air, which exists primarily as elemental mercury, is present throughout the globe. Since mercury remains in the atmosphere for 6 months to a year after it is emitted, it has plenty of time to circle the globe. Typical concentrations of mercury in surface air are about 1.6 ng/m3, but can be substantially higher near sources. Atmospheric measurements can be used, along with models, to monitor changes in mercury atmospheric loadings and help validate emissions estimates. Much activity in this area has been prompted by the UNEP Mercury Air Transport and Fate Research partnership area (for more on the UNEP mercury partnerships, see our earlier post).

Concentrations of mercury in the air are measured at the ground (at land-based stations and on ocean cruises), on mountaintops, and from airplanes. A key project in this area is the Global Mercury Observation System, which aims to establish a worldwide monitoring system for mercury in air and precipitation. A figure of the distribution of stations is below.

GMOS ground-based monitoring sites

GMOS ground-based monitoring sites

Additional measurements are available from the Canadian Atmospheric Mercury Measurement Network (CAMNet) and the U.S. Atmospheric Mercury Network (AMNet), as well as from individual scientific studies. Measurements of mercury in precipitation are conducted in the US by the National Atmospheric Deposition Program’s Mercury Deposition Network and in Europe by EMEP.

A recent example of mercury measurements from a ship cruise is the global circumnavigation of the Galathea 3 [pdf]. From aircraft, mercury is routinely measured as part of the CARIBIC experiment, in which air pollution monitors are included on Lufthansa commercial planes. In addition, research aircrafts studying pollution also measure mercury. The ARCTAS aircraft campaign in 2007-2008 focusing on Arctic pollution included mercury in its measurements, and in the summer of 2013, the North American Airborne Mercury Experiment (NAAMEX) campaign will fly as part of a larger campaign on the NSF C-130 aircraft (picture below). I will be providing modeling support for the NAAMEX campaign, along with MIT students Amanda Giang and Shaojie Song, in collaboration with the University of Washington.


Don’t wait for the treaty! Voluntary action through Mercury Partnerships

Here in Geneva, governments are negotiating a global, legally-binding mercury treaty, and lots of discussions are going on about what governments will commit to doing in the future. But even though the treaty is still not complete, governments and others have been working to address the mercury problem on a voluntary basis since 2005, in part through so-called mercury partnerships. These partnerships include seven priority action areas, each focusing on a main sources of mercury. Here are links to information about the partnership areas:

Current partners include governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and others.  A list of the current partners is available here.  Individuals or entities who would like to become partners can join by submitting a letter and registration form to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) [pdf].