International action on mercury

Mercury has proven itself a protracted pollutant to manage at the international level. Although many of mercury’s harmful health effects have been known for centuries, the element remains unregulated by the international community at large. The one exception is the Aarhus Protocol on Heavy Metals under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), adopted by European and North American countries in 1998.

In 2003,  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) began discussing the potential to regulate mercury internationally. In 2009,  after many years of discussion, the Governing Council of UNEP launched the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury, which aims to conclude negotiations by 2013.

The Mercury Game is based on actual events, particularly between 2003-2009, however, the roles are fictionalized. In this period, the question of whether there was adequate scientific information about mercury’s risks to humans and the environment was central. This question forms the basis of the Mercury Game.

If you would like more information on how the mercury negotiations unfolded, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Reporting Services maintains an excellent archive with detailed information on past UNEP meetings. Important meetings include:

OEWG-1 2007: http://www.iisd.ca/chemical/merc1/
OEWG-2 2008:  http://www.iisd.ca/chemical/merc2/
Governing Council 25 2009:  http://www.iisd.ca/unepgc/25unepgc/
INC-1 2010: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc1/
INC-2 2011: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc2/
INC-3 2011: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc3/
INC-4 2012: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc4/
INC-5 2013: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/

The final round of negotiations, INC-5, were held in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2013. To read more about what occurred, take a look at our companion blog on mercury policy, which includes articles on mercury science and policy written live from the negotiations.

In addition, UNEP maintains significant online documentation about the ongoing negotiations and action undertaken through the Global Mercury Partnership.

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