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09.01.2013 - Press release
Mercury Convention To Be Finalised in Geneva

The fifth and final session of negotiations on the establishment of an international mercury convention will take place from 13 to 18 January 2013 in Geneva. The session is expected to culminate in the adoption of an agreement that aims to reduce mercury emissions and releases to the air, water and land. During the negotiations, Switzerland, which has been very committed to the establishment of the new convention, will support the effective and comprehensive regulation of mercury, that is its production, use and waste management. The Federal Council approved the mandate of the Swiss negotiating delegation on 9 January 2013.

Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at ambient temperature. It is very volatile and highly toxic to humans and animals when inhaled or ingested. The mercury poisoning of the inhabitants of Minamata (Japan) from the 1930s is a tragic example of the effects of mercury on human health (see information sheet). Today, almost 2,000 tonnes of mercury arising from human activities are emitted annually into the atmosphere. They are mainly generated by artisanal gold mining and coal- or lignite-fired power plants (see information sheet). This heavy metal is persistent and is dispersed throughout the world by atmospheric transport. Apart from contaminated sites, the mercury pollution detected today is often found in locations very far away from its original source.

Following an initiative by Switzerland (see information sheet), in 2009, the international community decided to establish an international agreement with the aim of reducing mercury emissions and releases at global level within the framework of the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP. The fifth and final session of negotiations will take place in Geneva from 13 to 18 January 2013. It is expected to conclude with the adoption of the new convention by the 147 states attending the session.

Reducing mercury emissions and releases globally

The draft convention regulates in particular:

  • the supply of and trade in mercury;
  • the use of mercury in products and industrial processes;
  • the measures to be taken to reduce emissions from artisanal and small-scale gold mining;
  • the measures to be taken to reduce emissions from power plants and metals production facilities;
  • the storage and treatment of waste containing mercury and the management of contaminated sites;
  • financial and technical support for the implementation of the convention;
  • the resolution of disputes (see current draft available on the internet).

    Agreement has almost been reached regarding artisanal gold mining (see information sheet) and waste management. A solution for the other areas will be negotiated on the basis of the available options.

    Position of the Swiss delegation

    In accordance with the mandate passed by the Federal Council on 9 January 2013, the Swiss delegation, led by Franz Perrez, Head of the International Affairs Division of the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, shall advocate that the new convention give rise to the effective reduction of mercury emissions throughout the lifecycle of the metal. It shall support, in particular, a ban on the opening of new mines and the closure of existing ones. It shall also advocate that the future regulation aim to prohibit the use of mercury in industrial products and processes, with the exception of those for which no alternative currently exists. Moreover, the Swiss delegation shall advocate that a financial mechanism be established to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition in the implementation of the convention.

    Media briefing on 13 January 2013

    To provide the media with an opportunity to inform themselves about the future convention and the different issues involved in the negotiations, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Federal Office for the Environment are organising a media briefing with Mr Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme and Mr Franz Perrez, leader of the Swiss delegation, on Sunday, 13 January 2013 at 2 pm in the International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG) where the negotiations will be held. Please notify Elisabeth Maret, Information Officer, FOEN, + 41 (0)77 483 51 74, of your intention to attend this briefing. Elisabeth.maret@bafu.admin.ch

Artisanal gold-mining: former SCD pilot projects awarded Fairtrade and Fairmined certification in Bolivia and Peru

Artisanal gold-mining by small-scale miners is one of the two main sources of mercury emissions. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) became involved in the artisanal gold-mining sector in the early 1990s. Four projects in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and currently in Mongolia contributed to the significant improvement of development approaches in this sector over the years. For the implementation of the projects, the SDC set great store by the adoption of an integrated approach that promoted environmentally friendly and health-conserving mining methods and targeted the social integration and economic betterment of the miners and their families. It quickly emerged from these projects that a reduction in harmful mercury emissions could only be achieved through the legally enshrined formalisation of the sector. The SDC’s projects in Bolivia, Peru and Mongolia contributed to the establishment of improved legal conditions for the sector. The integration of small-scale mining into the formal economy made it possible for the communities to make significant investments and to comply with social and ecological standards. At the end of 2011 all of the small-scale mining communities in Bolivia and Peru certified as Fairtrade and Fairmined were former SDC pilot projects.

Additional Information and Documents