Mercury rising … or not?

While waiting for the officials at the esteemed U.K. Meteorological (Met) Office to learn how to “say what you mean and mean what you say”, I thought you might be interested in knowing that there’s yet another United Nations Environment Program (UNEP – promulgator of scary stories since 1972) confab underway.

This six-day “session”, which began today (Jan. 13) is taking place in Geneva, Switzerland:

The fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury (INC5)

captured from

INC5 participants were greeted with traditional Swiss alphorn and flag throwing before the start of the opening plenary. Photo courtesy of Christophe Marchat/UNEP

(Above image captured from

I’m not sure where in the UNEP pecking-order an “Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee” (INC) might stand vis a vis an IP (as in IPCC, “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”) or even a different IP (as in IPBES, “Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” )

There may (or may not) be some significance in the extent to which the subject matter is incorporated into the official acronym.

IPCC is quite distinctive; IPBES somewhat less so (i.e. did “Science Policy get dropped, or did “Science” and “Platform”?) but an INC could be, well, anything, actually!

Considering that “mercury” received only one mention in the June 2012 “Future We (don’t) Want” Rio+20 outcome document (p. 42):

221. We welcome the ongoing negotiating process on a global legally binding instrument on mercury to address the risks to human health and the environment and call for a successful outcome to the negotiations.

it would seem that mercury is not among the “high profile” burning issues.

And I’m not sure if in UN-speak a “legally binding instrument” – such as that for which they are striving at INC5 – has as much force as a “legally binding agreement” – which they were unable to achieve at the recent Conference of the Parties (COP 18) of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha.

But from all that I’ve read, mercury has not yet risen to the level of “greatest threat to the future of our planet”; it seems that mercury has achieved the designation of “harmful substance”.

Nonetheless, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that – according to the designated quasi-official rapporteur – INC5 is being attended by approximately:

900 delegates, including representatives from more than 140 countries

And what UN confab would be complete without the participation of “civil society” [UN-speak for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s)]? This one is no exception!

The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) is in attendance; although I must confess that I had never heard of this organization before. But here’s the scoop from their about page:

In 1984, thirteen dentists were discussing a seminar they had just attended on the dangers of mercury from dental amalgam fillings. They agreed that the subject was alarming. They also agreed that the seminar, though long on fireworks, was short on science, and if there really was a problem with dental mercury, the evidence ought to be in the scientific literature. So, like thirteen musketeers vowing “all for one and one for all,” they set out to find the evidence, or failing that, to sponsor new research that would provide the answers they sought.

Nearly three decades later, the [IAOMT] has grown to over 700 active members in North America, with affiliated chapters in fourteen other countries. [emphasis added -hro]

I’m not sure exactly how many dentists there are in the world, but this page indicates that:

Dental work includes medical and cosmetic treatment. In 2004 there were 1.8 million dentists working around the world, which is an estimated 29 dentists per 100 000 people.

The three territories with the most dentists in 2004 were the United States, Brazil and China. There were ten times more dentists per person working in Brazil than in China. North America has almost twice the number of dentists per person than any other region.

So the IAOMT’s 700 alarmed voices are a far cry from constituting a “majority” of the world’s dentists, I would think.

And – for some reasons that perhaps Gaia might be able to fathom – evidently Human Rights Watch has jumped on the mercury scare bandwagon is among the NGOs in attendance, as well. Mind you, I cannot say that I was surprised to find the following being given top billing on their site:

On HRW site this is linked to a paper which I confess I have not read

“Mercury Treaty: Last chance to address health effects”

And if HRW has declared that this Mercury Treaty is the last chance to address health effects … well, it must be so, right?!

Oh, well, in case you’re wondering … INC5 also includes discussion of the following:

ARTICLE 15. FINANCIAL RESOURCES AND MECHANISMS: Many developed countries, opposed by BRAZIL, KIRIBATI and the AFRICAN GROUP, supported using the GEF as the financial mechanism. IPEN said if GEF is to be the mechanism, it must take developing country concerns fully into account. The PHILIPPINES, with IRAN, called for a dedicated fund under the authority of the conference of the parties (COP), and, with ZMWG, implementation of the polluter pays principle. [emphasis added -hro]

Quelle surprise, eh?! After all, what is a UNEP sponsored confab good for if it does not include a call for funding?!


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