UNIDO’s Mercury Programme focuses on the artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector, however work is also done in other areas such as the Chlor-alkali Sector, Mercury in Products, Mercury in Waste and Mercury Supply & Storage.
ASGM is a major cause of mercury releases and environmental pollution. The propensity for water transport of mercury, its chemical transformation and bioaccumulation, and its potential transport in transboundary rivers and aquifers, makes it a threat not only to the health of miners and of ecosystems at the local level, but to the environmental health of the global community. Currently, artisanal and small scale gold mining is one of the largest anthropogenic sources of mercury emission to the environment. UNIDO estimates that nearly 100% of all mercury used in ASGM is released into the environment. Releases are estimated at 1,400 tonnes of mercury per year, which is equivalent to about 30% of total anthropogenic mercury emissions. This trend has been growing over the years and is anticipated to grow alongside the increasing price in gold.
The upcoming Mercury Treaty
UNIDO is actively involved in the UNEP-led negotiations to develop an internationally binding treaty on Mercury. Due to UNIDO’s experience and strong presence in this sector it was designated as the co-lead, for the Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining area of the Global Mercury Partnership. It shares this lead with the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), an NGO based in Washington DC, USA. As co-lead, UNIDO provides technical input and actively participates in the negotiations for the Mercury Treaty. More information on the treaty and its negotiations can be found here.
To accompany the upcoming mercury treaty the GEF is funding projects to help prepare countries for its entry into force. In this regard, UNIDO has 4 ongoing project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF); in addition, each project works with a network of partners that provide co-financing and expertise and with which various activities are coordinated. The projects are:
- Improve the health and environment of artisanal gold mining communities by reducing Mmercury Emissions and Promoting Sound Chemical Management" in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal
- Implementing integrated measures for minimizing mercury releases from artisanal gold mining" in Ecuador and Peru
- Improve the health and environment of artisanal gold mining communities in the Philippines by reducing mercury emissions
- Reduce Mercury Emissions and Promote Sound Chemical Management in Zinc Smelting Operations" in China
UNIDO implemented the Global Mercury Project from 2002-2007. The project was implemented in 5 different countries and was successful in raising global awareness on ASGM and mercury issues. Global Mercury Project