Assessment report: Excess Mercury Supply in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2010-2050

United Nations Environment Programme (2009)

The UNEP Governing Council decision GC 24/3 IV identified seven priority areas for action to reduce the risks from releases of mercury, two of which are: • To reduce the global mercury supply, including considering curbing primary mining and taking into account a hierarchy of sources; and • To find environmentally sound storage solutions for mercury. Even more recently, the UNEP Governing Council decision GC 25/5 (paragraph 34) mandated member governments to take further international measures including the elaboration of a legally binding instrument on mercury, which could include both binding and voluntary approaches, as well as a range of interim activities, to reduce risks to human health and the environment. In the Latin American and Caribbean region, the increasing capture of by-product mercury from mining operations, and the increasing use of alternatives to replace mercury, will result in excess mercury in the region. In addition, the management of mercury supplies is now seen as a valuable policy tool with which to help reduce the demand for mercury in sectors where there are viable mercury-free alternatives. If not needed for acceptable applications, mercury must be managed properly and stored, thereby preventing its re-entry into the global market. Identifying environmentally sound storage solutions for mercury is therefore recognized as a priority.1 Places to safely sequester the excess mercury are needed, since we know that elemental mercury, apart from being toxic, cannot be destroyed or degraded. Governments and other stakeholders need to understand how to manage this mercury over the long term in order to avoid its re-entry into the global marketplace. This understanding includes planning for the necessary storage capacity, discussing regional coordination activities, securing financial and technical support, identifying technical criteria (including site assessments) that constitute environmentally sound long-term storage, and developing the basic design of such a facility or facilities. As a first step in the planning process, this report estimates the quantities of mercury that may become available in the region for sequestration, and time horizons for taking appropriate action.

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