• How ICMGP is Strengthening Minamata: An Interview with Susan Keane

Environmental Laboratory

How ICMGP is Strengthening Minamata: An Interview with Susan Keane

May 16 2022

Susan Keane is the Senior Director of Global Advocacy at the Natural Resources Defence Council, a four-star charity committed to protecting and improving environmental health. Having spent a significant part of her career working on mercury monitoring, Keane now serves as the Global Coordinator of the planetGOLD programme, which works to eliminate mercury from the supply-chain of small-scale mining around the world.  

Once again, Keane will be participating in the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP), to be held virtually from 24th to 29th July. Recently, we sat down with Susan to get her perspective on everything from the progress of the Minamata Convention to the possibilities of ICMGP 2022. If you'd like to view a video-recording of this interview, click here.

In 2013, I went to the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) in Edinburgh, around the time that the text of the Minamata Convention had been approved. Obviously, that alone didn’t deal with environmental mercury in one fell swoop but, perhaps, you could set the scene by explaining how important that was and in what ways we’ve progressed since then? 

Yes, 2013 was a watershed event – in 2013, the text of the Convention was agreed by the members of the United Nations Environment Programme, which are mostly ministers of environmental department from countries around the world. That was a big deal.  

The next step was to take that text back to member-states and put it through national legislatures in order to ratify the convention. Once 50 countries had done that, the Convention would enter into force, which happened in August of 2017. So, it took about four years for 50 countries to commit but, subsequently, many more countries have ratified the convention, around 130. 

What’s also happened since 2017 is that parties have started to implement the provisions of the convention. But that’s a process: it takes some time to write the appropriate laws and regulations to enforce the provisions of the convention. For example, primary mining of mercury isn’t due to be phased out until 15 years after entry into force, so there’s still quite a ways to go.  

So, we’ve made a lot of progress but it’s always a process. We’re always going to need time to assess the economic, social, and legal implications of these measures before we can make huge strides in reducing mercury in the environment. We’re well on the way, though. Lots has happened and lots is happening, as you’ll hear at ICMGP this year. 

I understand that you’re chairing one of the sessions at ICMGP 2022 and that you’re going to be speaking about the planetGOLD programme. I wonder if you could you tell us a little bit about that? 

Well, planetGOLD is a great example of how we are making progress on the Minamata Convention because it’s funded by the Global Environment Facility, which is the financial mechanism helping countries to implement their obligations under Minamata. Specifically, planetGOLD speaks to the obligation for countries to reduce mercury in small-scale and artisanal gold mining. Currently, there are 8 countries participating in the programme, in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Each country has its own project that it’s implementing, but together we work as a programme to learn from each other, to troubleshoot each other’s problems and really try to slowly progress. It’s very challenging because artisanal small-scale gold mining is generally an informal sector that is kind of difficult to get at and regulate. 

Could you describe the sort of people that should be attending ICMGP this year? 

It’s a very home-grown event. The community itself is who puts on the event; there’s no one big external sponsor, it’s not put on by government or by a private company. It’s put on by scientific researchers and policy analysts – you know, we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We put together this conference under the direction of our guidance committee, itself composed of researchers, scientists and policymakers from the mercury monitoring community. 

So, ICMGP is for anyone interested in the issue of global mercury pollution, either at the local level, national level or international level. It’s for anyone interested in the deep science behind that, we will have hardcore, nerd scientists at the meeting who will be talking about the mercury monitor that they’ve invented, people talking about the atmospheric chemistry of mercury, the cycling through different kinds of eco systems – real hard science. But, also, people who come from the industries that emit mercury and are trying to control these emissions. And governments who are trying to figure out the right mix of incentives and control measures. Even people interested in global environmental policy, in seeing how countries cooperate (or don’t cooperate, as the case may be), can learn a lot from this convention.  

That’s an amazing group, promising everything from really technical science to very high-level, 30,000-ft geopolitical discussions, all happening in this one community. I know that sounds like my answer is: “Well, everybody should come!” But truly, everybody should come, everybody that has an interest in mercury needs to be at this meeting. The International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant really is the conference for the mercury monitoring community.   


Registration for ICMGP, which will be held virtually from 24th to 29th July, is now open. Once registered, attendees can immediately interact with other attendees by means of the conferencing platform.


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International Environmental Technology 32.3 - May/June 2022

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