What is the role Norway can play at various governance levels with the aim of reducing mercury emissions internationally? That is the key research question of this project, which looks in particular into Norwegian-Chinese relations on this issue.

Mercury (Hg) is a global threat to human and environmental health. Under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), countries have negotiated the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a legally binding agreement intended “to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds”. The Minamata Convention on Mercury (MC) was agreed upon by 128 countries on 19 January, 2013. Mercury (Hg) is a severe environmental problem in Norway, which receives mercury pollution through air and water. China is the most important source of this pollutant globally.

This research project examines the role Norway can play at various governance levels with the aim of reducing mercury emissions internationally. As a net importer of mercury with strict existing rules to regulate the release of mercury it is clearly in the self-interest of Norway to play this role. However, it also squares well with the Norwegian ambition of being a frontrunner in international environmental politics, not the least in the chemical cluster.

Norway was one of the first countries to initiate bilateral collaboration with China on mercury, and carried out a ten-year bilateral cooperation on the mercury issue. China is the largest exporter of mercury emissions and it makes sense to target China as a main focal point for Norwegian interests and priorities in this regard. China is also an interesting case in its own rights as it has embarked on a much more proactive role in this issue area in recent years; China ratified the Minamata Convention in April 2016.

Project work will be guided by the overarching research question: How can Norway contribute to more effective implementation in global mercury governance? This broad question is divided into 3 several more manageable studies of Norwegian policies for the national, bilateral and global levels, as well as studies of China:

  • National: How is the domestic management of and foreign policies concerning mercury evolving at the national level in Norway? How is domestic management in China developing, and how does it relate to foreign policy on the mercury issue?

  • Bilateral: What are the most important actors and strategies in the Chinese/Norwegian bilateral collaboration concerning mercury, and what has been achieved?

  • Global governance: 3.1 What are the most effective voluntary measures (such as through SAICM) and how are such measures perceived, applied and complied with by Norwegian and Chinese stakeholders? 3.2 What are the prospects for the Minamata Convention (replacing the voluntary SAICM on mercury) to enhance the effectiveness of international governance of mercury.

Theoretically, we look at the research question through two lenses: the multi-level governance approach and the focus on implementation. States may still be the predominant actors domestically and internationally. However, with globalization a number of new types of actors have emerged at various governance levels.

The research framework takes as its point of departure the increasing complexity of actor networks in public and private sectors. This forces state actors to develop new strategies of policy coordination, not least as it raises new challenges for accountability. Regarding implementation, this has for long been the weakest point in global environmental governance. Ambitious goals are often adopted but lacking will and/or capacity of relevant target groups to implement them tend to hamper effectiveness. Here we focus on various causal pathways in order to analyze factors at various governance level that may inhibit or enhance efforts of implementation.

Project period: 2017-2020



  • Research Council of Norway (MILJØFORSK/ BEDREHELSE/CHINOR programmes)