Minimata Convention on Mercury Adopted: New Global Treaty Will Cut Mercury Emissions and Releases
Japan has become the first country to sign the new Minamata Convention on Mercury, as it opened for signature on October 10, 2013. The treaty, global and legally binding, will reduce emissions and releases of the toxic substance into air, land and water, while phasing out a range of mercury-containing products.
The Minamata Convention tackles the issue of world-wide emissions and discharges of the pollutant, which threatens the health of millions. Japan’s leading role in negotiation of the convention stems from historical impacts of mercury pollution on the Minimata Bay, which resulted in the affliction of locals with severe neurological symptoms. The city of Minimata now gives its name to the global agreement to mitigate those impacts in the future.
“The Minamata Convention will protect people and improve standards of living for millions around the world, especially the most vulnerable,’’ United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in an address read to the conference. “Let us strive to achieve universal adherence to this valuable new instrument, and advance together toward a safer, more sustainable and healthier planet for all.”
The convention was first agreed to in January, when the fifth session of an intergovernmental negotiating committee successfully completed a global, legally binding instrument on mercury in Geneva. That text was presented for adoption and opened for signature at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries Diplomatic Conference in Japan from October 9th to 11th, 2013. The convention had over 1,000 participants, has currently been adopted by 139 governments, and formally signed by 87 governments.
Under the provisions of the treaty, governments have agreed to ban by 2020 the import and export of a range of mercury-containing products, including certain batteries, fluorescent lamps, soaps and cosmetics. Additionally, governments will produce strategies to cut mercury use in coal-fired power stations and small-sale gold mining, currently the largest sources of mercury pollution worldwide. Finally, under the Convention mercury emissions from large-scale industrial plants will be controlled.
“Mercury has some severe effects, both on human health and on the environment. UNEP has been proud to facilitate and support the treaty negotiation over the past four years because almost everyone in the world – be they small-scale gold miners, expectant mothers or waste-handlers in developing countries – will benefit from its provisions,” said UNEP Executive Secretary Achim Steiner.
The Minamata Convention is the first new global environmental convention to be successfully negotiated in nearly a decade, and may portend new momentum to intergovernmental cooperation on the environment. For previous coverage of the Minimata Convention, click here. The full text of the treaty can be found here. For a list of countries that have signed the Convention, check the Convention’s website .