Governments Adopt Minamata Convention on Mercury

minamata-convention11 October 2013: Following decades of work to increase awareness regarding the toxicity of mercury and mercury-related compounds, the Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted on 10 October 2013, in Kumamoto, Japan. The Minamata Convention is the first new multilateral environmental treaty in over a decade, and was signed by 91 countries and the EU. The Mercury Convention will enter into force when is it ratified by 50 governments.

The adoption of the Convention occurred at the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries that convened from 10-11 October, attended by over 1,000 participants from over 140 countries, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs. The Convention aims to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.

The Convention provides for the phase-out of a range of mercury-added products and processes, including medical devices, energy-saving lightbulbs, batteries, and chlor-alkali production. The Convention also provides for the phase-down of dental amalgam and certain processes including vinyl-chloride monomer production. Other measures include: a ban on new mercury mines; the phase-out of existing primary mercury mining; measures to control and, where feasible, reduce emissions and releases; and provisions for national action plans to reduce and, where feasible, eliminate mercury use in the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM).

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, statements throughout the week signaled that some stakeholders are already looking to strengthen the Convention's provisions. Some predicted that as more knowledge emerges on the extent and impact of mercury pollution, and as the feasibility, availability and affordability of new technologies increase, momentum will build to amend the Convention's annexes with more ambitious targets. A few even called for using the Minamata Convention as a springboard to address other heavy metals.

A two-day, open-ended inter-governmental Preparatory Meeting immediately preceded the Diplomatic Conference, on 7-8 October. During the Preparatory Meeting, participants negotiated resolutions on elements of the Final Act, including on: promoting and preparing for the early implementation of the mercury instrument; arrangements for the interim period between the signing of the instrument and its entry into force, such as arrangements for financial and technical assistance during that period; and secretariat arrangements.

Participants, especially from developing countries and countries with economies in transition, underscored that the Convention will not reach its potential unless needs for financial resources, capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer are fully met. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin suggests that the Preparatory Meeting's negotiations on the resolutions to guide the interim period until the Convention's entry into force indicate that these questions will be the focus of preparations for the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties. Discussions are also expected to address coordination with other bodies, especially the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. [IISD RS Meeting Coverage] [Minamata Convention Website] [Minamata Convention Press Release] [Minamata Convention on Mercury]