UN: Minamata Convention on Mercury

INTRODUCTION

In 2001, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme1 (UNEP) invited the Executive Director of UNEP to undertake a global assessment of mercury and its compounds, including information on the chemistry and health effects, sources, long-range transport, and prevention and control technologies relating to mercury. In 2003, the Governing Council considered this assessment and found that there was sufficient evidence of significant global adverse impacts from mercury and its compounds to warrant further international action to reduce the risks to human health and the environment from the release of mercury and its compounds to the environment. Governments were urged to adopt goals for the reduction of mercury emissions and releases and UNEP initiated technical assistance and capacity building activities to meet these goals.


Mercury is recognized as a substance producing significant adverse neurological and other health effects, with particular concerns expressed about its harmful effects on infants and unborn children. The global transport of mercury in the environment was a key reason for taking the decision that global action to address the problem of mercury pollution was required. A mercury programme to address these concerns was thus established and was further strengthened by governments in decisions of the Governing Council in 2005 and in 2007. In the decision of 2007, the Governing Council concluded that the options of enhanced voluntary measures and new or existing international legal instruments would be reviewed and assessed in order to make progress in addressing the mercury issue.

 

In 2009, following extensive consideration of the issue, the Governing Council agreed that voluntary actions had not been sufficient to address the concerns on mercury, and decided on the need for further action on mercury, including the preparation of a global legally binding instrument. An intergovernmental negotiating committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury was therefore established, to commence its work in 2010 and conclude its negotiations prior to the twenty-seventh session of the Governing Council in 2013. The committee was provided with a detailed mandate setting out specific issues to be covered in the text of the instrument, as well as a number of other elements to be taken into account while negotiating the text.


In January 2013, the intergovernmental negotiating committee concluded its fifth session by agreeing on the text of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The text was adopted by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on 10 October 2013 in Japan and was opened for signature for one year until 9 October 2014. During this period, it was signed by 127 states and one regional economic integration organization, bringing to 128 the total number of signatories. The Conference of Plenipotentiaries also mandated the intergovernmental negotiating committee to meet during the interim period preceding the opening of the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention to facilitate the rapid entry into force of the Convention and its effective implementation upon entry into force. Two sessions of the committee were held, in November 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand and in March 2016 at the Dead Sea in Jordan.


The objective of the Convention is to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds and it sets out a range of measures to meet that objective. These include measures to control the supply and trade of mercury, including setting limitations on specific sources of mercury such as primary mining, and to control mercury-added products and manufacturing processes in which mercury or mercury compounds are used, as well as artisanal and small scale gold mining. The text of the Convention includes separate articles on emissions and releases of mercury, with controls directed at reducing levels of mercury while allowing flexibility to accommodate national development plans. In addition, it contains measures on the environmentally sound interim storage of mercury and on mercury wastes, as well as contaminated sites. Provision is made in the text for financial and technical support to developing countries and countries with economies in transition, and a financial mechanism for the provision of adequate, predictable and timely financial resources is defined.


The Minamata Convention provides that it shall enter into force on the ninetieth day after the date of deposit of the fiftieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. That milestone was reached on 18 May 2017, allowing the Convention to enter into force on 16 August 2017 and the holding of the first meeting of its Conference of the Parties from 24 to 29 September 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.


It is expected that coordinated implementation of the obligations of the Convention will lead to an overall reduction in mercury levels in the environment over time, thus meeting the objective of the Convention to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.

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