The Minamata Convention on Mercury will enter into force on 16 August 2017 following the Convention’s 50th ratification by the EU and several of its member states.
The Convention commits governments to implement measures to control human-made pollution from mercury, one of the top ten chemicals endangering human health and the environment.
18 May 2017: The Minamata Convention on Mercury will enter into force on 16 August 2017, following ratifications by the EU and seven of its member states – Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania and Sweden – on 18 May 2017, with Romania being the 50th to ratify. The 50th ratification triggers the entry into force of the Convention in 90 days.
The Convention commits governments to implement measures to control human-made pollution from mercury, one of the ten chemicals most endangering human health and the environment, according to the UN. Up to 8,900 tonnes of mercury are emitted each year, either naturally or from human activity, including coal burning and gold mining. Up to 15 million workers in 70 countries, including 5 million children, are exposed to mercury through mining. No safe level of mercury exposure exists, and children, newborn and unborn babies are most vulnerable to mercury pollution, along with those that eat contaminated fish and live near mercury pollution sources or in colder climates where mercury accumulates.
The Convention covers the entire lifecycle of human-made mercury pollution, and ratifying countries are obliged to ban new mercury mines, phase out existing ones, regulate artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reduce emissions and mercury use. The Convention also details conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste. The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP 1) will convene from 24-29 September 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland.
The financial mechanism for the Convention is the Global Environment Facility (GEF). GEF CEO and Chairperson Naoko Ishii said GEF raises and disburses grants for projects and programmes to reduce and eliminate mercury pollution, supporting inventories, implementation plans, and investments in technology for reducing and eliminating mercury, among other activities. She said that during the last four years, the GEF has provided over US$130 million to support early action and Convention ratification to over 90 countries, and that the GEF also funds the Global Opportunities for Long-term Development (GOLD) programme, which supports miners, governments and the private sector to work together to phase out mercury use in artisanal and small scale gold mining.
The Convention is named for Minamata, Japan, which experienced the worst mercury poisoning disaster in history due to dumping of industrial waste into Minamata Bay, beginning in the 1930s. In 1956, it was discovered that local villagers who ate fish and shellfish from the Bay experienced convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness, coma and even death. Thousands directly suffered from mercury poisoning, now known as Minamata disease.
SDG target 12.4 calls to “By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.” Implementation of the Convention could also help countries achieve, among others, SDG target 3.2 on ending preventable deaths of newborns and children, SDG target 8.5 on decent work, and SDG target 9.4 on adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes. [UN Environment Press Release] [UN Press Release] [European Environmental Bureau Website] [Mercury Stories on UN Environment Website] [Statement of GEF CEO] [Minamata Convention on Mercury] [GEF Mercury Website]