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5 countries ratify and 18 sign the Minamata Convention at 2014 Treaty event
Ministers and senior government officials from around the world renew the international community’s commitment to combat the global threat posed to human health and the environment from mercury pollution worldwide.

5 countries ratify and 18 sign the Minamata Convention at 2014 Treaty event

5 countries ratify and 18 sign the Minamata Convention at 2014 Treaty event

New York, 24 September 2014 – Twenty-two countries have taken major steps to address the emissions and releases of one of the most notorious heavy metals – mercury.

A year after the adoption of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, Ministers and senior government officials from around the world have renewed the international community’s commitment to combat the global threat posed to human health and the environment from mercury pollution worldwide.

The high-level special event - “The Minamata Convention on Mercury: Towards its early entry into force and effective implementation” - witnessed three States agreeing to become Parties to the Minamata Convention and an additional 15 States signing the treaty. In addition, two more States joined the Convention and three signed it since UN Treaty Event started on 23 September 2014.

The Governments of Djibouti, Gabon, Guyana, Monaco and Uruguay have joined the United States as the first six future Parties to the Convention. The United States had joined the Convention last November.

An additional 18 countries, bringing to the total number to 120, used this occasion to sign the Convention, namely: Belarus, Cameroon, Croatia, Cyprus, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Latvia, Liberia, Malaysia, Monaco, Montenegro, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey.

Held in the margins of the opening of the sixty-ninth session of the United Nations General Assembly, and in conjunction with the Secretary-General’s annual Treaty Event, the event was jointly convened by the Governments of Japan, Switzerland, the United States and Uruguay, with the assistance of UNEP, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

 

Read UNEP Press Release on the special high-level event at  :

http://unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2796&ArticleID=11001&l=en

 

 

 

 

 

South American sub-regional workshop in Brasilia, 2 to 4 September 2014
South American countries discussed the ratification and rapid implementation of the Minamata Convention during sub-regional workshop in Brasilia

South American sub-regional workshop in Brasilia, 2 to 4 September 2014

South American sub-regional workshop in Brasilia, 2 to 4 September 2014

To support the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with the generous support of the Government of Brazil, invited South American governments, international organizations and  civil society representatives active in the region to gather for a 3-day workshop in Brasília, Brazil, from 2 to 4 September 2014.

The workshop was opened on Tuesday 2 September by Francisco Gaetani, Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Environment of Brazil, Fernando Lugris, Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on mercury, Denise Hamu, UNEP Representative in Brazil, and Jacob Duer, Coordinator of the Interim Secretariat of the Minamata Convention.

Integral part of UNEP’s regional and sub-regional efforts to support the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention, the workshop aimed to further enhance participants knowledge of the Convention, of the processes for its ratification and early implementation, and of the available sources of support, including in the interim period.  Governments also had the opportunity to exchange information and discuss joint efforts. One important outcome of the workshop was the presentation by participating countries on Thursday 4 September of a draft national roadmap for the ratification and early implementation of the Convention that they were invited to prepare during the course of the workshop.  

Delegates from ten South American countries participated, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Representatives from Intergovernmental organizations and UN Agencies that play a crucial role in the process towards rapid implementation and ratification of the Convention, including the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OCTA), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UNEP Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, the UNEP Brazil Office and the Interim Secretariat of the Minamata Convention, as well as  representatives from a range of NGOs and industrial sectors, attended the event. 

Special High-level Event for the signature and ratification of the Minamata Convention
On 24 September 2014, from 1.15 pm to 2.30 pm, a Special High-Level event on the Minamata Convention on Mercury was held at UN Headquarters in the margin of the 2014 Treaty Event organized by the UN Office of Legal Affairs.

Special High-level Event for the signature and ratification of the Minamata Convention

Special High-level Event for the signature and ratification of the Minamata Convention

On 24 September 2014, from 1.15 pm to 2.30 pm, a Special High-Level event on the Minamata Convention on Mercury was held at UN Headquarters in the margin of the 2014 Treaty Event organized by the UN Office of Legal Affairs. Representatives were invited to attend to sign the Convention and, where possible, deposit the instrument of ratification. A booklet with additional information on the High-Level event is available in English and French.

On 28 May 2014, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon invited Heads of State and Government to the 2014 Treaty Event, held from 23 to 25 September 2014 and from 30 September to 1 October 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. This event is held concurrently with the General Debate of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, opening on 24 September 2014.

Among 40 multilateral treaties highlighted for the 2014 Treaty Event, the Minamata Convention, as well as the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions are included in the field of the environment. The Secretary-General invited Heads of State and Government to profit from the Treaty Event to sign treaties and deposit instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or  accession to the treaties concerned.

Therefore, and to facilitate the signature and ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a Special High-level Event was held. This event invited representatives to sign the Convention, with the presence of Treaty Section, and where possible, deposit the instrument of ratification.  Following the signing ceremony, representatives were committed to make statements regarding their signature. This event offered an opportunity to Governments to demonstrate their commitment to the Minamata Convention and will be used also as a mean for outreach in order to facilitate rapid entry into force of the Convention. The convention will remain open for signature until 9 October 2014.

For more information about the event, please contact the Interim Secretariat of the Mercury Convention here.


Executive Director Transmittal Letter

English

Invitation Letter to the High-level Special Event on the Minamata Convention

English

Provisional programme for the High-level Special Event on the Minamata Convention

English

Practical information

English
Francophone Workshops in Africa, Dakar
In accordance with the resolution on arrangements taken by the Plenipotentiary Conference in Kumamoto in October 2013, sub-regional workshops for Francophone Africa in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury ended in Dakar on 16 July.

Francophone Workshops in Africa, Dakar

Francophone Workshops in Africa, Dakar

In accordance with the resolution on arrangements taken by the Plenipotentiary Conference in Kumamoto in October 2013, sub-regional workshops for Francophone Africa in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury ended in Dakar on 16 July. Two workshops were held, from 9 to 11 July and from 14 to 16 July 2014. The participating countries to the workshops were:

  • First Workshop (9 to 11 July): Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Madagascar, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe.
  • Second Workshop (14 to 16 July): Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia.

The workshops, organized by the Stockholm Convention Regional Centre in Senegal, were hosted at the Ngor Diarama Hotel and covered six main topics:

  • Emissions and releases ;
  • Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) ;
  • Supply sources, trade and storage ;
  • Waste and contaminated sites ;
  • Mercury-added products and manufacturing processes in which mercury is used ;
  • Health aspects.

These sessions were an opportunity for the attending countries and organizations to learn from each other and show the different aspects of their work related to mercury, either in terms of policies and technical solutions, or in terms of experience acquired. ASGM benefited from specific attention as gold mining is a major source of mercury contamination and is extensive in some of the participating countries.

Among the challenges addressed by the workshops, attention was given to mobilization of resource for implementation as well as suitable local approaches in order to manage the economic and political constraints. The presentation of national roadmaps on the ratification and implementation of the Convention by each participating country concluded the workshops as a key outcome. This set out the measures to be taken at a national level to move towards ratification and implementation.

Workshops for Francophone Africa also offered a chance to the attending countries to enhance their collaboration on environmental issues and promote more communication.

Gabon becomes 100th signatory
On 30 June 2014, Ms. Odette Marianne Bibalou, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative of Gabon to the United Nations in new York, signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in New York, making the country the 100th signatory of the Convention.

Gabon becomes 100th signatory

Gabon becomes 100th signatory

On 30 June 2014, Ms. Odette Marianne Bibalou, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative of Gabon to the United Nations in new York, signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in New York, making the country the 100th signatory of the Convention.

The Convention has been opened for signature since 10 October 2013, and will remain open until 9 October 2014.  The signature of the Convention demonstrates a State’s intent to examine the treaty domestically and consider ratifying it. While signing does not commit a State to ratification, it does oblige the State to refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.

By signing the Convention, Gabon becomes eligible to receive financial support from the Global Environment Facility for enabling activities, including an initial assessment of the mercury situation in the country.

The Government of Gabon is congratulated on its signature.

A complete list of signatories can be found here:

Matthew Selwyn Gubb
The interim secretariat of the Minamata Convention is saddened to inform you of the passing of Mr Matthew Gubb on 4 May 2014 following a courageous battle with cancer.

Matthew Selwyn Gubb

Matthew Selwyn Gubb

The interim secretariat of the Minamata Convention is saddened to inform you of the passing of Mr Matthew Gubb on 4 May 2014 following a courageous battle with cancer.  

Matthew has worked extensively in the international chemicals arena, initially as a representative of the Government of New Zealand.  He joined the Chemicals Branch of UNEP prior to the negotiations of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, and was integral to their negotiation. He went on to coordinate the SAICM secretariat until his appointment as the Coordinator of the Mercury Negotiations Team following the decision by the Governing Council of UNEP in 2009 to negotiate a legally binding instrument on mercury.  His consultative approach, and the importance he placed on inclusive methods of working, were a key to the successful negotiations he supported. He coordinated the negotiation activities until 2011 when he was promoted to head the International Environment Technology Centre (IETC) in Osaka.  Despite moving from the Chemicals Branch, and the Mercury Negotiations Team, he maintained his keen interest in the negotiations and served as a point of liaison with the Government of Japan during the preparations for the Diplomatic Conference. 

When he moved back to Geneva due to ill health, he maintained his relationship with Chemicals Branch, contributing to further work on mercury. 

For all who knew and worked with Matthew, we will remember his calm and productive approach to challenges, his dedication to excellent outcomes and his dry sense of humour. 

The chemicals community has lost an incredible asset and a great friend, and Matthew will be sorely missed.

May he rest in peace.

Publication of WHO commissioned study on health impacts of mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining
The WHO-commissioned study "Mercury Exposure and Health Impacts among Individuals in the Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining Community: A Comprehensive Review" has been published in Environmental Health Perspectives (early on-line version).

Publication of WHO commissioned study on health impacts of mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

Publication of WHO commissioned study on health impacts of mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

The WHO-commissioned study "Mercury Exposure and Health Impacts among Individuals in the Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining Community: A Comprehensive Review" has been published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The early on-line version of the study can be accessed at  http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1307864.

The findings of this study, summarized for decision makers, were presented at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries for the Minamata Convention on Mercury in Kumamoto in October 2014, and published on the WHO website. 

 

This short information documents for decision makers can be accessed 
in English at www.who.int/entity/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury_asgm.pdf and in Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian at www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury/en/.

 

First workshop in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention
The first workshop in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury was held from 19 to 21 March 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  

First workshop in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention

First workshop in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention

The first workshop in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury was held from 19 to 21 March 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Convened by the Interim Secretariat of the Minamata Convention thanks to the generous support from the Government of China, this workshop gathered representatives from eleven South East Asian countries, IGOs and NGOs active in the sub-region.

The objectives of the workshop were to further enhance participants knowledge of the Convention and the processes for its signature, ratification and early implementation. It also aimed at providing the participants with information on the available sources of support and at creating opportunities for exchange and action at the sub-regional level. By the end of the workshop, each participating country had prepared a draft national roadmap for the ratification and early implementation of the Convention.

In its resolution on arrangements in the interim period, the Conference of Plenipotentiaries held from 10 to 11 October 2013 in Kumamoto, Japan called upon States and regional economic integration organizations to take, as soon as possible, the domestic measures necessary to enable them to meet their obligations upon ratification and thereafter to ratify, accept, approve or accede to the Convention with a view to its entry into force as soon as possible. The Conference further requested the Executive Director of UNEP to facilitate activities at regional and country level to support implementation during the interim period in an effective and efficient manner.

In response to this request, UNEP will be conducting a series of workshops in the interim period until the Convention enters into force to assist countries in their process towards ratification and early implementation of their obligations under the Convention. The next workshops organized in support for the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention will be the first and second Anglophone Africa workshops, scheduled to be held in Nairobi from 23 to 25 April and 28 to 30 April 2014.

 

Minamata Convention Interim Secretariat participates in joint GEF retreat
On Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 January 2014, the Minamata Convention Interim Secretariat participated in a retreat with the GEF and GEF STAP (Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel) Secretariats in Glion, Switzerland.  

Minamata Convention Interim Secretariat participates in joint GEF retreat

Minamata Convention Interim Secretariat participates in joint GEF retreat

On Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 January 2014, the Minamata Convention Interim Secretariat participated in a retreat with the GEF and GEF STAP (Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel)  Secretariats in Glion, Switzerland. The first day of the meeting was a joint meeting with the SAICM and Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariats.

The objective of the retreat was to enhance cooperation and seek opportunities for future synergies with the GEF Secretariat, including during the interim period prior to enter into force of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. A series of joint follow up action items were agreed upon at the end of the retreat for further collaboration in the interim period.

The retreat, which took place in an informal setting in the beautiful Swiss mountains, contributed to fostering a stronger relationship with the GEF secretariat. The Minamata Convention Interim Secretariat welcomes the opportunity to establish strong working relationship with the GEF Secretariat and looks forward to strengthening this relationship during the interim period.

WHO Executive Board adopts resolution on mercury
The Executive Board of the World Health Organization adopted on Thursday, 23 January 2014 a resolution pertaining to "Public health impacts of exposure to mercury and mercury compounds: the role of WHO and ministries of public health in the implementation of the Minamata Convention".  

WHO Executive Board adopts resolution on mercury

WHO Executive Board adopts resolution on mercury

The Executive Board of the World Health Organization adopted on Thursday, 23 January 2014 a resolution pertaining to "Public health impacts of exposure to mercury and mercury compounds: the role of WHO and ministries of public health in the implementation of the Minamata Convention" for forwarding to the Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly.

The Executive Board recommends the World Health Assembly adopts this resolution at its next meeting scheduled to take place in Geneva from 19 to 24 May 2014.

Amongst others, the resolution welcomes the formal adoption by States of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in October 2013 and encourages Member States (and, where applicable, regional economic integration organizations) to take the necessary domestic measures to promptly sign, ratify and implement the Minamata Convention on Mercury and to actively participate in national, regional and international efforts to implement the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Full text of the resolution is available at: http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB134/B134_R5-en.pdf


Global Treaty on Mercury Pollution Gets Boost from United States
UNEP's Achim Steiner Welcomes First Ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.  

Global Treaty on Mercury Pollution Gets Boost from United States

Global Treaty on Mercury Pollution Gets Boost from United States

UNEP's Achim Steiner Welcomes First Ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Nairobi, 7 November 2013 - The United States has strengthened the international effort to bring down emissions and releases of a notorious heavy metal after simultaneously signing and ratifying the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

The treaty, adopted on 10 October in the Japanese city of Kumamoto and named after the place where thousands of people were poisoned by mercury in the mid-20th century, has now been signed by 93 countries.

The United States has become the first nation to complete the next and final step after Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs deposited the ‘instrument of acceptance’ at the United Nations’ headquarters on Wednesday.

Dr Jones said: “The Minamata Convention is a major step forward to address mercury exposure and improve public health. The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) essential role in facilitating the successful negotiation of this convention is deeply appreciated. The Minamata Convention is an important achievement for the health of people around the world and the U.S. is pleased to be able to join the Convention."

The move, which marks an important step forward towards the global agreement coming into force was today welcomed by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

“I would like to thank the United States for this important act that assists in paving the way for a new era on international cooperation on mercury pollution and global efforts to lift a serious health and environmental threat from the lives of people everywhere,” he said.

Mercury's impacts on the human nervous system have been well known since Greek and Roman times. Its potential impacts include impaired thyroid and liver function, irritability, tremors, disturbances to vision, memory loss and cardiovascular problems.

Mr Steiner added: “UNEP has been proud to facilitate and support the treaty negotiations 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”.

The Minamata Convention provides for controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. The treaty also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury.

Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health-care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will all result from adherence to the obligations of the new treaty.

The Convention will come into force when 50 signatory countries have ratified it.

In a statement the United States State Department said Wednesday: The United States has already taken significant steps to reduce the amount of mercury we generate and release to the environment, and can implement Convention obligations under existing legislative and regulatory authority.  The Minamata Convention complements domestic measures by addressing the transnational nature of the problem”.

Editors' notes

The full text of the treaty can be found here

For more information about the Diplomatic Conference, please see here

For a list of the countries that have signed the Convention so far, please see (from 10 October) here

Contacts

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Director of Communications and Spokesperson, Tel.: +254 733 632 755 or +254 733 632 755 (Roaming) Email:  nick.nuttall@unep.org

Tim Kasten, Head, UNEP Chemicals Branch, Geneva. Tel.: +41 22 917 81 83 Email:  tim.kasten@unep.org

UNEP HQ: Shereen Zorba, Head, UNEP News Desk. Tel.: +254 713 601 259 Email:  unepnewsdesk@unep.org

Moira O'Brien-Malone, UNEP Communications, Paris. Tel: +33 1 44 37 76 12 or +33 6 82 26 93 73. Email: moira.obrien-malone@unep.org

New global treaty cuts mercury emissions and releases, sets up controls on products, mines and industrial plants
Japan among the first to sign Minamata Convention on Mercury.  

New global treaty cuts mercury emissions and releases, sets up controls on products, mines and industrial plants

New global treaty cuts mercury emissions and releases, sets up controls on products, mines and industrial plants

Japan among the first to sign Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Kumamoto, Japan, 10 October 2013 - Japan, a country which has come to epitomize mercury poisoning in modern times, today became one of the first countries to sign a historic new international convention to reduce emissions and releases of the toxic metal into air, land and water and to phase out many products that contain mercury.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury - a global, legally binding treaty which opened for signature today - was agreed to by governments in January and formally adopted as international law today.

The new treaty is the first new global convention on environment and health for close to a decade. Coming at a time when some multilateral negotiations have faced challenges, its successful negotiation, after a four-year process, provides a new momentum to intergovernmental cooperation on the environment.

Its agreement is also significant in that many countries, despite the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, remained prepared to commit resources to combating the harmful effects of mercury.

Countries began the recognition for this new treaty at a special ceremonial opening of the Diplomatic Conference in Minamata, the city where many local people were poisoned in the mid-20th Century after eating mercury-contaminated seafood from Minamata Bay. As a consequence, the neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning has come to be known as Minamata Disease.

But the Minamata that delegates visited yesterday during a special field trip from the main conference venue in nearby Kumamoto City, is a vastly different place to that affected by mercury in the mid-1950s. Since then the city has remodelled itself as an eco-city, receiving international recognition for its wide range of recycling and environmental programmes.

The Minamata Convention provides for controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. The treaty also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal, and safe storage of waste mercury.

Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health-care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will all result from adherence to the obligations of the new treaty.

"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."

"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 Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Under-Secretary General of  the United Nations.

Global action on mercury was agreed to in a landmark decision at the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council meeting in 2009.

Governments unanimously decided to launch negotiations on an international mercury treaty to deal with world-wide emissions and discharges of the pollutant, which threatens the health of millions, from foetuses and babies to small-scale gold miners and their families.

Mercury's impacts on the human nervous system have been known for more than a century: the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland fame was so called because hat-makers used the liquid metal to strengthen brims, breathing in the poisonous fumes.

Other potential impacts include impaired thyroid and liver function, irritability, tremors, disturbances to vision, memory loss and cardiovascular problems.

"With the signing of the Minamata Convention on Mercury we will be going a long way in protecting the world forever from the devastating health consequences from mercury," says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "Mercury is one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern and is a substance which disperses into and remains in ecosystems for generations, causing severe ill health and intellectual impairment to exposed populations."

Governments successfully completed their negotiations at the fifth session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury, held in Geneva from 13 to 18 January 2013. They agreed to the text of the "Minamata Convention on Mercury", which has now been presented for adoption and opened for signature at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries Diplomatic Conference, taking place at Hotel Nikko in Kumamoto and in Minamata, Japan, from 9 to 11 October 2013. 

The Diplomatic Conference was preceded by an intergovernmental preparatory meeting on 7 and 8 October 2013 in Kumamoto.

Some key facts about the Diplomatic Conference:

  • Over 1,000 participants
  • Convention adopted by 139 governments
  • Convention signed by 92 governments

Treaty provisions

Under the provisions of the Minamata Convention, Governments have agreed on a range of mercury-containing products whose production, import and export will be banned by 2020. These items have non-mercury alternatives that will be further phased in as these are phased out. They include:

  • Batteries, except for 'button cell' batteries used in implantable medical devices
  • Switches and relays
  • Some compact fluorescent lamps
  • Mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps
  • Soaps and cosmetics (mercury is used in skin-whitening products)
  • Some mercury-containing medical items such as thermometers and blood pressure devices.

Mercury from small-scale gold-mining and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution worldwide. Miners inhale mercury during smelting, and mercury run-off into rivers and streams contaminates fish, the food chain and people downstream.

Under the Minamata Convention, Governments have agreed that countries will draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners and that national plans will be drawn up within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce - and if possible eliminate - mercury.

The Convention will also control mercury emission and releases from large-scale industrial plants such as coal-fired power stations, industrial boilers, waste incinerators and cement clinkers facilities.

Editors' notes

The full text of the treaty can be found here

For more information about the Diplomatic Conference, please see here

For a list of the countries that have signed the Convention so far, please see (from 10 October) here

Contacts

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Director of Communications and Spokesperson, Tel: +254 733 632 755 or +41 79 596 5737 (Roaming), Email:  nick.nuttall@unep.org

Tomoko Ishii, Media Consultant, UNEP International Environmental Technology Centre, Osaka, Japan.  Mobile: +81 90 7091 8194 Tel: +81 6 6915 4581

Email: tomoko.ishii@unep.org (for information in English or in Japanese).

UNEP HQ: Shereen Zorba, Head, UNEP News Desk. Tel.: +254 713 601 259 Email:  unepnewsdesk@unep.org

Moira O'Brien-Malone, UNEP Communications, Paris. Tel: +33 1 44 37 76 12 or +33 6 82 26 93 73. Email: moira.obrien-malone@unep.org

 

United Nations Convention Tackling Hazardous Mercury To Open for Signature
Long-awaited United Nations Treaty will curb use and emissions, reduce human health impacts  

United Nations Convention Tackling Hazardous Mercury To Open for Signature

United Nations Convention Tackling Hazardous Mercury To Open for Signature

Long-awaited United Nations Treaty will curb use and emissions, reduce human health impacts

Nairobi, 7 October 2013 - A landmark treaty to curb the use of mercury will open for signature on Wednesday, 9 October in Japan, marking a further watershed moment towards the global phase-out of the notorious heavy metal in many products and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.

The newest United Nations treaty, named the Minamata Convention after a Japanese city where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th Century, is both wide-ranging and legally binding. It provides controls and reductions in areas ranging from medical equipment such as thermometers to energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors. Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will also form part of the new agreement.

Agreed in January, the Convention marks the culmination of four years of complex negotiations among over 140 member states, which were convened in Geneva by UNEP beginning in 2009.

"With this convention, nations have laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized since Greek and Roman times," said UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme Achim Steiner. "Everyone in the world stands to benefit from it, in particular the workers and families of small-scale gold miners, the peoples of the Arctic and this generation of mothers and babies and the generations to come."

Mercury and its various compounds have a range of serious health impacts including brain and neurological damage especially among the young. Others include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well documented problems.

According to a recent UNEP report, Global Mercury Assessment 2013, Asia is the largest regional emitter of mercury, and accounts for just under half of all global releases. The report also finds that an estimated 260 tonnes of mercury - previously held in soils - are being released into rivers and lakes. As much human exposure to mercury is through the consumption of contaminated fish, aquatic environments are the critical link to human health.

In the new treaty, governments have agreed on a range of mercury containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020. These include batteries, except for 'button cell' batteries used in implantable medical devices, switches and relays, certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps and soaps and cosmetics.

The treaty will also target the artisanal and small-scale gold mining industries, where mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock. In addition, it will control mercury emissions and releases from various large industrial facilities ranging from coal-fired power stations and industrial boilers to certain kinds of smelters handling for example zinc and gold.

Initial funding to fast track action until the new treaty comes into force in the expected three to five years' time has been pledged by Japan, Norway and Switzerland.

For more information, please contact: Melissa Gorelick, UNEP Information Officer, +254 20 762 3088/ +254 71 621 4041 melissa.gorelick@unep.org

Minamata Convention Agreed by Nations
Global Mercury Agreement to Lift Health Threats from Lives of Millions World-Wide  

Minamata Convention Agreed by Nations

Minamata Convention Agreed by Nations

Global Mercury Agreement to Lift Health Threats from Lives of Millions World-Wide

Geneva/Nairobi, 19 January 2013 - International effort to address mercury-a notorious heavy metal with significant health and environmental effects-was today delivered a significant boost with governments agreeing to a global, legally-binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury-named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th Century-provides controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.  

These range from medical equipment such as thermometers and energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors.

The treaty, which has been four years in negotiation and which will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October, also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury.

Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will also form part of the new agreement.

Mercury and its various compounds have a range of serious health impacts including brain and neurological damage especially among the young.

Others include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well documented problems.

Initial funding to fast track action until the new treaty comes into force in the expected three to five years' time has been pledged by Japan, Norway and Switzerland.

Support for developing countries is also expected from the Global Environment Facility and a programme once the convention is operational.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which convened the negotiations among over 140 member states in Geneva, said at the close:" After complex and often all night sessions here in Geneva, nations have today laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized for well over a century." 

"Everyone in the world stands to benefit from the decisions taken this week in Geneva- in particular the workers and families of small-scale gold miners, the peoples of the Arctic and this generation of mothers and babies and the generations to come. I look forward to swift ratification of the Minamata Convention so that it comes into force as soon as possible," he said.

Fernando Lugris, the Uruguayan chair of the negotiations, said : " Today in the early hours of 19 January 2013 we have closed a chapter on a journey that has taken four years of often intense but ultimately successful negotiations and opened a new chapter towards a sustainable future. This has been done in the name of vulnerable populations everywhere and represents an opportunity for a healthier and more sustainable century for all peoples".

Ambassador Franz Perrez of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Switzerland said:"Switzerland, which initiated with Norway the negotiations for a mercury convention, is very pleased about this impressive success. It will help us to protect human health and the environment all over the world and is a proof that multilateralism can work when political will exists."

"This treaty will not bring immediate reductions of mercury emissions. It will need to be improved and strengthened, to make all fish safe to eat," said David Lennett from the Natural Resources Defense Council representing the Zero Mercury Working Group a global coalition of environmental NGOs "Still, the treaty will phase out mercury in many products and we welcome it as a starting point."

The decision to launch negotiations was taken by environment ministers at the 2009 session of the UNEP Governing Council and the final and fifth negotiation took place this week in Geneva.

The scope of the new treaty which puts in controls and also reduction measures in respect to mercury is as follows.

Products

Governments have agreed on a range of mercury containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020.

These include:

  • Batteries, except for 'button cell' batteries used in implantable medical devices
  • Switches and relays
  • Certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
  • Mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps
  • Soaps and cosmetics

Certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices are also included for phase-out by 2020.

Governments approved exceptions for some large measuring devices where currently there are no mercury-free alternatives.

  • Vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities
  • Delegates agreed to a phase-down of the use of dental fillings using mercury amalgam.

Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

The booming price of gold in recent years has triggered a significant growth in small-scale mining where mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock.

Emissions and releases from such operations and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution world-wide.

Workers and their families involved in small-scale gold mining are exposed to mercury pollution in several ways including through inhalation during the smelting.

Mercury is also being released into river systems from these small-scale operations where it can contaminate fish, the food chain and people downstream.

  • Governments agreed that the treaty will require countries to draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners
  • Nations with artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations will draw up national plans within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce and if possible eliminate the use of mercury in such operations
  • Public awareness campaigns and support for mercury-free alternatives will also be part of the plans

From Power Stations to Cement Factories

The new treaty will control mercury emissions and releases from various large industrial facilities ranging from coal-fired power stations and industrial boilers to certain kinds of smelters handling for example zinc and gold.

Waste incineration and cement clinker facilities are also on the list.

Nations agreed to install the Best Available Technologies on new power plants and facilities with plans to be drawn up to bring emissions down from existing ones.

The negotiations were initially looking to set thresholds on the size of plants or level of emissions to be controlled. But it was decided this week to defer this until the first meeting of the treaty after it comes into force.

Notes to Editors

Background to the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury (INC5)

Global Mercury Assessment 2013

Time to Act

For More Information Please Contact
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson on Tel: +254 733632755 or when travelling +41 79 596 5737

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