Overview of Minamata Convention
The “Minamata Convention” can be summarized as follows:
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a treaty of an initiative to eliminate any mercury contamination globally and as promoted by the UN. The Convention was unanimously adopted in Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, in October 2013 and signed by 92 nations, including Japan. The scheduling includes the Convention coming into force 90 days after being ratified by 50 countries
Japan has assumed leadership for the adoption of the Convention since its initial stage. As the Convention is coming into force, it requires both the public and private sectors to be committed to the Convention’s initiatives to eliminate any mercury contamination following the Convention.
The objective of the Minamata Convention
The objective of the Minamata Convention is to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
This Convention is named after the severe mercury poisoning that happened, leaving many folks in Minamata City crippling sick. The poisoning that occurred due to the industrial pollution caused by Chisso Corporation has led to disastrous events in Minamata, affecting hundreds of households and thousands of lives.
Why is it essential to have transboundary and global efforts?
Although mercury poisoning happened in Minamata, Japan, it is a global and transboundary environmental issue that requires a global effort.
Mobility of Mercury and its various form
With a comprehensive understanding of Mercury currently, it has a long mobile lifecycle in our ecosystem. Mercury exists in various forms, which can move along with air, water, the soil, where it will eventually end up in our food chain, entering back to humans.
Mercury in our environment can come from three sources, i.e., natural emissions, re-emitted emissions, and anthropogenic emissions. While every domestic authority can reduce mercury-contained products significantly, the domestic mercury detection does not represent the actual condition of mercury pollution that happened.
Mercury emitted from stationary combustion sources such as coal-fired power plants is primarily gaseous elemental Mercury. This form of Mercury is persistent in the ambient air. It could travel hundreds of miles apart from its source before depositing it into water bodies or soil. Local measurement and detection of Mercury might not originate locally due to its mobility.
It can happen anywhere in the world
Thus, mercury mobility also means mercury contamination happens not only in developed countries where massive industrial activities are happening – but also the remote location as Mercury travels miles apart from its origin point.
In short, the local authority’s effort alone is not sufficient to solve this issue. Its effect is transboundary and localized attempt is not enough. Thus, to curb the problem and reduce a significant amount of Mercury in our environment, interdisciplinary and intergovernmental actions are needed.
From Adoption to Convention
During the 25th Session of the UNEP Governing Council, the participant countries agreed that they would establish a legally binding document (Convention) for use to reduce the risk posed by Mercury.
The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was formed to commence negotiations in Conventions 2010 and finalize it by 2013.2009
At the 5th Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC5) in Geneva (Switzerland) in January, the name “Minamata Convention on Mercury” was decided.
The Conference of Plenipotentiaries Diplomatic Conference for the Minamata Convention on Mercury and its preparatory meetings were held in Kumamoto and Minamata in October.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury then was unanimously adopted and signed by 92 countries, including European Union2013
The Minamata Convention on Mercury enters into force on 16 August on the 90th day after the date of deposit of the 50th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession
The 1st Conference of the Parties (COP-1) adopts guidance on BAT/BEP for controlling mercury emissions as well as trade-in mercury and on reducing and eliminating mercury use in ASGM2017
The Convention consists of 35 articles, 5 annexes that can be divided into 4 categories
- Article 3 – Controls on mercury supply sources and trade
- Phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in products and processes (Articles 4, 5 and 6, Annexes A and B)
- Controls on artisanal and small scale gold mining where Mercury is used (Article 7, Annex C)
- Controls on air emissions and releases to land and water (Articles 8 and 9, Annex D)
- Storage, waste and contaminated sites (Articles 10, 11 and 12)
Support to parties
- A financial mechanism, which includes the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund and a specific international Programme to support capacity-building and technical assistance (Article 13)
- The provision of capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer (Article 14)
- The establishment of an Implementation and Compliance Committee (Article 15)
Information to raise awareness
- Health aspects (Article 16)
- Information exchange (Article 17)
- Public information, awareness, and education (Article 18)
- Research, development, and monitoring (Article 19)
- Implementation plans (Article 20)
- Reporting (Article 21)
- Effectiveness evaluation (Article 22)
- Conference of the Parties (Article 23)
- Secretariat, hosted by UNEP(Article 24)
- Procedures such as the settlement of disputes, amendments to the Convention, the adoption and amendment of annexes, the right to vote, signature, ratification (or acceptance, approval or accession), entry into force, reservations, withdrawal, depositary, authentic texts (Articles 25 to35, Annex E).
As the Convention contains multiple articles addressing different concerns, below are some summarized highlights:
Discontinuation of 16 mercury-containing products
Stricter control over exports and imports
Reduction of atmospheric emissions
Control of mercury-containing waste
Prohibition of the development and disuse of mercury mines
Highlight - Prohibition on the manufacture and the export and import of mercury-containing products
The manufacture, and the export and import of mercury-containing products in the list of banned products, including batteries, lamps, and cosmetics with a specific level of mercury content, will be prohibited by 2020.
Highlight – Reduce Atmospheric Emissions
The Convention imposes implementation of measures to reduce atmospheric emissions according to BAT/BET, etc. Annex D of the Minamata Convention text has listed the specific activities
Due to the lifecycle of Mercury, atmospheric emissions from stack gas exhaust could eventually lead to a significant increase of Mercury in water bodies or soil. Thus research on the behavior of mercury concentrations during the disposal process, continuous monitoring of final exhaust emissions, Mercury in water systems and earth can be expected to become increasingly necessary.
From the Annex D: List of specific sources of emissions of mercury and mercury compounds into the atmosphere
- Web site of the Ministry of the Environment: https://www.env.go.jp/chemi/tmms/index.html
- Web site of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry: http://www.meti.go.jp/policy/chemical_management/int/mercury.html
- Web site of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP): http://www.mercuryconvention.org/Home/tabid/3360/Default.aspx
- About “Minamata Convention on Mercury” by Environmental Health and Safety Division, Environmental Health Department, the Ministry of the Environment