Regulatory Developments

Minamata Convention on Mercury Achieves Ratification: International Use and Mining of Mercury Targeted for Scale Down

June 20, 2017

The Minamata Convention on Mercury (Convention), a global treaty aimed at scaling down mercury use and production developed by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), recently surpassed the 50-country threshold required for it to become legally binding for all of its parties.  This occurred on May 18, 2017, when the European Union (EU) and seven of its member states (Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, and Sweden) ratified the Convention.  The United States ratified the Convention in 2013.  A full list of the parties is available here.  The Convention will now become legally binding on August 16, 2017

Summary of the Convention

The Convention includes the following obligations by its parties:

  • Banning new mercury mines;
  • Phasing out existing mercury mines;
  • Phasing out and phasing down mercury use in a number of products and processes;
  • Controlling measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water; and
  • Regulating the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining. 

The Convention also addresses mercury’s import and export; safe interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste; sites contaminated by mercury; and health issues, including pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care, and better training of health-care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects. 
 
The Convention is made of 35 Articles and 5 Annexes.  The Articles can be divided into four main categories:

  1. Operational articles -- describe the obligations for Parties to reduce anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds to the environment, with controls on all lifecycle stages of mercury, including:  supply sources and trade; phasing out and phasing down; artisanal and small-scale gold mining; air emissions and releases to land and water; and storage, waste, and contaminated sites;
  2. Support to Parties -- with articles relating to:  the establishment of a financial mechanism, including the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund; the provision of capacity building, technical assistance, and technology transfer; and the establishment of an Implementation and Compliance Committee; 

  3. Information and awareness raising articles -- covering:  health aspects; information exchange; public information, awareness, and education; research, development, and monitoring; implementation plans; reporting; and effectiveness evaluation; and

  4. Administrative matters -- with articles establishing the Conference of the Parties; the Secretariat; and procedures such as the settlement of disputes, amendments to the Convention, the adoption and amendment of annexes, the right to vote, signature, ratification, entry into force, reservations, withdrawal, depositary, and authentic texts.

Regarding the last of these, the U.S., in ratifying the Convention, included a declaration that any amendment to an annex to the Convention shall enter into force only upon its ratification by the U.S.

The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention has been scheduled for September 24-29, 2017, at the International Conference Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.  The Conference will culminate in a High-Level Segment on September 28-29, 2017, hosted by the President of Switzerland, entitled “Making mercury history,” and will be preceded on September 23-24, 2017, by preparatory meetings, including regional and Bureau meetings.  Registration is available online and is requested by June 23, 2017.  Implementation support resources are also available on the Convention’s website.

Commentary 

The coming entry into force of the Minamata Convention is a notable accomplishment, given the many serious international issues posed by the exposures from continued mining, use, waste disposal, and emissions of mercury into the environment.  The Convention also includes important provisions concerning import/export, safe storage, and dealing with mercury-contaminated sites.
 
It is of considerable note that the U.S. took the step of ratifying the Convention and achieving party status.  This is an unusual step for the U.S. to take with international environmental conventions and one can only hope for such a milestone to be achieved by the U.S. regarding ratification of other conventions.  Sadly, the list is long and includes the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP; entered into force in 2004), the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC; entered into force in 2004), and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (entered into force in 1992), among others.


 
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