Minamata Convention Enters into Force, Mercury Bans Become International Law

August 16, 2017

Today, the Minamata Convention, the world’s first legally binding global agreement to reduce mercury pollution, entered into force. CIEL welcomes the Minimata Convention into the annuls of international law. It bans new mercury mines, phases out existing mines, includes provisions for the safe handling and disposal of large mercury stockpiles, requires prior informed consent and safe management for mercury exports and imports, and sets concrete timelines for the phase-out of many mercury-containing products (such as compact flourescent lightbulbs) and processes (such as chlor-alkali bleaching).

The Convention is the first legally binding chemical treaty in a decade. Seventy-four countries have ratified it, exceeding the threshold of 50 countries required for the treaty to enter into force.

While the Convention recognizes that mercury is a global threat to human health, livelihoods, and the environment, it leaves serious gaps and loopholes for the most significant sources of mercury contamination: gold mining and coal-fired power plants. It also leaves wide discretion for individual countries to set their own approaches, targets, and timelines on key provisions.

CIEL urges countries to use the Minamata Convention as a foundation for meaningful and immediate action to eliminate mercury risks and to take more ambitious action at the domestic level to protect people and the planet from the toxic impacts of mercury.

A bigger question than the future effectiveness of the Minamata Convention is whether humanity can afford to continue to address toxic substances individually – treaty by treaty – or if instead it is time for a more comprehensive approach to managing toxic risks.

For background information on global treaties for chemicals and waste, see: Paths to Global Chemicals Safety: The 2020 Goal and Beyond (CIEL/SSNC 2013).