Global treaty to tackle mercury pollution

21st January 2013

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Resource extraction ,
  • Engineering and metals ,
  • Electronics ,
  • Chemicals ,
  • Manufacturing



Countries agree a new legally-binding convention to ban the use of mercury in batteries and restrict emissions from industry

After four years of negotiations, representatives from 140 UN member states rubber stamped the Minamata Convention on Mercury on 19 January, at the conclusion of a week-long summit in Geneva.

The convention, which member states will officially sign up to in October, aims to reduce the amount of mercury escaping into the atmosphere and water sources, by restricting its use in products, improving mining practices and ensuring the safe storage of waste mercury.

Mercury pollution causes significant harm to the environment and human health, including damage to the brain, kidneys and digestive system.

Under the convention, governments have agreed to ban the use of mercury in batteries, cosmetics, some energy-efficient light bulbs and certain medical devices, including thermometers, by 2020.

Measures to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, waste incineration and industrial activities, such as gold mining and smelting, were also agreed. The convention says best available technologies must be installed at new facilities, and that countries must develop plans to reduce emissions from existing ones.

Specific thresholds on the size of industrial plants or on the level of mercury emissions allowed to be released, however, were not included in the convention after member states decided to defer a decision on such targets until after the treaty comes into force.

Franz Perrez, from Switzerland’s federal ministry for the environment, said: “[The convention] 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.”

David Lennett, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the convention was only a starting point. “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,” he claimed.

With UN states to officially sign up to the treaty in the autumn, the convention is unikely to be fully enforced until 2018.

In 2010, around 2,960 tonnes of mercury was released into the environment as a result of human activities, according to estimates from the UN’s environment programme (UNEP).

In its Global mercury assessment 2013, UNEP warns that, while mercury output was relatively stable between 1990 and 2005, emissions from burning fossil fuels, metal and cement production increased output between 2005 and 2010.

“Without improved pollution controls or other actions to reduce mercury emissions, mercury emissions are likely to be substantially higher in 2050 than they are today,” states the report.

According the UNEP’s figures, burning coal released 475 tonnes of mercury into the air during 2010, and industrial sites were responsible for 185 tonnes of mercury reaching waterways.

Transform articles

IEMA reacts to UK government's Net Zero Strategy

IEMA has raised concerns around a lack of funding for proposals outlined in the UK government's Net Zero Strategy, which was published earlier this week.

21st October 2021

Read more

Almost one-third of Europe's largest companies have now set net-zero emissions targets, but far less are set to deliver on their ambitions.

7th October 2021

Read more

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has today unveiled the most significant changes to its reporting standards since 2016, setting a new benchmark for corporate sustainability.

5th October 2021

Read more

Seven of the UK's 17 key industry sectors are still increasing their emissions year-on-year, and most will miss their 2050 net-zero targets without significant government action, new research suggests.

23rd September 2021

Read more

In February 2019, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 322 on Sustainable Finance was formed.

23rd September 2021

Read more

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a new 'Green Claims Code' to ensure businesses are not misleading consumers about their environmental credentials.

22nd September 2021

Read more

The UK government must develop regulation to stop the financial sector from providing billions of pounds to companies that threaten rainforests worldwide, WWF has said.

10th September 2021

Read more

Half of the world's 40 largest listed oil and gas companies will have to slash their production by at least 50% by the 2030s to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement, new analysis has found.

9th September 2021

Read more

Thames Water has been fined £4m after untreated sewage escaped from sewers below London into a park and a river.

30th July 2021

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert