Brussels, 10 October 2013
Environment: European Union welcomes the signing of the Minamata Convention on Mercury
Today Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, and Lithuanian Environment Minister Valentinas Mazuronis signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury on behalf of the European Union. The ceremony, in the Japanese town of Kumamoto, was attended by representatives of more than one hundred governments from around the globe. The Convention is the first new multilateral environmental agreement to be signed for more than ten years.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "I am very pleased to see so many of our international partners making this public commitment to halt mercury pollution. This is an unequivocal demonstration of widespread determination, and I am sure it will make a significant difference for human health and the environment around the world."
Mr Mazuronis said: "The EU has been a strong driver in the negotiation process and it will continue to play a very active role. We will of course continue this momentum and strive for early ratification of the Convention."
The new Convention, which is named after the location of the worst-ever case of mercury pollution, covers all aspects of the mercury life cycle. Once properly implemented, it will have genuinely global effects, as mercury pollution travels long distances in the air. Pregnant women, infants and children are at particular risk from mercury in the food-chain, and the Convention will bring about significant decreases to their exposure to this toxic substance in the long term.
The conference in Kumamoto also decided on a work programme to cover the period between signature and entry into force of the Convention, to prepare the decisions the first Conference of the Parties has to take. This includes work on guidance for best available techniques to combat mercury emissions into the air, a particularly important aspect.
The Commission has already launched work to develop the EU ratification instrument and necessary EU implementing legislation and will run consultations on this in the course of 2014. The Convention was negotiated by 140 UN Member States, and they will now begin their own procedures for ratification.
Mercury is a chemical with neurotoxic effects, widely used in industrial processes and in products like batteries or thermometers. Unintentional releases of mercury into the air, through coal burning for example, are a massive component of the global mercury problem. The substance is already strictly regulated in the EU, and the need for additional regulatory steps resulting from the Convention is currently under assessment.
Prior to the Minamata Convention, the most recent multilateral convention to be signed was the Stockholm Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants, in 2001.