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Countries ready to adopt Minamata Convention
Publication Date : 10-10-2013
A three-day UN conference on the Minamata Convention on Mercury opened on Wednesday in Kumamoto Prefecture, where signatory countries will begin procedures to ratify it.
Leaders and environment ministers from more than 60 countries have gathered in Kumamoto city and Minamata for the conference.
The convention will restrict worldwide mining, use, export and import of mercury. The articles on this page will analyze the history and current situation surrounding Minamata disease.
In the natural environment, traces of mercury can be found everywhere, including in the sea, rivers, air, and in animals and plants. What is seen to be a problem is mercury produced by human activity, such as mercury emissions from factories.
By regulating the mining, use and trade of mercury, the convention aims to cap mercury emissions across the globe to protect human health and the environment.
In 2010, global mercury emissions from human activity were 1,960 tons. The largest source of mercury emissions was small-scale gold mining at 37 per cent, followed by 25 per cent from burning fossil fuels, such as at coal-powered thermal power plants.
The convention will in principle prohibit production of goods in which mercury is used, as well as the import and export of such products starting in 2020. Until then, the convention will encourage signatory countries to gradually reduce their use of mercury.
Concerning small-scale gold mining, the convention will stipulate that use and emission of mercury be reduced. Any construction of new coal-powered thermal power plants will be required to include equipment to help minimise mercury emissions.
China, the world’s largest emitter, and the United States, which has not signed other international treaties relating to chemical substances and waste, will likely support the convention. If the two countries ratify the convention, experts expect that effectiveness of the regulations will improve.
Mercury is highly poisonous and can spread vast distances through the air. Undissolved mercury can then accumulate in water and soil, resulting in hazards to the health of living creatures.
There are products in which mercury is used in our daily lives.
From 2020, the convention will ban the production, import and export of products that contain mercury including blood pressure monitors, clinical thermometers, high-pressure mercury lamps, and topical antiseptic agents.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) decided to establish the convention in 2009. It was compiled in January after five rounds of intergovernmental negotiations.
If the convention is signed in Kumamoto, the signatory countries will begin ratification procedures.
The convention goes into effect 90 days after at least 50 countries and territories have ratified it. It is expected that the convention will go into effect in 2016 at the earliest.
To ratify the convention, the signatory countries need to create domestic legislation necessary to enforce it. In Japan, some companies export mercury, which is extracted mainly from used products.
But information about imports of foreign-made batteries and fluorescent tubes containing mercury is insufficient.
Thus the government will quickly consider necessary measures, including a law to ensure the convention’s effectiveness. The law will regulate the import and export of mercury and control the management of mercury contained in used products.
Kono is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer.