Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal with global impact. Mercury disperses widely, is very persistent in the environment, can bioaccumulate in organisms and ecosystems and has harmful effects on human health and the environment.
In 2009, the UNEP Governing Council at its 25th session therefore decided to develop a new agreement on mercury. By adopting this mandate for a convention for the protection of humans and the environment against the negative effects of mercury, environment ministers have taken another step towards a comprehensive, coherent, effective and efficient chemicals and waste management regime.
Negotiations for the new convention began in June 2009 and were successfully completed in Geneva in January 2013. Doris Leuthard, Federal Councillor, signs the Convention in October 2013 in Japan. Switzerland ratified the Convention in May 2016. The Convention entered into force on 16 August 2017.
The core elements of the Minamata Convention are:
- New mercury mines will be banned and existing mercury mines will only be permitted to operate for a maximum of 15 years after the Convention has entered into force.
- Mercury containing products for which mercury-free alternatives already exist will be banned by 2020. This applies, for example, to batteries, switches and relays containing mercury, and to certain types of lamps and instruments such as barometers, pressure gauges, thermometers and sphygmomanometers.
- Concrete measures will be introduced to reduce the use of dental amalgam.
- Processes that use mercury will be regulated too. Thus, from 2025 chlor-alkali electrolysis plants that use the amalgam process, and from 2018 acetaldehyde production with mercury (components) used as a catalyst, will be banned. For some processes, no phase-out date has so far been set; instead the Convention imposes binding reduction measures for the use of mercury, including quantifiable goals. This includes the production of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) as well as of polyurethane with mercury-added catalysts and of sodium or potassium methylate or ethylate.
- International trade of mercury is limited to uses allowed under the Convention or for disposal. There is, moreover, an obligation of prior written consent.
- Measures for reducing the main sources of emissions have been defined; for example, for new plants with very high emissions, the best available techniques must be applied, taking into account the economic and technical conditions of the respective country, and/or the best environmental practice. Coal-fired power plants, coal-fired industrial boilers, production processes of non-ferrous metals, cement clinker production facilities and waste-incineration facilities were identified as the most important (point) sources of emissions.
- Countries with artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) are obliged to reduce, and as far as possible completely eliminate, the use of mercury in this sector.
- Concerning mercury and mercury compounds, regulations for safe and environmentally sound interim storage, proper management and waste disposal, as well as for transboundary movement were enacted in accordance with the Basel Convention; as well as the possibility of developing additional requirements and specific guidelines at a later date.
- An efficient and effective mechanism has been set to ensure that parties comply with their obligations and take appropriate measures.
- A coherent and efficient multilateral financing system centres on the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in combination with other funding elements.
Last modification 13.09.2018