Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan T.D welcomed the successful conclusion, at UN negotiations in Geneva, of a new legally binding, global treaty for the protection of human health and the environment from exposure to mercury.
The UN negotiations which ended in the early hours of 19 January, marked the culmination of over four years of work by the UN, national Governments and key stakeholders. This final round of negotiations, in which over 140 countries participated, delivered a treaty which takes a comprehensive approach to the hazards posed by mercury, by seeking to reduce and control its use throughout its supply, trade, use and disposal across the globe. “This is a significant achievement for the global environment and lays the foundation for further action on mercury”, Minister Hogan said.
Minister Hogan highlighted the dangers to human health and the environment of mercury emissions and releases which may travel long distances from their source, as well as bio-accumulating within ecosystems. “This is a global problem, that needed a global solution, and I am delighted that the European Union – through the European Commission and the Member States – played a key role in the final negotiations of the treaty. I’m particularly proud of the very effective role that the Irish Presidency played over the course of the week-long session. The treaty which has now been agreed will improve the lives of many across the world, as well as protecting our precious environment. Mercury has long-since been recognised as a dangerous substance, that is particularly hazardous to vulnerable populations like pregnant women, children and indigenous communities that depend on local fish sources”, Minister Hogan said.
“This is a significant achievement for the global environment and lays the foundation for further action on mercury”
The treaty, which is a dynamic instrument which provides for further elaboration of measures to reduce and control mercury use into the future, includes a number of significant provisions. Specifically, it provides for the introduction, in due course, of a ban on new primary mercury mining, coupled with the phasing out of existing mining activities over time. It also provides a phased approach to reduce the use of mercury in certain products and processes. These two measures, taken together, are expected to significantly reduce both the supply and demand for mercury into the future. The new treaty will also control mercury emissions and releases from various large industrial facilities.
Recognising the importance of supporting developing countries in meeting their obligations under the treaty, there are also provisions to provide financial support (mainly through the Global Environment Facility) and technical assistance, as well as a mechanism to review implementation and compliance. The dynamic nature of the treaty provisions means that further, more robust measures to reduce the supply and use of mercury, as well as measures to control emissions and releases from mercury, may be added over time.
The diplomatic ceremony for the official signature of the Mercury Treaty will take place in Japan in October 2013, near Minamata, the town that experienced one of the world’s worst cases of mercury pollution in the late 1950’s. To remember those who suffered as a result of that mercury pollution episode, the treaty is to be named ‘the Minamata Convention on Mercury’.