In a significant development at the ongoing 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), more than 15 countries have renewed their commitment to address the emissions and release of mercury and combat the threat it poses to human health and environment.
The special event, called “The Minamata Convention on Mercury: Towards its early entry into force and effective implementation”, started on September 23 at the UN headquarters in New York. According to a UN press release, 18 countries signed the treaty, including Belarus, Cameroon, Cyprus, Ghana, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, Sudan and Turkey, among others.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global, legally binding treaty agreed to by governments in January 2013. The text of the convention is a comprehensive document which deals with the definition of mercury, its supply sources and trade, manufacturing, storage, wastes, emissions, releases, research and impact of mercury on health and environment.
Japan was among the first countries to sign the treaty last year. “As the country that has experienced the Minamata Disease, we recognise our critical role to lead the global challenge to eliminate mercury pollution. We promise to keep supporting the developing countries utilising our advanced mercury reduction technologies,” Yoshio Mochizuki, Japanese Minister of Environment, told at the meeting.
Minamata disease was first discovered in Japan in 1956, when methylmercury was released in industrial wastewater from a chemical factory in Minamata city. The resultant mercury poisoning in fish and the people who consumed them affected more than 2,000 people in the country, and the deaths continued for more than 30 years.
Achim Steiner, under-secretary general and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, congratulated the countries signing and ratifying the Minamata Convention. “They now join the international community’s commitment to address a pollutant—mercury—whose impact and notoriety is truly global. Their diversity speaks to the treaty’s universal nature and relevance as they encompass both large and small nations, rich and poor, tropical and polar. While there is much to celebrate today, it is now imperative that we use this momentum and move towards the convention’s early entry into force. It is critical that we begin the implementation phase as soon as possible in order to protect human health and the environment for the current generation and those yet to come,” he said at the meeting.
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