General Studies IIIEnvironment and Ecology

Minamata Convention on Mercury


Recently, Indonesia has introduced a global declaration that calls on parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury to tackle illegal trade of mercury.

Mercury Pollution

  • Mercury is global and ubiquitous metal that occurs naturally and has broad uses in everyday objects.
  • It is released to the atmosphere, soil and water from a variety of sources such as burning coal for power plants, waste from industrial and medical products like batteries, measuring devices, such as thermometers and barometers, etc, extraction of minerals (smelting of gold), electric switches and relays in equipment, lamps (including some types of light bulbs) etc.

Harmful effects

  • According to WHO, Mercury is considered as one of top ten hazardous chemicals of major public health concern.
  • Once released into environment, mercury bio-accumulates and bio-magnifies in food chain and easily enters human body.
  • It has toxic effects on nervous, digestive and immune systems and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
  • Exposure to even small amount of mercury may cause serious health problems.
  • It is threat to the development of child in utero and early in life. It may also cause skin rashes and dermatitis.


  • Natural sources: Volcanic eruptions and emissions from the ocean.
  • Anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions: It includes mercury that is released from fuels or raw materials, or from uses in products or industrial processes.
    • Globally, Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM): It is the largest source of anthropogenic mercury emissions (37.7%), followed by stationary combustion of coal (21%).
    • Other large sources of emissions are non-ferrous metals production (15%) and cement production (11%).
    • Globally, 10-20 million people work in the ASGM sector and many of them use mercury on a daily basis.

Minamata Convention:

  • It is an international treaty
  • It is an UN Treaty
  • Signed in 2013
  • 128 countries are signatories to the Convention, and 119 countries are parties to it.
  • India is a party to the Minamata Convention and ratified it in 2018.
  • Aims to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds
  • The Convention is named after the Japanese city Minamata. This naming is of symbolic importance as the city went through devastating incident of mercury poisoning. It is expected that over the next few decades, this international agreement will enhance the reduction of mercury pollution from the targeted activities responsible for the major release of mercury to the immediate environment.
  • It aims to control anthropogenic releases of mercury throughout its lifecycle.

On 16 August 2017, the Minamata Convention on Mercury – a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds – came into force.

Obligations on Parties of Convention

  • Ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones.
  • Phase out and phase down of mercury use in a number of products and processes.
  • Control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water.
  • Regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

Minamata Convention Objectives

As per the official definition under the Convention, the objective of the Minamata Convention is “to protect the human health and the environment from the anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.”

  • The Convention contains, in support of this objective, provisions that relate to the entire life cycle of mercury, including controls and reductions across a range of processes, products, and industries where mercury is used, emitted or released. 
  • The Convention also includes provisions relating to mercury mining, its export and import, storage, and disposal.
  • The Treaty also covers areas such as the identification of at-risk populations, improving healthcare facilities, and training healthcare personnel to better tackle mercury-related ailments and diseases.

Areas covered under the Convention:

  1. Mercury supply sources and trade
  2. Manufacturing processes in which mercury or mercury compounds are used
  3. Mercury-added products
  4. Emissions to air
  5. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining
  6. Releases to land and water
  7. Mercury wastes
  8. Environmentally sound interim storage of mercury, other than mercury waste
  9. Health aspects
  10. Contaminated sites

Minamata Convention History

Mercury’s harmful effects were known to mankind since the 50s, especially because of the infamous Minamata Disease, which was first seen in the city of Minamata, Japan. 

  • In 2001, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiated an assessment of, among others, the health effects of mercury and its compounds.
  • In 2003, the Governing Council of the UNEP considered this assessment and decided that there was enough evidence to warrant strong action in this regard by governments.
  • In 2005 and 2007, a mercury program was initiated by governments with the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership, to reduce the adverse effects of mercury on health and the environment.
  • The UNEP decided to make a legally binding agreement on mercury in 2009, after which an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) was established.
  • The INC held five sessions from 2010 to 2013.
  • After the fifth session, the Convention was agreed upon and adopted. It was opened for signature for one year at a Conference of Plenipotentiaries (Diplomatic Conference) in Kumamoto, Japan.
  • The first meeting of the COP to the Convention was held in Geneva in 2017. 
  • The Convention entered into force in August 2017 after the 50th country ratified it.

Source: Down To Earth

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