New global treaty cuts mercury emissions and releases

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Minamata Convention Agreed by Nations (PHOTO@UNEP)

A historic new international convention to reduce emissions and releases of the toxic metal into air, land and water and to phase out many products that contain mercury was signed in Japan on Thursday.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury – a global, legally binding treaty which opened for signature Thursday – was agreed to by Governments in January and formally adopted as international law today.

The Minamata Convention provides for controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. The treaty also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal, and safe storage of waste mercury.

The new treaty is the first global convention on environment and health for close to a decade. Coming at a time when some multilateral negotiations have faced challenges, its successful negotiation, after a four-year process, provides a new momentum to intergovernmental cooperation on the environment.

Countries began the recognition for this new treaty at a special ceremonial opening of the Diplomatic Conference in Minamata, the city where many local people were poisoned in the mid-20th Century after eating mercury-contaminated seafood from Minamata Bay. As a consequence, the neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning has come to be known as Minamata Disease.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in an address read to the conference that "The Minamata Convention will protect people and improve standards of living for millions around the world, especially the most vulnerable.''

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1’27″

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