The Minamata Convention, a global agreement “to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds,” will be opened for signature in Minamata, Japan from October 9-11. The Arctic Council States and Permanent Participant organizations welcome the new agreement, recognizing that the Council’s scientific work has contributed greatly to global understanding of mercury pollution.
The Convention takes its name from the town of Minamata, Japan, where a terrible outbreak of mercury poisoning shocked the country in the 1950s. This outbreak, and others that followed, highlighted the danger that toxic mercury and mercury compounds can pose to all levels of an ecosystem, particularly its impacts on human health. The Convention is a significant step towards tackling the problem of mercury emissions worldwide. It includes provisions aimed at identifying, controlling, and cleaning up of mercury from numerous sources.
The Arctic Council States and Permanent Participant organizations have come together to express their support for the Convention, as seen in the just-released “Statement to the Diplomatic Conference on the Minamata Convention on Mercury”. The Statement points to several Arctic Council reports that have contributed to global understanding of mercury and its effects in the Arctic in particular. Most recently, the Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme Working Group (AMAP) collaborated with the UN Environment Programme in preparing the Technical Background Report for the “Global Mercury Assessment 2013 – Sources, Emissions, Releases and Environmental Transport.”
AMAP also contributed substantially to the understanding of mercury as a pollutant in the Arctic with its 2011 assessment “Mercury in the Arctic,” which was released and distributed during the Convention’s negotiation phase. The Arctic Contaminants Action Program Working Group (ACAP) has also identified potential measures to reduce atmospheric mercury releases from the Arctic States themselves.
The Arctic Council States have long been supportive of a global mercury agreement, and look forward to playing an active role in supporting the Minamata Convention. This role will include ongoing contributions to mercury monitoring and assessment activities. The Council is also confident that the new observers to the Council added during the May 2103 Kiruna ministerial meeting can make major contributions to the goal of reducing global mercury emissions.