On November 6, in a bold and surprising move, the United States became the first nation to officially join the Minamata Convention on Mercury. By being the first country to take the final steps necessary to join the Convention, among the 93 countries that initially signed on, the US has seized global leadership in tackling one of the most dangerous toxic pollutants in our environment. Fifty countries must join the Convention before it can take effect (or “enter into force,” as the lawyers say). Now that the US has started the ball rolling, let’s hope other countries are suitably impressed, and inspired to follow suit very quickly.
The Minamata Convention is critically important because it creates the foundation for international cooperation on mercury pollution, a problem no one country can solve on its own. That’s because mercury is a global pollutant – it can travel through the atmosphere to locations thousands of miles away from where it is emitted, without regard for national boundaries. The Minamata Convention comprehensively addresses all the major sources of mercury pollution including mercury released from coal-fired power plants, as well as mercury intentionally used in industry (mining, chemical manufacturing, etc.). It also phases out mercury-based products such as measuring devices and switches. Finally, the Convention also controls the supply and trade of mercury. (A blog by my colleague David Lennett gives more detail about what the Convention does and doesn’t cover.)
NRDC, together with our international NGO coalition, the Zero Mercury Working Group, has been laboring for almost a decade to make a global agreement on mercury a reality. As the Convention is now closer to entering into force, thanks to the US action, we are turning our attention to implementation – to make sure the agreement on paper translates into strong and committed action by all countries. We are already pressing key countries to take action immediately in the most urgent areas covered by the Convention, even before it enters into force. (You can download the ZMWG Action Challenge here.) And we’ll keep up the pressure for other countries to follow the US example and officially join the Convention as soon as possible, so that we can begin the final journey to our mercury-free future.