The international agreement on mercury

The Minamata Convention

Background information on the United Nations Convention on Mercury

In January 2013, negotiations were concluded on the United Nations Convention on Mercury – known as the Minamata Convention. The Federal Republic of Germany strongly supported the convention from the start of negotiations. On 10 October 2013, over 90 countries including Germany and the European Union signed the convention in Minamata, Japan. The convention was the first new multilateral environmental agreement to have been adopted in several years.

Its name is a reminder of the disastrous consequences of a deliberate pollution of the environment with mercury. Minamata was the scene of a major mercury disaster when in the mid-1950s several thousand people suffered from severe health problems due to discharges of wastewater containing mercury by the Japanese chemicals company Chisso over many years. Many died due to heavy metal poisoning. What came to be called Minamata disease can cause paralysis, deformities and permanent damage to organs, nerves and the immune system. The name Minamata Convention commemorates the victims of this contamination and acts as a warning of the consequences of mercury emissions and irresponsible handling of this heavy metal.

First Conference of the Parties (COP 1)

More than 1200 representatives of governments, non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations participated in COP1 of the Minamata Convention under the heading "Make Mercury History". The aim of this first conference was mainly to launch the practical implementation of the convention and to adopt the required guidelines. Key issues included the location and organisational structure of the permanent secretariat, the budget, reporting and financing mechanism. During a high-level segment, two heads of state and government and 80 ministers discussed mercury-related issues at a roundtable meeting.

While progress was made with regard to technical issues (for example reporting, monitoring the effectiveness of the convention, management of existing mercury pollutions), no agreement was reached on the location of the permanent secretariat. Various topics were postponed to COP2.

Second Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP2)

The second Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention took place in Geneva from 19 to 23 November 2018. At the conference, decisions on practical implementation issues were taken up again. Apart from discussing procedural, financing budget-related issues, COP2 adopted the final decision to establish the Convention Secretariat at Geneva, thus paving the way for it to be fully functional. Prominent topics of discussion at technical level until the next COP will be waste thresholds, reduction or complete prevention of mercury emissions in the environment and environmentally sound management of polluted sites. This will in particular provide developing countries and countries with economies in transition with instruments to protect human health and the environment from mercury impacts. Another key decision at technical level involved the effectiveness evaluation of the convention, aimed at guaranteeing future compliance with the provisions of the convention. Through the development of implementation mechanisms, the parties can meet their obligations under the convention, thus reducing the input of mercury into the environment and making the success of these measures visible.

Developing countries receive financial and technical support which allow them to meet the obligations arising from the Minamata Convention. Support will be provided by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Specific International Programme under the Minamata Convention.

COP3 will be devoted to the continuation of work on the convention’s implementation mechanism and is due to take place in Geneva from 25 to 29 November 2019.

Further information