Mercury is mainly used in industrial products and processes. It persists in the environment, bio-accumulates in the food chain and can travel long distances. For restricting these negative effects as much as possible and effectively, an international and global prohibition is required. This is why the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) prepared an international treaty to eliminate mercury emissions as far as possible.
In 2009, UNEP initiated negotiations for entering into an international treaty for regulating the control and reduction of mercury emissions to ensure protection of the health and environment.
The treaty must take into account the presence of mercury in natural state on our planet. Since then, the reduction measures target emissions resulting from human activities.
The Minamata Treaty on mercury - from the name of the Japanese city that was victim of mercury pollution in 1950-1960 - was adopted by the International Negotiation Committee in January 2013. It shall come into effect around 2018.
It aims for emission reduction into air as well as to a lesser extent in water and in soil. It includes provisions about fields as varied as trade, use of products and industrial processes, supply and disposal on land.
For industrial products and processes, a dynamic mechanism is planned in the treaty: deadlines for new restrictions may be introduced without having to have recourse to new ratifications during each amendment in the treaty's text.
Regarding the land disposal, the Basel Convention must be referred to for ensuring consistency between international legislations. On the other hand, technical modalities have still to be defined in this field. Particulars about this topic shall be available through the competent Belgian regional authorities.
With regard to the supervision of trade, these are obligations that outline the import-export of metallic mercury by traders. These provisions are similar to the 'Prior Informed Consent’ of the Rotterdam Convention.
Measures for the reductions in emissions directly pertain to some industrial sectors (especially: ‘Coal-fired power plants, Coal-fired industrial boilers, Smelting and roasting processes used in the production of non-ferrous metals, Waste incineration facilities, Cement clinker production facilities’). Practical modalities of the aforementioned aspects (industrial products and processes, disposal on ground and trade) will also have an effect on the reduction of emissions.
With regard to the scope of emissions, it must be noted that a significant margin of flexibility has been given to future countries of the Treaty for defining the implementation modalities and objectives. This must ensure greater adherence of the concerned countries to the treaty.
Specific timetables and exceptions are planned in the Minamata Treaty, especially for handling special situations in various regions of the world, while ensuring nevertheless an evolution of these prohibition measures over time.
Europe has played the role of a leader in this process, especially because the European Union had already taken legislative initiatives in this direction based on the framework defined by the 'European Mercury Strategy’, launched in 2005.
Belgium has signed the Treaty in October 2013.
Belgium ratified the Minimata Convention on Mercury on February 26, 2018, and it entered into force on August 20, 2017. Thanks to the close collaboration between the partners of the Federal, Regions and Communities, in particular within the CCIEP, Belgium becomes 89th party to this new Convention. The European Mercury Strategy adopted in 2005 in the UN Environment served as a basis for negotiations for this new Convention.