Asia may be the biggest stumbling block to Minamata Treaty commitments

New mercury mines, illegal trading hubs and unrestricted small scale mining undermining mercury reduction efforts

Manila/Jakarta, 9 March 2016—Asia is emerging as a possible huge stumbling block to realizing mercury reduction efforts mandated by the Minamata Convention, environmental groups revealed today on the eve of a UN mercury treaty meeting in Jordan.

BAN Toxics[1] and Bali Fokus[2] revealed that mercury production and illegal trade in Asia has seen a sharp increase in the past several years. New and soon to be illegal[3] primary mercury mines are now popping up in Indonesia, production in China is increasing, and Singapore and Hong Kong are emerging as major trading centers supplying mercury around and beyond Asia[4].

“Illegal, unreported and unregulated mercury production is the biggest problem in Asia that could prevent countries from fulfilling their commitments to the Minamata Convention,” said Shalimar Vitan, Chief Operations Officer, BAN Toxics. “All this is feeding substantial mercury demand in small-scale gold mining in the greater Asian region, and potentially in Latin America and across the world. These trends do not bode well for the future of the Minamata Convention,” she added.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury, agreed in 2013, signed by 128 countries and ratified by 23 nations thus far, is a treaty that protects human health and environment from mercury pollution. The treaty bans new mercury mines, places control measures on air emissions, imposes regulations on artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and enforces the phase out of existing mines and products. The meeting in Jordan this week is the seventh session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) on mercury which meets to agree on the finer details of the agreement. This is the last meeting before the Convention enters into force, once 50 countries ratify it.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is persistent and is known to bioaccumulate, posing the greatest risks to developing children, coastal populations and millions of small scale gold miners using mercury around the globe. With export bans and mercury mine closures and phase outs in the US and EU, production and trading centers have moved to Asia. Most of the mercury ends up being used in artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) which is the biggest source of toxic mercury emissions globally.

Significant gaps in information on mercury production and trade flows prevent a clear understanding of the global supply situation. There is currently no standard information or listing on mercury production, supply and trade. Some mercury producing countries do not report production levels and many countries have no accurate listing of their mercury stocks due to the proliferation of illegal or smuggled supplies.

According to BAN Toxics and Bali Fokus, countries in Asia need to start identifying and quantifying their mercury production sources, be transparent about their production volumes and stockpiles and about who is exporting and how much to which nations, in order to effectively control and manage mercury trade and comply with their mercury reduction commitments.

“Countries in Asia need to start taking mercury and the Minamata Convention seriously, and stay true to the spirit and intent of this historic agreement,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, International Co-coordinator, Zero Mercury Working Group. “They should use their participation in the Jordan meeting to reaffirm commitments to the Convention by implementing an immediate ban on production and trade and urging countries in other regions to do the same.”

BAN Toxics is an independent non-profit, environmental organization that is devoted to preventing toxic trade of wastes, goods, and technology, and upholding the rights of developing countries to environmental justice. Visit www.bantoxics.org. 

NOTES:

[1] BAN Toxics is a member of the Zero Mercury Working Group (www.zeromercury.org), a global coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries.

[2] BaliFokus is an NGO focusing in waste management and toxics reduction working in cooperation with local goverments and small-scale entrepreneurs and farmers across Indonesia (http://balifokus.asia/balifokus/ ). It is a member of IPEN, a global network of more than 700 non-governmental organizations working toward toxics elimination.

[3]Primary mercury mines will be illegal once the Minamata Convention enters into force.

[4]See Zero Mercury Working Group Action Challenge Final Report