Minamata Convention on Mercury

This page provides information on the Minamata Convention on Mercury which was signed in 2013. 

About the convention 

New Zealand took part in negotiations to develop an international agreement on mercury under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) [United Nations Environment Programme website].

The Minamata Convention on Mercury was concluded in January 2013, and New Zealand signed the convention in Japan on 10 October 2013. The next step is for New Zealand to ratify the convention, which would make it binding on New Zealand.

Why an international agreement on mercury?

Mercury is a highly toxic substance, which has serious effects on human health and on the environment.

It can cause harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and may be fatal. It can also cause neurological and behavioural disorders and symptoms such as insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches, and cognitive and motor dysfunction. The harmful effects can be transferred from a mother to her unborn child. Infants, children and women of childbearing age are therefore particularly at risk.

The presence of mercury in the environment is a global problem as mercury can readily enter and be widely transported through the atmosphere, oceans and the food chain. It accumulates in the food chain. Consuming food with mercury in it is a major source of exposure to mercury for both people and some animals.

Mercury is released both through natural sources such as volcanic and geothermal activity and human activity such as industrial processes (eg, cement and steel manufacturing and some forms of power generation) and waste disposal (eg, disposal of electronic equipment containing mercury, including some batteries and lighting equipment).

What does the convention do?

The convention addresses:

  • the direct mining of mercury
  • export and import of the metal
  • mercury emissions from some industrial activities
  • artisanal gold mining that uses mercury
  • significant releases to land and water
  • safe storage
  • contaminated sites and waste mercury.

Natural emissions from sources such as geothermal activities are not part of the convention.

Signing the convention does not create obligations on New Zealand. The convention entered into force internationally on 16 August 2017.

For the text of the convention see the Minamata Convention on Mercury website

Our interest in the convention

New Zealand is interested in:

  • the protection of human health and the environment from the harmful effects of exposure to mercury
  • reduction of mercury emissions from human activity.

This would not necessarily involve the total elimination of mercury.

The Ministry for the Environment commissioned mercury inventories in 2008, 2012 and 2016. These inventories provide details of both natural sources of mercury and those originating from human activity.

We differ from many other countries in having significant natural emissions of mercury from geothermal and volcanic activity. These emissions are not part of the convention.

We are working to address various waste management issues including mercury.

See the following resources. 

What’s next?

New Zealand’s ratification of the Minamata Convention is subject to the normal treaty making process. A national interest analysis (NIA) was submitted to Parliament in 2013 and considered by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee during the treaty examination process.

New Zealand is currently developing the domestic measures required to ratify the convention. 

Find out more

Treaty making process [Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website]

Reviewed:
13/05/19