This page provides information on the Minamata Convention on Mercury which was signed in 2013 and the ongoing negotiations to ready the agreement so it can come into force.
About the convention
Since 2008, New Zealand has been taking 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 will enter into force when 50 states have ratified it. This is expected to occur in 2016 or 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 and 2012. 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.
- Life cycle assessment of product stewardship options for mercury-containing lamps in New Zealand: Final report
- New Zealand lighting industry product stewardship scheme: Phase 1 assessment and review
- Contaminated land management guidelines
- Good Practice Guide for Air Quality Monitoring and Data Management 2009
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.
- National interest analysis: Minamata Convention on Mercury [PDF, 191 KB]
- International treaty examination of the Minamata Convention on Mercury: Report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee [New Zealand Parliament website]
The Ministry is currently consulting across government and collecting information about the domestic implications of ratifying the convention. We aim to introduce ratifying legislation in 2017 in order to become a Party to the convention before the first Conference of the Parties in 2017/2018. The Conference of the Parties is the opportunity for ratified countries to meet and discuss issues and ongoing guidance to implement the convention. The Minamata Convention falls under the UNEP umbrella, but has its own secretariat.
Find out more
Treaty making process [Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website]