JAMAICA was one of 91 countries to sign the historic Minamata Convention on Mercury at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries which took place in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan from October 9-11.
Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill signed on behalf of the Government of Jamaica.
The treaty seeks to place controls and restrictions on a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. It seeks to phase out by 2020, the production, export and import of products that -contain mercury.
These include batteries, switches and relays, certain types of compact fluorescent lamps, soaps and cosmetics, certain types of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices; and the use of dental fillings using mercury amalgam.
The treaty also seeks to control mercury emissions and releases from the mining industry as well as cement and coal-fired power plants. In addition, parties that have artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations are expected to draw up national plans within three years of the treaty being entered into force to reduce and where possible, eliminate the use of mercury in these operations.
Under the new agreement, populations at risk will be identified, and medical care and training of health professionals improved.
The decision to begin negotiations on mercury was taken by environment ministers four years ago at the 2009 session of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council. The fifth and final negotiation took place in Geneva, Switzerland on January 19, 2013 where the treaty document was finalised.
In his remarks following the signing, Minister Pickersgill stated that Jamaica's commitment to the finalisation of the text of the Minamata Convention has been evident in the role that the country has played in the inter-governmental negotiating process.
"In signing this instrument," Pickersgill said, "we are signalling to the international community our commitment to achieve the objective of the Convention (which) is to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The specific needs and special circumstances of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including Jamaica, with respect to technical and financial assistance, capacity building and technology transfer, have been clearly recognised in the text of the instrument.
"Therefore, we anticipate that the support provided to SIDS during the interim period between signature and entry into force of the Convention will be meaningful and [will] complement our efforts at the national level towards becoming Parties to the Convention."
The minister added that the inter-governmental negotiating process was a true example of the international community working collaboratively as one, towards a common good.
Mercury and its compounds have serious health impacts including brain and neurological damage — especially among young children -- kidney damage, and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment among other health risks.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury was named after the Japanese city where there was serious damage to health due to mercury pollution in the mid-20th century.