7. Strengthening International Agreements

Given that the majority of anthropogenic mercury deposited in Canada comes from foreign sources, the Government must work collaboratively with other countries to reduce global mercury emissions and to minimize the cross-border movement of mercury into Canada. The following section describes two international agreements that address mercury releases, to which Canada is a Party. Information on additional international agreements can be found in Annex I.

7.1 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Canada and the United States first signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972. It was amended in 1983, 1987, and most recently 2012 to enhance water quality programs that ensure the Great Lakes’ “chemical, physical, and biological integrity”. Annex 3 of the 2012 Agreement seeks to reduce anthropogenic releases into the air, water, land, sediment, and biota of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem of chemicals, including mercury, that are of concern to both Canada and the United States. A commitment under Annex 3 was made by the two Parties to designate Chemicals of Mutual Concern in consultation with stakeholders and the public, and prepare binational strategies to tackle risk management concerns in the Great Lakes by each Party. Mercury was designated as a Chemical of Mutual Concern in 2016.

Emissions and deposition of mercury into the atmosphere were identified in a 2010 report as the Great Lakes region’s largest source of mercury, with the greatest proportion of this coming from coal-fired electric power generation facilities (Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, 2010).

The Governments of Canada and the United States have prepared a draft Binational Strategy for mercury to focus their efforts, including by cooperating and consulting with many partners and the public, to reduce mercury in the Great Lakes region (Environment and Climate Change Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). This strategy identifies many issues that must be addressed, including the impact of climate change on the mercury cycle, the need to enhance emissions data, and the need for comprehensive evaluation of existing regulatory programs to reduce mercury impacts on the Great Lakes.

7.2 Minamata Convention on Mercury

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury by taking a life-cycle approach to mercury management. The treaty entered into force on August 16, 2017. Parties to the Convention commit to:

Additionally, Parties will evaluate the effectiveness of the Minamata Convention. This evaluation will measure how well the treaty is working to meet its objective to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic mercury emissions and releases. Canadian environmental monitoring and biomonitoring data will play a key role in evaluating the effectiveness of the treaty. The first evaluation of the effectiveness of the Minamata Convention is expected to begin no later than 2023. As such, the Government of Canada will continue to provide data via the Northern Contaminants Program, the Canadian Health Measures Survey, the work under the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, and other environmental monitoring programs.

The impacts of the Minamata Convention may take decades to be observed in the Canadian environment despite the wide and growing adherence to the treaty. This is mostly due to the amount of time and complexity of the mercury cycling that is necessary for the reductions of global emission to result in less mercury being deposited in Canadian ecosystems. Furthermore, some treaty obligations only become mandatory many years after the Convention enters into force, which could further delay global emission reductions. While the treaty requires stringent controls on mercury emissions from specific industrial sectors, it is expected that the growth of coal-fired power plants in developing countries may cause global mercury emissions to increase in the near term.

Results: The Minamata Convention has 128 signatory countries and has now been ratified by over 115 parties, including Canada. Canada participated in the first three Conferences of the Parties, was a member on expert groups to develop guidance on atmospheric emission reductions and to work on effectiveness evaluation; and has helped other governments to implement treaty requirements by providing technical assistance.

Canada will continue to take a leadership role under the Minamata Convention, in particular, as it relates to atmospheric emission reductions and assessing the effectiveness of the treaty.

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