Mercury: implementation of the Minamata Convention

The Government of Canada has approved implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a new global, legally binding treaty under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  The objective of this Convention is to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.

As an Arctic country, Canada is impacted by mercury pollution from foreign sources and is therefore a direct beneficiary of this treaty.  Canada was an active participant during the negotiations for this treaty and signed the Convention in 2013 and ratified it in 2017.  Implementation by Canada will underscore our commitment to the protection of our Arctic environment and the health of all Canadians, in particular of our Indigenous peoples, who are being exposed to elevated levels of mercury that are among the highest in the world through the consumption of their traditional foods. 

The implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury by Canada is expected to produce important positive environmental effects globally and for Canada. Implementation by Canada will contribute to the global action to control and reduce mercury emissions over the near and long-term and will result in indirect mercury reductions in Canada from foreign sources, most importantly in Canada’s North.

Mercury is a heavy metal that is released from natural processes or human activities.  It is unique among heavy metals in that when released to the atmosphere, it undergoes long-range atmospheric transport and can be deposited in Canada, including to remote regions such as Canada’s Arctic.  Once in the environment, mercury can be converted to methyl mercury, a more toxic form of mercury and the form to which humans are most often exposed.  Exposure to methyl mercury is known to have toxic effects on humans, ecosystems and wildlife.  Methyl mercury is a potent neurotoxin that increases susceptibility of impaired neurological development of human foetuses, infants and young children.  Impacts of mercury are evident in all regions of Canada with the most significant human impacts in the Arctic.

Canada has reduced its domestic mercury emissions by approximately 90% since the 1970’s and continues to take action.  However, over 95% of mercury resulting from human activities that is deposited in Canada comes from foreign sources and tends to accumulate, most significantly, in the Canadian Arctic.  That is why Canada is a strong proponent of international action on mercury and actively participated in the negotiations that led to the new Minamata Convention, and why Canada ratified the Convention in 2017.

Canada’s implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury will contribute to the global reduction of mercury emissions and underscore the Government of Canada’s commitment to the protection of our environment and the health of Canadians, in particular of residents of Canada’s far North.  Reductions in mercury are expected to have important environmental implications in terms of reduced wildlife morbidity and mortality and improved human health outcomes, especially for Indigenous peoples and others who rely on traditional foods.  Therefore, the environmental effect of Canada’s implementation could be considered positively important.

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive, potential impacts of this initiative on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’s (FSDS) goals and targets were considered.  It is concluded that this initiative will indirectly positively contribute to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’s 2016-2019 goal for safe and healthy communities, by reducing risks to Canadians and impacts on the environment and human health posed by releases of harmful substances.

Implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury by Canada will contribute to the reduction of mercury emissions globally, and will result in less mercury from foreign sources depositing into the Canadian environment.  Global action to address mercury emissions over the near and long-term will stimulate capacity building, research, development and monitoring, as well as exchange of scientific information. This may lead to the development of new technologies and industrial processes, thereby supporting sustainable economic growth.   This action will also contribute to reduced risks to human health and the Canadian environment posed by releases of harmful substances.

ECCC will continue to monitor and report on deposition of mercury in Canada from foreign sources through the Canadian Air and Precipitation Monitoring Network and the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada-led Northern Contaminants Program, which is also essential to conducting the effectiveness evaluation of the treaty.   ECCC will also periodically develop reports which will assess progress on mercury. 

As a Party to the Minamata Convention, Canada is required to prepare and submit its national report to the Convention, which among other things, will help inform any need for adjustments to be made within the treaty text to elicit desired control and reductions of global emissions of mercury.

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