Mercury: ratificaction of the Minamata Convention
The Government of Canada is working toward ratification 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 the 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. Ratification 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.
A Strategic Environmental Assessment completed for this proposal concluded that ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury by Canada will produce positive environmental effects globally and for Canada. Ratification by Canada will contribute to the global action to address mercury emissions over the near and long term and will result in indirect mercury reductions in Canada from foreign sources, especially 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. 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 substantially 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 signed the Convention in October 2013.
Canada’s ratification 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. Therefore, the environmental effect of Canada’s ratification could be considered positively important.
In accordance with the Cabinet Directive, potential impact 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 (FSDS) 2013-2016 goals for improving air quality and protecting nature and Canadians, by reducing risks to Canadians and impacts on the environment and human health posed by releases of harmful substances.
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) will also 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. The Canadian Mercury Science Assessment will also be employed as a measure to enhance and follow-up on the proposal by collating and disseminating valuable information on the presence, fate, transport and effects of mercury in the environment. As a Party to the Minamata Convention, Canada will be 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.
At the G7 Environment Ministers’ Meeting in Japan on May 14, 2016, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change presented information on Canada’s successful actions to minimize domestic mercury emissions, which have been reduced by 90 percent in the past 25 years, and reiterated Canada’s support of the Minamata Convention.
The Minister of Environment and Climate Change has also issued a number of tweets regarding Canada’s actions to reduce mercury emissions and emphasized the need for global action on mercury.
On June 8, 2016, the Minamata Convention on Mercury was tabled in the House of Commons for 21 sitting days, in accordance with the Policy on Tabling Treaties in Parliament.
For further information, please consult the following websites:
- Minamata Convention on Mercury (UNEP);
- Minamata Convention on Mercury (ECCC);
- Mercury and the Environment (ECCC); and
- Canadian Mercury Science Assessment (ECCC).
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