Since entering into force in 2017, only two Pacific Island countries have ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury while five others have acceded to it, joining 135 countries from around the world as Parties to the Convention.
In an effort to protect Pacific islanders from the dangers of mercury pollution, a campaign is in the early stages of development to empower more Pacific islands to ratify the Convention.
Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu have acceded to the Convention, however it is hopeful that with support more Pacific islands will sign on.
Development of the Mercury-free campaign was endorsed at the Annual General Meeting of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in September this year and further introduced to Pacific waste practitioners during the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable now underway.
“The Mercury Free Pacific Campaign to address the high levels of environmental and human health threats posed by mercury in the Pacific. To ensure full ownership from our Members this is a campaign that we want to develop, and action, with you,” said Mr Joshua Sam, the Hazardous Waste Adviser of SPREP.
“We’d like to help our Pacific islands to take the necessary steps to protect our environment and communities from the adverse impacts of mercury pollution. We feel this is a journey that we will inevitably have to take, and we’d like us all to work on this collectively.”
While mercury is a natural substance it turns into methylmercury as a reaction to bacteria when in water, soil, or plants. Methyl mercury is particularly dangerous in that it enters the food chain and can be passed on when eaten. Poisoning has occurred in people that have eaten fish, or animals that have absorbed methyl mercury.
The Mercury Free Pacific Campaign will aim to raise awareness about mercury exposure and encourage safer alternatives as well as help SPREP Members to incorporate mercury-free policy and legislation.
It is also hoped this will empower Members to become Parties to the Minamata Convention on mercury as well as to collect and dispose of legacy mercury waste in the Pacific island’s region.
To have a fuller understanding of mercury in the Pacific islands, SPREP is implementing the Minamata Initial Assessment Project with funding from the Global Environment Facility. This includes an assessment of national capacity to address mercury and develop mercury inventories. These inventories will capture sources of mercury emissions and industries that produce or import mercury containing products.
The findings of these assessments will guide actions to help Pacific Islands ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
“Known as the MIA Project we are working with the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu to learn more about mercury and the available capacities to address mercury,” said Mr Sam.
“They join similar projects in Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Samoa which are under bilateral arrangements with the UN Environment Programme. This will help us develop a baseline to take us to the next step. All of which is part and parcel of the work that will be supported through the Mercury-Free Pacific Campaign.”
Now in the initial stages of development, which will include consultation and engagement with SPREP Members, the Mercury-Free Pacific Campaign will be in line with the Cleaner Pacific. It is planned that by 2025 all SPREP Members will have ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Pacific will be free from mercury containing equipment, materials and products, regional mercury monitoring will be underway, and the Pacific will be fully aware of the dangers of mercury.
The Mercury Free Pacific side event was held on Friday, 19 November during the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable. A virtual meeting the 3-CPRT is held from 16 – 25 November 2021.
The Third Clean Pacific Roundtable is a partnership event supported by New Caledonia, Acotred Pacific, Agence Francaise de Development (AFD), Australian Aid (AUS Aid), European Union (EU), Fonds Pacifique, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UN Environment Program (UNEP), Province SUD and Province NORD.
To learn more about the Minamata Convention on Mercury please visit: https://www.mercuryconvention.org/en
To learn more about the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable please visit: www.cleanpacificroundtable.com
Photo by: José M. Domínguez from: http://www.chemistryexplained.com/elements/L-P/Mercury.html