Switzerland has signed the Minamata Convention, an international agreement on reducing mercury emissions, which are highly toxic. Its contribution to the effort will be CHF7.5 million ($8.3 million).
Along with representatives from some 140 other countries, Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard was in Japan on Thursday for the signing. There she announced that Switzerland would increase its support from an initial pledge of CHF1 million to CHF7.5 million.
Most of that funding (CHF6 million) will go towards improving conditions in the artisanal and small scale gold mining sector, where liquid mercury is used to extract gold particles.
“The Swiss Development Cooperation Agency will support the introduction of environmental, social and legal standards and technology in this sector,” Leuthard told the delegates. The other CHF1.5 million will support ratification and early implementation of the convention.
In addition to cutting emissions, the agreement will ban certain products containing mercury by 2020. Examples include thermometers, batteries and light bulbs. After five rounds of negotiations spanning four years, the accord was adopted by 147 nations in Geneva in January.
It’s called the Minamata Convention in honour of the people affected by mercury poisoning in the Japanese city of the same name. Between 1932 and 1968, a chemical company used the bay for discharges of contaminated wastewater, poisoning fish and sea sediments and causing a neurological syndrome called Minamata disease, which killed more than 3,000 people.
“I am deeply struck and affected by seeing how pollution can have such serious and irreversible consequences over generations of families. Adopting this convention will help us to make sure that this will never happen again anywhere in the word,” said Leuthard.