New Zealand and the convention

New Zealand took part in negotiations to develop an international agreement on mercury under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury was concluded in January 2013. New Zealand signed the convention in Japan on 10 October 2013. The next step is for New Zealand to ratify the convention. This would make it binding on New Zealand.

Why an international agreement on mercury?

Mercury is a highly toxic substance which has serious effects on human health and on the environment.

It can cause harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and may be fatal. It can also cause neurological and behavioural disorders and symptoms such as insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches, and cognitive and motor dysfunction. The harmful effects can be transferred from a mother to her unborn child. Infants, children and women of childbearing age are therefore particularly at risk.

The presence of mercury in the environment is a global problem as mercury can readily enter and be widely transported through the atmosphere, oceans and the food chain. It accumulates as it moves up the food chain. Consuming food with mercury in it is a major source of exposure for both people and some animals.

Mercury is released through both natural sources such as volcanic and geothermal activity and human activity such as industrial processes (eg, cement and steel manufacturing and some forms of power generation) and waste disposal (eg, disposal of electronic equipment containing mercury including some batteries and lighting equipment).

What does the convention do?

The convention addresses:

  • the direct mining of mercury
  • export and import of the metal
  • mercury emissions from some industrial activities
  • artisanal gold mining that uses mercury
  • significant releases to land and water
  • safe storage
  • contaminated sites and waste mercury.

Natural emissions from sources such as geothermal activities are not part of the convention.

Signing the convention does not create obligations on New Zealand. The convention entered into force internationally on 16 August 2017.

For the text of the convention see the Minamata Convention on Mercury website.

Our interest in the convention

New Zealand is interested in:

  • the protection of human health and the environment from the harmful effects of exposure to mercury
  • reduction of mercury emissions from human activity.

This would not necessarily involve the total elimination of mercury.

We commissioned mercury inventories in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. These inventories provide details of both natural sources of mercury and those originating from human activity.

We differ from many other countries in that we have significant natural emissions of mercury from geothermal and volcanic activity. These emissions are not part of the convention.

The Government recently consulted on proposals to strengthen its controls on mercury.

See also:

What’s next?

New Zealand’s ratification of the Minamata Convention is subject to the normal treaty making process. A national interest analysis (NIA) was submitted to Parliament in 2013 and considered by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee during the treaty examination process.

New Zealand is currently developing domestic measures required to ratify the convention. Policy decisions were agreed to in August 2021. Once regulations are drafted and enter into force, we will be able to ratify. 

Find out more

Treaty making process [Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website]