A global treaty to protect human health and the environment comes into force in 90 days, but Australia has still not ratified it.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury - part of the United Nations Environment Programme - is a global treaty focusing on the entire life cycle of mercury, including where mercury is used, released or emitted.

The deal has been ratified by its 50th country and will now come into force in 90 days. Australia signed the convention in 2013 but is yet to ratify it.

“From the tragedy in Minamata in the 1950’s, to the decision of the UNEP Governing Council in 2009 to develop a global legally binding instrument on mercury, it has been a long journey to get us to this point,” said Global Environment Facility (GEF) CEO Naoko Ishii.

Like other heavy metals, mercury persists in the environment forever. It can be transported over distances far removed from its original emission source, contaminating food, water and air around the planet.

The Minamata Convention focuses on the entire life cycle of mercury, including controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.

As part of the Financial Mechanism of the Convention, the GEF has been charged with raising and disbursing grants for projects and programs to reduce and eliminate mercury pollution.  

GEF grants support a wide range of activities including inventories, implementation plans, and investments in technology for reduction and elimination of mercury. 

More than 90 countries have already received funding.

“We are also supporting countries to take even bolder steps in seeking a sustainable way to phase out the use of mercury in the largest mercury consuming sector, artisanal and small scale gold mining,” Dr Ishii said.

“The Global Opportunities for Long-term Development (GOLD) GEF funded program supports miners, governments and the private sector to work together to bring transformational change in that sector. 

“Today is a day for celebration, but there is still a huge task ahead of us.  Mercury use and emissions are tied to many of our key economic activities including the production of power in many countries, manufacture of plastics and industrial processes. Addressing these challenges will require us all to work together to find viable solutions.”

The first Conference of the Parties to the Convention is in September this year.