* Global trade in some mercury products to be banned by 2020
* NGO criticises "soft language" of convention
(Recasts, adds detail throughout)
By Tom Miles and Emma Farge
GENEVA, Jan 19 (Reuters) - More than 140 countries have
agreed on the first global treaty to cut mercury pollution
through a blacklist of household items and new controls on power
plants and small-scale mines, the United Nations said on
The legally-binding agreement aims to phase out many
products that use the toxic liquid metal such as batteries,
thermometers and some fluorescent lamps, through banning global
import and exports by 2020.
The treaty will require countries with coal-fired power
plants such as India and China to install filters and scrubbers
on new plants and to commit to reducing emissions from existing
operations to prevent mercury from coal reaching the atmosphere.
"We have closed a chapter on a journey that has taken four
years of often intense but ultimately successful negotiations
and opened a new chapter towards a sustainable future," said
Fernando Lugris, chair of the negotiations.
The deal also includes measures to reduce mercury use in
small-scale gold mining, although stopped short of an all-out
ban. Gold prices near $1,700 a tonne have spurred the use of
mercury as a catalyst to separate gold from its ore.
Emissions of mercury from artisanal and small-scale gold
mines, which are usually unofficial and often illegal, more than
doubled to 727 tonnes in 2010 from 2005 levels, overtaking
coal-fired power plants as the main source of pollution from the
The Minamata Convention on Mercury - named after the
Japanese city where people were poisoned in the mid-20th century
from industrial discharges of mercury - needs ratification from
50 countries and is expected to be formalised later this year.
The treaty requires governments to draw up national rules to
comply and could take between three to five years to take
As mercury, also known as quicksilver, is released to the
air or washed into rivers and oceans, it spreads worldwide, and
builds up in humans mostly through consumption of fish. The
brains of foetuses and infants are particularly vulnerable to
damage from mercury.
Officials said the financing required to bring in cleaner
technology for industry and help developing countries come up
with local solutions was one of the major sticking points of the
"Financing was agreed very early this morning and it was one
of the most difficult aspects," said Lugris.
Japan, Norway and Switzerland have made initial pledges
totalling $3 million in financing and an interim financial
arrangement will be discussed in April by the Global Environment
Facility, said Tim Kasten, head of the chemicals branch of UNEP.
Countries failed to agree on including vaccines where
mercury is sometimes used as a preservative.
While negotiators celebrated the deal reached after
all-night talks in the fifth and final round of talks, the
response from some non-governmental organisations (NGO) was more
"The treaty will not bring immediate reductions of mercury
emissions. It will need to be improved and strengthened, to make
all fish safe to eat," said David Lennett from the Natural
Resources Defense Council.
NGO IPEN, which aims to reduce the health risk of chemicals,
described the language of the treaty as "soft" and "somewhat
voluntary in nature" and said it was unlikely to result in a
global reduction of mercury releases.
"Countries that do not want to do this can escape quite
easily," said IPEN's Joe DiGangi.
In one notable climbdown, countries abandoned their goal of
setting concrete targets for pollution levels from coal-fired
power plants and cement factories, but negotiators said they
would defer these discussions to a later meeting.
For mining, the treaty requires action from governments to
reduce mercury use where artisanal and small-scale gold mining
is "more than insignificant" but has no list of countries.
Alternatives to mercury in small mines are available, such
as magnetic sluices, but developing countries have complained
about the cost of implementation.
Many developing countries including Brazil and Mali strongly
resisted attempts to limit imports of mercury, according to
IPEN, because of the economic importance of small mines.
"The supply is still available, the practice of artisanal
mining is still polluting and we are left with a mess at the end
and there is no funding to clean it up," said DiGangi.
Artisanal and small gold mines now account for around 35
percent of global mercury pollution, according to a study by the
U.N. Environment Programme published last week.
Other NGOs welcomed the number of products included in the
"The list of products was much longer than we expected,"
said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, a coordinator at Zero Mercury
Working Group. "The treaty sends the right market signal and
will eventually lead to less exposure worldwide."
Many nations have already tightened laws - the United States
barred exports of mercury from Jan. 1, 2013. The European Union,
until 2008 the main global exporter, barred exports of the
liquid metal in 2011.
(Reporting by Emma Farge and Tom Miles; Editing by Sophie