On Oct. 10, 2013, representatives from around the world gathered in Japan to formally adopt the text of a new global environmental treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The treaty now needs 50 countries to ratify it before its pollution prevention measures go into effect.
A United Nations Environment Program website tracks the progress of treaty ratification here.
The official announcement of the treaty signing is here.
Text in the treaty applicable to gold mining is below. Countries where artisanal gold mining takes place and that ratify the treaty will follow a number of steps to reduce and gradually eliminate mercury from gold production.
Minamata Convention on Mercury
Artisanal and small-scale gold mining
1. The measures in this Article and in Annex C shall apply to artisanal and small-scale gold mining and processing in which mercury amalgamation is used to extract gold from ore.
2. Each Party that has artisanal and small-scale gold mining and processing subject to this Article within its territory shall take steps to reduce, and where feasible eliminate, the use of mercury and mercury compounds in, and the emissions and releases to the environment of mercury from, such mining and processing.
3. Each Party shall notify the Secretariat if at any time the Party determines that artisanal and small-scale gold mining and processing in its territory is more than insignificant. If it so determines the Party shall:
(a) Develop and implement a national action plan in accordance with Annex C;
(b) Submit its national action plan to the Secretariat no later than three years after entry into force of the Convention for it or three years after the notification to the Secretariat, whichever is later; and
(c) Thereafter, provide a review every three years of the progress made in meeting its obligations under this Article and include such reviews in its reports submitted pursuant to Article 21.
4. Parties may cooperate with each other and with relevant intergovernmental organizations and other entities, as appropriate, to achieve the objectives of this Article. Such cooperation may include:
(a) Development of strategies to prevent the diversion of mercury or mercury compounds for use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining and processing;
(b) Education, outreach and capacity-building initiatives;
(c) Promotion of research into sustainable non-mercury alternative practices;
(d) Provision of technical and financial assistance;
(e) Partnerships to assist in the implementation of their commitments under this Article; and
(f) Use of existing information exchange mechanisms to promote knowledge, best environmental practices and alternative technologies that are environmentally, technically, socially and economically viable.