by Alice Alpert and Julie van der Hoop
If the global mercury treaty is adopted but does not include any support for countries that lack the resources to implement it, it is unlikely to achieve its goals. Therefore, Section I of the treaty seeks to establish a framework by which developed countries can assist developing countries in implementing and complying with the treaty by outlining financial and technical assistance measures.
It is easy for parties to agree to provide the resources needed to implement the treaty, but what does that mean? The first step is to establish a mechanism for this assistance: like a fund. The administration and oversight of this fund is a huge issue. Developing countries say the money is “theirs”—that it has basically been given to them and thus they should be controlling it. Developed countries say that, since they are providing the money, they should decide who gets it and what is done with it. Developed countries typically want funds to be part of an existing institution, the Global Environment Facility, to which they already contribute and have influence over. In contrast, developing countries generally prefer a new and independent fund. There will be a separate provision for how the fund will be administered and what activities it will support. This sets up potential redundancies and conflicts, but also opens up opportunities for give-and-take negotiation.
Section I of the treaty is also addresses technical assistance and technology transfer. Technical assistance can be explained as helping a country adopt a technology through capacity building and training. Technology transfer refers to the distribution of intellectual property rights.
In the case of mercury, transferring technologies to reduce emissions from coal plants or to produce mercury alternatives would need to be shared between the countries that conceived them and those who need to implement them. Technology transfer, however, is a contentious issue, and it’s no surprise that there are two options for this section of the treaty text: 1) create mechanisms for the transfer of technology to developing countries to assess, review, develop, present, and establish a process for technology transfer, and 2) “consider the technology challenges of developing country parties” and promote mutually agreed upontechnology transfer. The latter is greatly favored by developed countries, while developing countries would prefer option 2. However, some countries would prefer that the treaty not include technology transfer at all. Clearly, this is going to be a major point of discussion during the treaty talks this week.
Looking at the financial and technical assistance issue overall, developing countries are most interested in obtaining aid, while developed countries don’t want to take too much responsibility for funds, although they stand to gain health benefits from decreased mercury emissions. There is high potential for gridlock over questions of how to apportion funds, who owns the global fund, and who gives and gets—these questions should make for some interesting dialogue during the upcoming week!
As with most global environmental and health issues, there is an intersection between social, environmental, and development issues here. Inclusion of all countries is critical given major sources and emitters, but this requires a great deal of understanding and negotiation for developed countries to meet potential obligations.
We’re curious to see how the discussion over financial and technical assistance plays out!
Capacity and funding issues loom large in the mercury negotiations as they do under virtually all global environmental agreements. It seems unlikely that industrialized countries will agree on mandatory contributions, but it will be interesting to see what the final agreement will look like (and how much of the issue is avoided by transferring it to the COP following entry into force some 3 to 5 years down the road). There is also the issue whether the mercury treaty will somehow connect with the Regional Centers established under the Basel and Stockholm Conventions. That could be a way of institutionalizing capacity building and technology transfer issues (and a specific way for industrialized countries to support treaty implementation in developing countries): http://people.bu.edu/selin/publications/SelinGEP2012.pdf.
Yes, I have read some commentaries on the negotiations predicting that developed countries will not agree to mandatory contributions, or maybe not even to mandatory compliance (http://nyti.ms/XbJE2W). Mandatory compliance has not yet been taken out of the text, and very little has been decided regarding contributions, so this should be interesting to watch.