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Minimata Convention: What happened?

MIT Mercury team, Saturday morning celebrating negotiation conclusion!

MIT Mercury team, Saturday morning, tired but celebrating the negotiation conclusion! L-R: Ellen Czaika, Philip Wolfe, Bethanie Edwards, Amanda Giang, Julie van der Hoop, Mark Staples, Noelle Selin

Early in the morning, at 7 AM on Saturday, January 19 in Geneva, 140 countries agreed to adopt a new, global treaty on mercury. The Convention will be signed in early October in Kumamoto, Japan, and will be called the Minimata Convention, in recognition of the city in which methylmercury poisoning was identified in the 1950s.

Over the past week, we’ve covered many of the outstanding issues in the negotiations. In this post, I’ll give a brief roundup of some of the major areas of agreement. Over the next week, the teams that covered each issue will provide some more detail about the specifics in the final agreement. In addition, we’ll all be posting our individual reflections on the events of the week.

Mercury Supply, Trade and Waste

The major agreement reached in the area of mercury supply is that countries must eliminate existing primary mercury mining fifteen years after becoming a party to the Convention. New primary mining is not allowed. During the fifteen-year transition period, mercury from primary mining can only be used in certain products and processes allowed by the Convention.

A prior informed consent procedure also applies to the export of mercury.Parties must manage mercury waste in an environmentally sound manner, taking into account the guidelines of the Basel Convention.  See our earlier overview of supply and trade and waste issues for more background on these issues.

Products and Processes

The Convention phases out the manufacture, import and export of several mercury-added products by 2020. Examples include thermometers and barometers, cosmetics with mercury content above 1 part per million including skin lightening soaps, pesticides, certain lamps with high mercury content, and most mercury-containing batteries. The use of mercury-containing dental amalgam is to be phased down, with no particular date attached.

For processes, the use of mercury in chlor-alkali production is to be phased out by 2025, and in acetaldehyde production by 2018. Parties to the Convention may request exemptions from these requirements for an additional five years, with exemptions renewable once by the Conference of the Parties. For more background on products and processes, see the guest post by Hannah Horowitz on mercury in unexpected products and our background post.

Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM)

Parties with artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) are required to reduce, and where feasible eliminate, the use of mercury and releases to the environment from this activity. National plans to address this issue are required for parties that have significant ASGM mercury use. For more on the concerns about ASGM, see our issue overview.


The Minimata Convention has a dedicated section devoted to health aspects, which negotiators referred to as precedent-setting for a multilateral environmental agreement. The section encourages the promotion of activities to help populations at risk of adverse mercury health effects, and the cooperation and exchange of information with the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and other intergovernmental organizations. For more on the health effects of mercury, see our earlier post.

Emissions and Releases

The agreement has similar but distinct requirements for mercury emissions to air versus releases to land and water. In both cases, Parties may develop national goals, must prepare inventories, and must take some measures of control. For air emissions, the treaty identifies relevant sources as: coal-fired plants and boilers, non-ferrous metal mining activities, waste incineration, and cement production.

The agreement distinguishes between new and existing emissions sources. For new relevant sources, Parties must apply Best Available Techniques (BAT) and Best Environmental Practices (BEP) within five years of the Convention’s entry into force. For existing sources to air, parties have ten years to act, and can choose between applying goals, emissions limits, BAT/BEP, multi-pollutant control options, and other measures that reduce mercury. A similar menu of options is available for releases to land and water. Earlier, we covered the technologies that are available to control mercury emissions and some of their co-benefits and also wrote an issue overview. 

Financial Mechanism

The financial mechanism for the Convention includes two elements: the Global Environment Facility (GEF) trust fund, and a specific international programme to support capacity-building and technical assistance. The GEF is to provide new resources to meet implementation costs, guided by the Conference of the Parties to the Minimata Convention. The programme will be operated by the Conference of Parties, hosted by an existing institution and consisting of voluntary contributions.  For more details and background about the importance of financial and technical assistance, see our issue overview.


Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 5—Thursday, January 18

By: Ellen Czaika

In the plenary evening session, the chair solicited updates from each of the contact groups. The co-chairs reported some progress, although all of them requested further time to continue with the text. Around 7pm, Chair Lugris gave a deadline of 11pm, at which time he scheduled another plenary. At the request of a delegate, he accepted responsibility for compiling a draft text for the preamble.

Global Environmental Facility (GEF) CEO & Chairperson Dr. Naoko Ishii spoke about the willingness of the GEF to work with the resulting convention on mercury. She indicated that the GEF’s average time to approve a mercury related project is 34 days. She also indicated the GEF’s interest in engaging with the private sector in the form of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), which she indicated goes along with the already strong public sector involvement in mercury issues.

Her remarks may ease the concerns of some delegates who fear that funding and assistance may be difficult to receive in practice. However, funding remains a debated issue, and the financial resources and technical assistance contact group met yesterday after her presentation to articulate broad ideas about the fund for implementing the convention. After more than 3 hours of open discussion, the co-chairs redrafted the Article. When the full contact group reconvened to evaluate the co-chairs’ text, a general consensus was reached that the funding mechanism should be the GEF, plus additional existing institutions.

However, several parties, including the US and Canada, expressed disappointment that their positions were not reflected in the text, and proposed significant new elements. Additionally, Brazil suggested adding text indicating that funds used for mercury treaty implementation should come from new GEF contributions. This will be untenable to the parties contributing to the GEF, and is being worked out by a select drafting group. Their draft text should be presented to the plenary soon.

In the contract group on selected technical articles, progress is being made, but discussion about Annex D, related to processes containing mercury, and Article 3 on Supply and Trade continued late into the night (or rather, into the early morning). The other articles from the contact group have been given to the legal group for a quick read-through before being presented for approval in today’s plenary.

The financial and technical assistance contact group sent their text to a working group and dissolved the contact group around 11pm. The emission and releases contact group, on the other hand, continued past midnight. Progress was made on the emissions issue, and the group applauded as their Annex F was deemed ready for release (their enthusiasm for progress may have been due to their all nighter the night before). The phrase “in the spirit of cooperation” became a common refrain as the emissions and releases contact group tackled the many brackets left in the article on releases to land and water.

The institutions and implementation group sent a clean text on health aspects to the legal group. This text is precedent-setting, because it specifically recognizes health in an environmental treaty in more than a preventive capacity, and calls for the promotion of activities like identifying vulnerable and affected populations, improving access to treatment, etc. Furthermore, it clarifies the treaty’s linkages to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In the 11pm plenary, the co-chairs for the contact groups reported on their progress. Chair Lugris  extended the deadline for text until noon today, day 6,  to accommodate the remaining work in the groups.

Working groups are currently presenting on their progress in the plenary session. Follow the discussion via our updates on twitter @MITmercury!

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 4—Wednesday, January 17

by Mark Staples

Day 4 marked the beginning of the second half of INC5. A lot of work remains to be done before a global mercury treaty can be agreed to, and the delegates were eager to get down to work in their contact groups.

Supply and Trade, ASGM, & Waste

Work continued on Article 3 concerning supply and trade in the selected technical articles contact group, focusing specifically on the notification requirements for mercury export and import. Delegates debated the merits of a mechanism similar to prior informed consent from the Rotterdam Convention applied to the mercury trade.  While such a mechanism would give importing states more control over the mercury trade, some delegates argued that it would be too burdensome. There was also debate concerning whether or not the trade restrictions should apply to mercury compounds in addition to elemental mercury.

As the contact group worked late into the night, they were expecting to hear back from drafting groups on alternative and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) issues and primary mercury mining, and intended to finish their mandate before breaking for the night.

Products & Processes

Because they were occupied with supply and trade and ASGM issues, the contact group did not devote much time to the product and processes text. However, co-chair Abiola Olanipekun did introduce CRP 14 in the afternoon plenary, which despite many remaining brackets, will be sent to the legal group for polishing before reconsideration in the contact group.

Financial & Technical Assistance

Article 15 on financial assistance was discussed in morning plenary, with all countries agreeing that a special financial regime is needed to assist countries in implementing this convention. While finances have historically been considered a “developed vs. developing” country issue, Switzerland made the point that effective finance is in all parties’ interests. After only short discussion, Article 15 was sent to a contact group that will meet tomorrow.

After a day of small-group negotiations, a revised Article 16 on capacity building, technical assistance, and technology transfer was presented as a package to our contact group. With only a few hurdles, it was fully accepted and was presented in this afternoon’s plenary session. Chair Lugris thanked this contact group for setting the tone of progress as he sent the article off to the legal group.

Institutions & Implementation

In the morning, a separate contact group was convened to work on sections of the treaty text related to definitions, institutional linkages, and implementation—an ambitious set of topics. Before lunch, the group set to work on the definitions of mercury, mercury compounds, mercury-added products, and use allowed. While it might seem like these definitions should be fairly obvious, delegates were on the lookout for any technical or legal ambiguities that could leave the door open for loopholes or non-compliance. Definitions were agreed upon for most of these terms, with the exception of “use allowed.” In the evening, the group divided into even smaller working groups for informal negotiations on the question of implementation/compliance/implementation and compliance committees.

Emissions & Releases

Delegates working on emissions had a productive day, generating papers on what kinds of mercury emissions sources will be included in the treaty, and making progress on the issue of releases to land and water.

Annex F on the included emissions sources is now nearly complete. “Sources included” now refers specifically to point sources from major agreed-upon categories, with only two categories still up for debate: iron and steel (and secondary steel), and open burning. The group seemed to reach a consensus on control measures for new sources, and is currently discussing the complex issue of addressing existing sources.

The MIT team enjoys a Swiss Break with some new friends. Photo credit: Earth Negotiations Bulletin: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/

The MIT team enjoys a Swiss Break with some new friends. Photo credit: Earth Negotiations Bulletin: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/

At the Swiss break, chocolate incentives were offered to spur the delegates. In the emissions contact group, the chair brandished the reward, and good-naturedly warned the delegates that he would eat all the chocolate himself if they did not finish the draft text on emissions promptly.

Afternoon Plenary

In an address to the plenary, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, along with Swiss Environment Minister Doris Luethard, urged delegates to forge ahead and to do their best to reach agreement on the treaty text by Friday. The Minister pledged 1 million Swiss Francs as an interim contribution to the future convention on behalf of the Swiss government, and the governments of Norway and Japan each matched the pledge.

The objective is to have the draft text complete by today, Thursday, at lunch in order to complete the treaty by 6pm on Friday. Will they make it? Stay tuned to find out! We’ll be eagerly following the proceedings on Twitter (@MITMercury) and here on our blog.

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 3—Tuesday, January 16

by Alice Alpert

Day 3 began with snow falling, turning Geneva into a winter wonderland.


Everyone eagerly anticipated the first of the Swiss breaks, to be held in the evening. However, we are no longer “early” in the negotiations, so parties were eager make some progress before the Swiss break festivities began.

Here’s a recap of progress made on different topics.

Products and Processes

The technical articles contact group made progress on setting the mercury concentrations that different types of lightbulbs can contain, although the phase-out dates remain undecided. A breakout group, facilitated by one of the co-chairs, was started to address the controversial dental amalgam issue.

The group is in the midst of working through the annex regarding products and processes that will be exempt from regulation: antiques were removed because they are not being currently manufactured; there will be exceptions for some research and calibration standards (although there is no consensus yet exists on the details); thiomerisol will be allowed as a preservative in vaccines; polyurethane, vinyl chloride monomer, and sodium methylate are still under review. The group discussed the idea of discouraging distribution in commerce as a process provision rather than an outcome provision.

Emissions and Releases

In the morning, a technical group of about 30 attendees was tasked with discussing possible options for characterizing the nature of emissions and releases regulations. The group agreed that it would be useful to narrow the scope of the treaty to major sources, but there was no consensus around the several threshold types discussed (e.g., do you regulate based upon capacity, intensity, or aggregate emissions?).  In the afternoon and evening, the full emissions contact group reconvened and agreed to eliminate certain small-source categories. Into the evening, they were discussing releases, looking to start forming some draft text. Memorably, in response to one delegate’s suggestion that a ton of mercury was a small amount of emissions,  another party replied: “No single raindrop feels responsible for the flood.”

Institutions and Implementation

The treaty objective and definitions were discussed in morning plenary, focusing on whether a dedicated, stand-alone article on health impacts was required or even warranted. The plenary was divided on the issue: one side was of the opinion that a separate health article duplicates other sections of the text and/or impinges upon the effort of the World Health Organization, while the other side sees a stand-alone article as paramount to reaffirming the objective of the treaty. Many NGOs submitted interventions supporting the health article.

Also in plenary, parties showed no movement on how to ensure domestic implementation, with many developing nations saying that a uniform requirement for submitting a plan to meet treaty obligations did not take into account differing national socio-economic conditions. In the evening, a contact group on the implementation and health issues met. Gridlock continued, and a small group decided to work through the night to submit a suitable proposal in the morning.

Financial and Technical Assistance

Much of the work in this area occurred in a small contact group of “friends of the co-chairs”, which continues to discuss Articles 16 and 16bis regarding technical assistance and technology transfer. Article 17—which concerns whether to establish a committee for implementation or for compliance (or both)—was up for discussion in the afternoon plenary session. Several countries voiced the opinion that they would like the membership of and mechanism for decision-making by this group to be specified in the treaty,  rather than by the conference of parties. These specifics will be considered in a contact group set to convene on Day 4.

Supply and Trade, AGSM, and Waste

Work in this area began at 11pm in the technical articles contact group, with a discussion of Article 3 on supply and trade. One of the biggest struggles involved whether existing primary mining should be banned; this decision is still in a deadlock. The group didn’t break until after 1am, and we can expect more work on Day 4.

Highlight of the day

After the second plenary session, the loudspeakers came to life with the song “Under Pressure,” (featuring Freddie Mercury)—just to drive the point home. Then the Swiss break began, providing delicious food, wine, and opportunities for delegates to work out compromises in informal consultations.


The Swiss break also notably featured video footage of traditional Swiss culture, including whipcracking and running around in leaf costumes, in addition to skiing and yodeling. While the Swiss music was questionable, the event did not disappoint. We look forward to our second Swiss break this evening, and hope that the negotiations make significant progress in the meantime.

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 2 – Monday January 14

By: Leah Stokes

The second day of negotiations at INC5 was a busy day, without any Swiss breaks. Delegates spent significant time discussing key articles on Products & Processes, and Emissions & Releases. Here are some updates from our team’s observations on the proceedings so far. 

Products & Processes

The technical working group focused on products and processes started early and has powered through the entire day. There was a lot of back and forth between the US, Canada, EU, Japan, and the African Group on the one hand and China, India and Brazil on the other about phase-out dates. China was particularly persistent that they could not phase out mercury batteries by 2020, because there are no mercury-free alternatives currently available to China. Compact flourescents and lamps were also hot topics; negotiators broke off into a smaller group around 11:15 PM to try to reach agreement on mercury concentrations and phase-out dates.

The working group has a new co-chair, Donald Hannah from New Zealand. He delivered an inspiring speech at the beginning of the session and set some ambitious goals. “Finding problems with text is unacceptable at this stage of the process,” he told the delegates. “We are not going to let perfection get in the way of a good text.” His expectations for a cooperative and productive group have spurred the discussions forward. By 11 PM, it looked like negotiations on this issue would continue until the middle of the night.

Emissions & Releases

This morning’s plenary session kicked off INC5’s discussion of mercury emissions to air and releases to land and water. Countries noted that emissions and releases were “crucial” and “at the heart” of the treaty. In the plenary, countries sorted into supporting a more stringent approach, binding targets and techniques–option 1–or a more flexible approach with national plans–option 2. With the notable exception of the African Group, developing countries generally favored a flexible approach, while developed countries favored a more stringent approach.

After discussing key issues, the Chair arranged a contact group chaired by John Roberts (UK) and a negotiator from Indonesia. Meeting in the afternoon, the group was tasked with resolving issues around: the use and nature of thresholds to exclude small sources; striking an agreement on the strength of the articles by specifying the precise requirements and controls; and deciding what distinctions should be made between emissions to air versus releases to land and water.

At the end of this meeting, the co-Chairs formed a team to craft the first draft of a new, compromise article (between option 1 and 2) that will specify precise requirements and controls while allowing sufficient flexibility. They are working busily as we craft this blog post. The results of their efforts will be discussed again in the contact group tomorrow. In addition, plans were made for a technical group to provide guidance on the options and implications for various threshold levels and sources in the coming days.

Institutions & Implementation:

Today’s discussions on institutions and implementation in the plenary focused on links with the Basel Convention. Negotiators emphasized there is a need to clarify linkages with Basel, which focuses on chemical waste broadly, and the section in the draft mercury treaty focused on waste. The Chair mentioned that many delegates here worked on drafting the Basel Convention, so he hoped that they would draw their attention to this task. The US notably brought attention to the fact that they had signed the Basel convention; although they have not ratified it.

Definitions was another key issue. There are some proposals for redefining use allowed to ease some of the disagreements in ASGM. More broadly, there is increasing concern that the draft treaty text be consistent across sections, to ensure a smooth implementation.

Financial & Technical Assistance

Discussion in the Financial & Technical Assistance contact group began with restating country positions and then moved to defining technology transfer. It is still undetermined whether the treaty will include both “soft” technology transfer – including best practices and know-how – and/or “hard” technology transfer – namely, the actual technology. As a result, delegates have yet to negotiate a streamlined version of Article 16bis regarding technology transfer.

Discussion of Article 16, regarding technical assistance, centered around whether technological assistance will only flow from developed to developing countries, or will be exchanged among all parties. This discussion was facilitated by a colorful and popular metaphor of countries ‘dancing the tango and deciding who will lead’—doubltless, some stepping on partners’ toes will occur. As of 10 PM, it appeared that all parties would cooperate to provide [something], to developing countries in particular. What that ‘something’ is remains unknown. Although the chairwoman from Jamaica is providing firm and insightful guidance, there is still much to be decided in this area.

Supply & Trade, ASGM and Waste

Supply & Trade, ASGM and Waste were all introduced in the afternoon plenary session today.

On Supply & Trade, countries debated whether to ban existing and future primary mercury mining, with Chile arguing a ban would set a precedent for other treaties. In addition, the specificity of import/export procedures and their similarity to the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions was a critical issue, as was the question of whether Prior Informed Consent was needed before mercury was traded.

On AGSM, parties discussed whether text should be included for the phase-out of mercury use in ASGM and whether paragraph 6, concerning financial and technical assistance, should be included or deleted. It was unclear whether banning mercury use in ASGM would just push demand for mercury into a black market.

Finally, on waste, the definition of “mercury waste”, and the use of “shall” rather than “may” were discussed in plenary.

The “technical matters” contact group was subsequently tasked with developing clearer text on all these issues. It is unlikely that the contact group will address these issues until late tomorrow.

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 1—Sunday, January 13

by Danya Rumore

The fifth meeting of the International Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury (INC 5) officially began yesterday on an overcast, chilly day here in Geneva, Switzerland.

The morning began with a demonstration by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), an organization working for a toxics-free future, at 8:30am. Their main concern: the treaty should be called “A Global Mercury Treaty”, not “A Minamata Convention”, because this treaty may not be sufficient to prevent future mercury-related health tragedies like that experienced in Minamata, Japan.

Following IPEN’s demonstration, we spent about 15 minutes trying to find our way to the third floor balcony in the labyrinthine International Conference Center. Finally making our way through the maze of stairs, hallways, and doors to the NGOs nosebleed seats (to use another attendee’s term), we sat down to enjoy the traditional yodeling session that kicked off the day’s official events.


At 9:30am, the yodeling ceased and the plenary session began.  The session started with the opening ceremony, in which the attendance of about 900 delegates from 140 countries was noted and INC Chair Lugris urged participants to focus on finding consensus. While languages from around the world were spoken on the floor, everything was translated into English (and numerous other languages) and transmitted to participants through headphones available at each seat.


Then came the delegates’ opening statements. In statements ranging from 2-20 minutes, delegates gracefully thanked the Chair for his work, expressed their appreciation for Switzerland hosting the meeting, and made clear their positions on the treaty. I think we were all somewhat amazed by how not surprised we were by nations’ and NGOs opening statements; they were more or less exactly what someone familiar with the issues on the table would expect (opening statements are detailed in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) newsletter).  However, we were a little surprised—and quite amused—by the Philippines delegate’s mention that he hoped Chair Lugris enjoyed his recent holiday in the Philippines, to which the Chair replied that he did.

Opening statements continued until a little after 1:00pm, when everyone filtered out of the stadium-style plenary room, down the maze of stairs, to the host country’s welcome lunch reception. Despite having to fight against apparently hungry delegates to get food, we enjoyed a buffet including everything from cold cuts and salads to potato soup with truffle oil. We also enjoyed live Swiss music from a band of two musicians dressed in traditional Swiss garb (one barefoot) playing zithers with a third musician, wearing a black suit, playing a bass (it was an interesting trio, but the music was excellent).


Amid the music and buffet, we mingled with delegates and other NGO representatives, talked about our poster with people passing by our table, and discussed the happenings of the morning. Then we loaded up on dessert and plenty of coffee to get us through the afternoon session, and we returned to the plenary for a discussion of the draft treaty text.

The afternoon plenary began with a discussion of the treaty’s preamble, during which delegates proposed adding a direct mention of Minamata, referencing indigenous peoples, including health impacts, invoking the precautionary principle, and bringing the polluter pays principle into the preamble’s language.

Following discussion of the preamble, the plenary moved on to the topic of products and processes (watch for Bethanie’s and Ellen’s upcoming blog on this topic). After much debate about Articles 6, 7, 8, and 8b, it was decided that a contact group would meet in the evening to continue discussion of this topic area.

Before breaking for dinner, the delegate from Saudi Arabia represented the interest of the everyone at the conference by making the statement “We seem to be having problems with the internet…” At a paperless meeting where all documents are shared over the intranet, good internet connection is a non-negotiable issue.


Following a dinner break (i.e., a time to search for outlets in order to charge our laptops), our MIT team divided into two groups: one group returned to the plenary for the discussion of financial and technical assistance and the other group went to observe the contact group discussion on products and processes.

In the contact group on products and processes, the debate about Articles 6, 7, and 8 continued, with the US and Canada largely dominating the conversation. While some progress was made before the close of the session a little after midnight (see ENB newsletter for more details), much work remains to be done on the subject of products and processes.

In the plenary, the discussion about financial and technical assistance was largely dominated by a sharp divide between 1) the nations that love the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the nations that do not love the GEF, and 2) those that want technology transfer and those that are seemingly unwilling (or, as many developed nations put it, not able) to provide it.

The conclusion of the plenary discussion, ending late in the night, was that a contact group would meet today to continue discussion on Article 16 (technical assistance and, possibly, capacity building) but not Article 15 (financial resources and mechanisms). For now, the contentious Article 15 is on hold, and the first item on the agenda for the plenary during day 2 is emissions and releases.

So concluded Day 1 of the INC5 negotiations and, as I write this, day 2 is in full swing. Check out Ellen’s blog on “What to expect from day 2” to learn more about what’s coming up in today’s negotiations.