Tag Archives: institutions and implementation

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.

Forty Years of International Mercury Policy: the 1970s (Part 1 of 3)

by Noelle Selin

While the treaty currently under negotiation will be the first global, legally-binding action to address mercury in the environment, it is certainly not the first international policy dealing with the substance. In fact, mercury has been the subject of multilateral cooperation since at least the 1970s. Here’s a summary of some of the actions way back in the disco era. Future posts will bring us through the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

Early international policies on mercury addressed contamination of regional seas such as the Baltic, the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the North American Great Lakes. Heavy metals were identified as pollutants of high concern at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. In 1973, the OECD urged its members to reduce anthropogenic releases of mercury to the environment to lowest possible levels. Other agreements from the 1970s that included reference to mercury and/or other heavy metals include:

  • International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter (London Convention), 1972
  • Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft (Oslo Convention), 1972
  • Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources (Paris Convention), 1973
  • Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention)
  • Mediterranean Action Plan (1975) and Barcelona Convention (1976)
  • Convention on the Protection of the Rhine Against Chemical Pollution, 1976 [pdf]
  • Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (1972, 1978)

In addition to these agreements, the European Economic community also introduced its first mercury legislation in the 1970s. In general, mercury was treated in the 1970s as an industrial contaminant, similar to other chemical substances addressed on a national and regional basis. Stay tuned for a summary of the 1980s and 1990s, when international action on mercury grew in scale and scope.

For more information on the history of mercury policy, see the following article: N. E. Selin and H. Selin, “Global Politics of Mercury Pollution: The Need for Multi-Scale Governance,” RECIEL 15 (3) 2006. [pdf]

An Overview of Undecided Issues at the INC5 Mercury Treaty Negotiations

by Ellen Czaika

INC5, the International Negotiating Committee on Mercury’s 5th and final meeting in Geneva, started yesterday and continues through January 18 or 19 (depending on how long it takes to reach agreement). The discussions are working off of a draft treaty text compiled by the Chair based on the INC4 talks in Uruguay last July.

Several specifics of the treaty have yet to be agreed upon. Let’s look at an overview of what is on the table this week (see our Issue Overview blogs for more details on each of these topics).

Organizational and Implementation Issues

The exact wording of the preamble has yet to be agreed upon. It sets the tone and context of the convention text. Furthermore, the implementation strength of the document is still being debated. This manifests itself partly as a debate over the use of the seemingly similar but yet importantly distinct verbs: “are able to,” “may,” and “shall.” Also relevant to the implementation strength of the treaty, the amount and type of financial and technical assistance to be associated with the agreement is far from settled.

The level of trade transparency is also in question. This issue relates to the amount of insight nations give into their mercury trade and raises questions about monitoring and data reporting.

Another discussion to be made is whether to use the words, “implementation,” “compliance,” or “implementation and compliance.” Use of the word compliance implies the creation of an oversight body that monitors nations’ mercury mining, emissions, trade, disposal, and use. “Implementation,” when used alone, leaves nations responsible for their own assessment of adherence to the treaty’s regulations.

This discussion about “implementation” and “compliance” relates to national sovereignty. Each nation wants its sovereignty respected, but in order to protect its citizens from mercury, it needs other nations to reduce emissions and releases too. If mercury did not move around the globe, a more individualized approach could make sense. However, mercury released in one area affects people worldwide.

Furthermore, the negotiating parties have yet to agree on some procedural and timeline details, such as when the treaty will enter into force (i.e., become live) and whether there will be withdrawal periods.

Additionally and importantly, the parties have yet to agree on how to discuss health aspects within the treaty. This includes whether and how to regulate dental amalgams.

Emissions and Releases Issues

One of the items the Parties will be discussing is how to reduce human-caused mercury releases. They will discuss four main topics related to releases and emissions: sources, thresholds, control objective, and flexibility.

The sources can be categorized by time (existing versus future sources), by industry (chemical production, mining, energy production, product production, waste disposal, etc.), by geography (where in the world the release happens), and by economic or other necessity, among other categories. Should we control all categories of sources? If not all, which ones will be controlled? Should we allow some exceptions for industries that provide irreplaceable employment for impoverished peoples? (If you have thoughts about this, comment below!)

To be effective, thresholds need to be precise and emissions need to be measured to ascertain whether they meet the thresholds. There is debate about whether or not to set thresholds. If thresholds are set, expect long discussions about what those numbers will be. The range of proposed limits on flue gas emissions is 0.01 to 0.2 mg/m3 (for more about this, see our Emissions and Releases Overview blog)

Discussion around the control objective includes the proposing of emission limits, setting reduction goals, relying on best available technology/practices, or wrapping mercury control in with the control of other pollutants (such as others that are released when coal is burned).

The flexibility of the agreement is also in discussion. That is, should nations be in charge of their targets and limits or should there be UN oversight of direct, global targets and limits.

Products and Processes Issues

The draft text has adopted a positive list approach, which means that only the mercury-containing products and processes listed have to be regulated (watch for my upcoming blog on the differences between positive and negative lists). However, the specific products and processes to be listed remain to be decided, as well as their phase out dates (the draft text currently contains place-holder lists). Additionally, it is not a given that both products and process will follow the same type of list; one may be negative and the other positive.

Improper disposal of mercury-containing products can lead to releases of mercury into land and water. Due to its relationship with the product list, wording around disposal is still being decided, as discussed below.

ASGM, Waste, and Trade Issues

Although the parties have agreed on some components of the treaty in regards to trade, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), and waste, there are still several issues to be decided on these topics.

The threshold values of mercury producing facilities that must be identified and monitored within each national territory is still undecided. The higher the threshold, the fewer facilities that must bereported, and therefore potentially more mercury emissions that will be unaccounted for (but less need for monitoring resources). The lower the threshold, the more countries will have to spend on monitoring, but the more likely global mercury will be controlled.

On the issue of ASGM, the parties have not yet agreed as to whether the implementation of ASGM regulations will be contingent on the provision of financial and technical assistance.

In terms of waste monitoring, the parties have not yet decided about this convention’s relation to the Basel Convention. It is already agreed that the trade in waste will require written consent of the receiving nation. This is similar to the Basel Convention’s requirement for “prior informed consent.” However there are some parties to this mercury convention that are not parties to the Basel Convention. The INC5 negotiating parties have not decide whether nations that are not party to Basel Convention will have to comply with agreed upon transport controls, especially with respect to the informed consent and the take-back obligations of the Basel convention.

Technical Transfer and Funding Issues

Just as with any action, stopping mercury use has both desirable and undesirable consequences. Negotiating parties are trying to balance the desirable consequence (such as improved health for humans and animals) with the undesirable consequences. Some of the undesirable consequences include the loss of livelihood for those whose profession relates to mercury releases (people who work in the coal industry, miners, etc). Not reducing mercury emissions and not controlling mercury-containing products endangers the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems around the globe. Some of the people most impacted are those who work directly with mercury in conditions that lack safety precautions, such as workers in waste combustion sites and artisanal and small-scale gold miners. Finding other work for these often-impoverished workers is not as straightforward as its sounds. These workers are in a tough spot; they need work to be able to afford food and shelter, but their means of housing and feeding themselves and their families endangers their health.

Therefore, the negotiating parties will discuss means to facilitate developing nations’ creation of alternative employment and utilization of technology to reduce mercury emissions. Building this capacity in developing nations requires resources. One contentious part of this convention is who provides these resources to the developing nations and in what form.

When specifically discussing technology for reducing mercury emissions, the parties are considering technical assistance and the transfer of technology and knowledge (see our Issue Overview blog on technical and financial assistance for more about this).

Technical assistance and the transfer of technology and knowledge have the potential to create jobs related to the control of mercury, which might be able to replace the jobs that contribute to its emission. However, these types of jobs potentially require different skills and training, which is a non-trivial consideration.

This balancing of cost of implementation requires a mechanism such as a fund. The parties have agreed that there should be a fund. However, they haven’t agreed on who will contribute to it and who will manage it. Related to the management question is the frequency of reviews and evaluations of the fund. A major question on this front is whether the fund should be administered by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Presently, there are two options on the table for technology transfer. The first is that developed nations will create a mechanism for the transfer of technology to the least developed countries and small island developing states. The second is that the treaty will explicitly state what technology should be transferred.

The assistance issue relates very strongly to the viability of the agreement. If the means for implementing regulations aren’t available, the treaty becomes only words—and many parties probably won’t sign it. Hence, the discussion around assistance will likely be a very interesting part of the coming week!

Watch our blog and follow us on twitter @MITMercury. We’ll be posting details on the discussions and negotiations about these undecided issues as they emerge!

How to Regulate Mercury in 6 Easy Steps (Part 2 of 4): A practical approach to implementation in practice

by Philip Wolfe and Amanda Giang

Philip and Amanda here with a handy guide for implementing a global treaty on mercury. In Part 1, we gave a brief walk through the overall process of developing a global mercury policy. In Part 2, we look at what issues are important when it comes to deciding how to implement a global regulation.

It is all well and good to acknowledge that mercury poses a problem, but it is another thing entirely to actually do something about it. Even if we can get everyone to agree about what the most important threats to health and safety are, we still have to work out how exactly we are going to address these threats, and how we are going to make sure that people follow through. Furthermore, we have set all of this up in a way that is feasible for everyone.  We referred to this issue in Part 1 as the “implementation problem” (it sounds like an old-timey euphemism, we know, but it is helpful way of framing the issue).

The “implementation problem” is complex, but thankfully it is not intractable! We think that one nice way to approach it is by breaking up these interlocking issues into five overarching questions.

1. How will the convention be implemented in practice?

This question addresses all of the procedural details. Who oversees what? Who is in charge of funds? Who gets to vote? When does the treaty enter into force (i.e., how many countries need to ratify the treaty domestically before implementation starts)? A lot of these issues may seem pretty inconsequential (or bureaucratically, mind-numbingly boring, to put it mildly), but don’t be fooled! It’s not as easy as simply setting dates and boilerplate international policy cutting-and-pasting. For one, we need to be concerned about policy legacy. When parties make choices in one environmental regulation, it can set a precedent for future regulations with large consequences; likewise, we have to look at whether policy-makers are making smart choices here or if they are just doing something because it worked before. This question can also have important political and equity implications, especially when it comes to distributing oversight and funding responsibilities.

2. How can the convention ensure effectiveness?

The world doesn’t just make treaties as an excuse for a bunch of important people to practice their signatures. The goal is to solve a global problem, and to do it as effectively as possible. Trouble is, there’s often a tradeoff between feasibility and effectiveness. Make a regulation too stringent, and it becomes impossible. Make it too lenient, and suddenly you have spent a lot of time making a policy that does not adequately address the environmental problems at hand. Effectiveness is about balancing these needs both for individual parties and for the global community as a whole.

As science policy enthusiasts, we’re also particularly interested in how one actually goes about monitoring and measuring effectiveness, and how science can inform decisions about these activities. What do the indicators specified in the treaty actually tell us about the state of the environmental problem at hand, and are they scientifically justified?

3. How can the convention ensure compliance?

Imagine this: The nation of Theoreticalistan produces a lot of mercury emissions through its widget-making industry. All of the other countries of the world bear the burden of these emissions. The world would see benefits of $100 million if Theoreticalistan invested in clean-widget technology. However, Theoreticalistan is a developing nation and does not have the infrastructure to develop this technology, which would cost $50 million. If the world could support Theoreticalistan through capacity building and technology transfer, everyone could end up better off! Theoreticalistan gets an improved industry (funded at least in part by outside support) and the world sees the benefits in mercury reduction ($100 million benefit – $50 million cost of development = $50 million net benefit). However, how does the world make sure Theoreticalistan keeps up its end of the bargain? And how can Theoreticalistan be sure it will get appropriate support? As with effectiveness, it will take monitoring, inventorying, and evaluating progress at each step of the way to achieve this. How we embed these systems into the convention is an important factor in the treaty’s ultimate success. If you’re interested in this topic, there’s a growing body of literature that talks about compliance systems and active compliance management: check out Antonia Chayes et al.’s (1995) “Active Compliance Management in Environmental Treaties” and Peter Sand’s (2001) “A Century of Green Lessons: the contribution of nature conservation regimes to global governance.

4. How will this treaty interface with other international agreements and bodies?

Countries are already a part of complex inter-woven fabric of bilateral and international agreements, and that space is getting more crowded and more confusing every year. Any mercury convention will have to interface with these existing regulations and institutions. The key tension is how to define an agreement space that encompasses as much of the problem as possible while not violating or stepping on the toes of other agreements. Some of these agreements may be directly related to hazardous substances and pollutants, or they could be broadly related to economics and trade. Here are just a few treaties and intergovernmental bodies that we expect to be relevant to the mercury convention:

For more info on these linkages, watch for Amanda’s forthcoming blog post “Global environmental governance – where does mercury fit?”

5. How will this convention appropriately address individual parties’ conceptions of sovereignty?

Different countries will have different domestic laws. While it may be feasible for the United States to pass a law that says “All widget-making must be mercury free,” it may not be possible for the government of, say, Theoreticalistan to do the same. Likewise, individual countries, especially those with significant economic or military power, may be loath to give up that power to an international body. The sovereignty issue has received national attention in the United States recently when the Senate failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities after Senate Republicans claimed that such a convention would impinge on our sovereignty. A good primer on different sides can be found at the New York Times Room for Debate.

Still with us? Maybe? A little bit? Don’t lose hope. It’s a tough road from problem to treaty, and there are myriad difficulties and quagmires to wade through along the way. But if you’ve made it through Parts 1 and 2, you’re pretty much an expert already. In Part 3 we’re going to introduce and define some of the biggest concepts and themes we expect to come up during the negotiations in Geneva.

Stay tuned!

Amanda Giang studies how we quantify the benefits of environmental policies in the face of uncertainty. She is terrified of Legos. Philip Wolfe studies how people make policy decisions in one environmental domain (like air quality) when there are tradeoffs in another domain (like noise pollution). His spirit animal is the puffin.

How to Regulate Mercury in 6 Easy Steps (Part 1 of 4—more to come!)

By Amanda Giang and Philip Wolfe

Amanda and Philip, here, with a 4-part handy guide for implementing a global treaty on mercury.  We’ll be walking you through the problems, issues, and potential pitfalls of carrying out a global regulation and how this new regulation will interface with already existing treaties, protocols, and institutions.

Let’s say you want to create a global treaty regulating mercury… easy, right? Here’s a guide to give you the best shot of getting that done.

1.  Prove that the substance poses a real threat, and that the threat is global in nature. Good news. Somebody has already done that legwork for you. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) produced a mercury assessment in 2008 that summarized the state of science on mercury and its impacts. It turns out, mercury is toxic and bio-accumulative (i.e., a real threat!), and it can be transported miles away from where it is emitted (i.e., a global problem!). Done.

2.  Decide upon the scope of the regulation. Are you only going to regulate current mercury emissions or are you also going to regulate the use of mercury in commercial products? Do you regulate mercury waste in the trash stream and, if so, how? How do you control mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining? How do you regulate mercury trade? Defining the scope of the regulation is essentially the meat and potatoes (or the seitan and broccoli, for our vegan metaphor friends) of the treaty. Our MIT team has broken down the current scope into three primary areas: 1) emissions, 2) products and processes, and 3) small-scale gold mining, waste, and trade. Other members of our team will be covering each of those issues in more detail over the following days.

3.  Get somebody to pay for the regulation. The goal of the regulation is to benefit society over time. However, it often takes significant investment of time and resources to achieve that societal benefit. And investment of time and resources are, well, an investment: they don’t come free! Additionally, when countries with starkly different economies are involved in the same treaty, their level of investment and benefits from the regulation will often differ significantly. For example, Suriname and Sweden will most likely require different types and levels of support in order to effectively limit their mercury emissions, and the benefits of the treaty to each country will be felt in different ways. Some countries will need financial support to comply with strict goals. Others will have to pay for this support. This raises the often-contentious question of how should the costs be divided when different countries are responsible for different shares of the global pollution burden – now and historically? Alice and Julie will be covering the financial assistance issue in depth over the next week, as international negotiators try to reach agreement on this tricky subject.

4. Design how the regulation will be enacted in practice. Once you have identified the problem, you have a good sense of its extent, and you think you’ll be able to pay to fix it, how do you get countries to actually follow your regulation in practice? This is the “implementation problem”. You need to develop steps by which countries can follow through with the treaty, as well as methods that allow you to hold those countries accountable to do so. This area, the arena of institutions and implementation, is where we (Amanda and Philip) will be focusing our attention over the next week. In Parts 2 through 4 of this blog series, we’ll examine a variety of issues and concerns related to the implementation problem, different practical strategies for implementing a global treaty, and the views of different parties at the INC5 on issues related to implementation.

5. Negotiate! You’ve made it through steps 1 through 4 unscathed, but here’s where it gets tricky. While you were designing this treaty the best way you see fit, it turns out there were 100 other countries doing the exact same thing. Here’s why INC5 is such an important forum. Each country may agree that mercury is a problem, but no country is going to agree to the treaty if they think signing it will make them worse off then not signing it. Hence, all of those important little details you thought you had settled in step 2 or step 3 are back on the table.  We told you there were 6 easy steps involved in regulating mercury, but we may have forgotten to tell you that once you start negotiating, those steps become iterative, and reaching agreement among different countries may not be easy.

6. Sign, ratify, implement, hold accountable, review, and revise.  This is the goal! We’re hoping that by the end of the INC5, we’ll have a global mercury treaty ready to go.  However, even after signing, there is still work to be done. Funds need to be dispersed, progress needs to be monitored, and rules need to be reviewed as more information becomes available and the world changes over time. Furthermore, you’ll have to work with already existing institutions (the World Bank? the World Health Organization?) and within the bounds of already existing treaties (The Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals? The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal?). Amanda and Philip will also be discussing and looking at these institutional linkages with respect to INC5.

There you have it! Easy right? In Part 2 of “How to Regulate Mercury in 6 Easy Steps”, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the “implementation problem” and explore the kinds of questions that come up when trying to implement a global treaty.

In the meantime, continue to follow our blog and track us on twitter (@MITMercury)

Amanda Giang studies how we quantify the benefits of environmental policies in the face of uncertainty. She is terrified of Legos. Philip Wolfe studies how people make policy decisions in one environmental domain (like air quality) when there are tradeoffs in another domain (like noise pollution). His spirit animal is the puffin.