Tag Archives: issue overview

Financial and Technical Assistance in the Final Agreement

By: Alice Alpert and Julie van der Hoop

Financial commitments were a major concern in the final days of negotiation at INC5. In an earlier blog post, we summarized some of the key issues to be addressed. During the week, a contact group on financial and technical assistance was charged with producing articles detailing:

  • the mechanism by which countries that need help meeting their commitments under the convention could receive funds,
  • the forms of technical assistance, capacity building, and technology transfer available under the convention, and
  • the form of a committee to review implementation and/or compliance.

Discussions in this contact group highlighted the struggles between the developed global North and the developing global South. The North emphasized the need for strict regulations to protect health and the environment. The South stressed the importance of development in promoting well-being there, and the need for an approach that recognized the common but differentiated responsibilities of different countries. However, this distinction between North and South is further complicated by rapidly-developing economies such as China, India, and Brazil. These countries account for a significant and growing portion of global mercury emissions, but still stressed the need for assistance in meeting potential obligations.

Much of the negotiations on financial assistance occurred behind closed doors, in “friends of the co-chairs” meetings during the final evening of negotiations. The all-night drafting group consisted of 14 members, equally represented by developed and developing countries. The composition of the drafting group was key because this was where the hard compromises were hammered out. Early Saturday morning, this group emerged with a compromise that is included in the final treaty text.

The treaty establishes a financial mechanism, made up of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and a specific international Programme, to support developing countries in implementing actions on mercury. It states that all Parties may contribute to both the GEF and the international Programme. This is a notable provision, and this language may reflect the diverse group of donors to the GEF, some of whom are also to receive mercury-related funding (e.g. Mexico and China).  In addition to provisions on a financial mechanism, a separate article addresses Technical Assistance, Capacity Building and Technology Transfer. Technical assistance and capacity building will be provided to developing countries, while technology transfer will be promoted.

This compromise reflects elements of both developed and developing country priorities. Implementation of the convention is not strictly tied to the provision of financial resources, which was suggested by developing countries and opposed by developed countries. While an additional programme was included beyond the GEF and include new resources (a win for developing countries), funding will be voluntary (consistent with developed countries’ positions).

The final version of the text shows a masterful blend of many voices and offers every party some element of a victory. For more on the concept of “win-win” negotiations, and what it really means, see our guest post by Larry Susskind. In the final text, some statements stand alone in their own paragraphs for special emphasis, and great care has been taken in the order of concepts and their linkage or non-linkage. For example, in the article on the financial mechanism, implementation is explicitly disconnected from provision of funds. However, the article on implementation and compliance links these two ideas in saying that the implementation and compliance committee will provide “resources to meet costs in support of implementation of the Convention.” Thus, in order to be seen as legitimate by all parties, the final text is a grand compromise that also includes some mixed messages.

Emissions and Releases in the Final Agreement

By: Rebecca Saari and Leah Stokes

Before the negotiations began, we wrote this post summarizing the key issues negotiators were considering for mercury emissions to air and releases to land and water. It was clear that the delegates had much to resolve. What did countries finally decide, and what does it mean? We’ll cover these questions in this post.

Countries addressed how mercury enters the environment by identifying “relevant sources” for emissions in Annex F. The text specifically identifies coal-fired plants and boilers, non-ferrous metal mining activities, waste incineration, and cement production, as sources for mercury emissions that need to be controlled. Oil and gas, facilities where mercury added products are manufactured, and manganese production, which were all included in the draft Annex F at the beginning of the week, were excluded from the final agreement.

Conversely, sources to land and water are not specified in the treaty text. Instead, it is left to Parties to identify these sources within 3 years of the Convention’s entry into force, with the help of the Conference of the Parties. In other words, this decision was left for future rounds of negotiation.

Parties must also create an inventory of their emissions and releases within 5 years the Convention’s entry into force. This is quite a long time. On the one hand, inventories can take a while. Consider that the US Environmental Protection Agency takes three years to issue updates of its National Emissions Inventory of common air contaminants. Still, many countries have been working on inventorying their mercury emissions and releases for many years, in parallel to the negotiations, so, for many countries, a five year period is quite lenient. Many countries have already completed or begun their inventories, and those who haven’t can use the UNEP Toolkit. This inventory is a critical tool for identifying sources and tracking progress. In fact, measuring emissions may be a key way that the treaty changes state behavior over time, by making emissions and releases more visible.

There’s a difference between how the treaty addresses new and existing emission sources. For new sources, parties must apply Best Available Techniques (BAT) and/or Best Environmental Practices (BEP) within five years. To manage existing sources, parties can choose between applying goals, emissions limits, BAT/BEP, multi-pollutant control options, and other measures that reduce emissions. For existing sources, measures must be applied within 10 years for existing sources of air emissions. There isn’t a corresponding deadline for action on releases, though an optional plan of action may be submitted within 4 years.

As discussed above, there are differences in the treatment of emissions to air versus releases to land and water. However, mercury mobilization, whether to the air or water, will have an equivalent fate in the long run, as explained by Helen Amos. Also, our earlier post pointed out that stricter control of air emissions might create perverse incentives to transfer mercury to the water, where it bioaccumulates in seafood and gets into our diets. The relative importance of releases vs. emissions is also an area of ongoing scientific research.

With the adoption of these articles, Parties have made some meaningful progress in policing how mercury enters our environment. The true test of the treaty’s significance and strength will come in the years to follow, as guidance is crafted and implemented. Ultimately, the treaty will need to not only control emissions and releases, but reduce them. In other words, this treaty is just the end of step one.

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.


Issue Overview: Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

by Mark Staples and Danya Rumore

Throughout much of the world, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) provides subsistence livelihoods for more than 15 million people and produces up to 30% of the world’s mined gold.

Unfortunately, the sector relies heavily on mercury as a critical part of their gold extraction process. Mercury is added to ore to form a mercury-gold amalgam. This amalgam is then burned, causing the mercury to vaporize and leaving behind pure gold. While an effective process—one that has been in practice since at least 1000 CE— this type of mining leads to the direct exposure of miners to mercury, often with severe health impacts. ASGM is also responsible for the direct release of mercury into the environment and, according to the recently released Global Mercury Assessment 2013, small-scale gold mining is currently the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions. Additionally, ASGM drives a black market in mercury trade—check out Mark Staples’ blog on the illicit mercury trade to learn more about this.

Some nations, such as China, have already banned ASGM practices. Practically, however, these bans are difficult to implement. ASGM occurs almost entirely in the “informal section”—i.e., not as part of regulated industry—throughout the world, making it hard to monitor and control. As a result, the use of mercury in small-scale mining operations still occurs in nations that have implemented ASGM bans.

Despite the challenges associated with monitoring and regulating ASGM, acting to limit this major source of mercury releases is critical and possible. Accordingly, ASGM has attracted significant attention at INC5. The debate around article 9, which addresses ASGM issues, has focused on whether the import and export of mercury will be allowed for ASGM purposes, and if a phase-out date for ASGM will be introduced. In the next 24 hours, these are issues that will likely be resolved in balance with other supply and trade and products and processes issues. However, for now, it remains to be seen what will be decided.

Track us on twitter @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore to see what the negotiators decide on this critical issue!

Issue Overview: Mercury Supply and Trade

by Mark Staples and Danya Rumore

Mark and Danya here. During the INC5 negotiations, we’re covering issues related to mercury waste, supply and trade, and artisanal and small scale-gold mining (ASGM). Here, in our second installment, we provide an overview of mercury supply and trade, discuss what is already included in the draft treaty text about this issue, and explain what is now being discussed and will hopefully be decided in the days ahead.

All mercury used in products and processes originates from deposits in the earth’s crust. Deposits are distributed around the world, with a large concentration in western Asia and China. Mines in Spain, Italy, and Slovenia were historically the main global sources of the metal, but most mercury mining today occurs in Kyrgyzstan and China.

Once extracted, mercury is traded as a global commodity. Annual international movements of mercury have historically been on the order of 1000–2000 tonnes per year. Nations that have existing mines aren’t the only exporters of mercury; a number of developed nations have existing stocks of mercury available for export, or they act as brokers between primary sources and importing nations.

On the issue of supply, the proposed treaty text bans new primary mercury mining and the export, sale, or distribution of existing mercury (except for the uses listed in Annex D II). While Annex D has been drafted, the specifics of the Annex are still being discussed, as is the question of whether any restrictions will be placed on existing mercury-mining operations.

The proposed treaty text also requires that parties identify all mercury stocks within their territory. However, the threshold size of these stocks is not yet stipulated. We expect that this will be a subject of debate during the remaining days of the negotiations.

In terms of trade, the proposed text mandates that mercury can only be exported for allowable uses, as described by the treaty, or for environmentally sound disposal. It also requires that exporting countries obtain written consent from the recipient country. This section of the text reflects the integration of the Basel Convention, which concerns the global transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, into the mercury treaty. Of particular importance, the proposed treaty text also invokes the principle of “prior informed consent” from the Rotterdam Convention. The specific responsibilities of exporting and importing countries, as well as the extent of guidance that the Conference of the Parties is expected to provide on this front, is and will likely continue to be the source of some interesting discussion among involved parties.

The mercury supply and trade issue is now being discussed in a focused “technical articles” contact group. We hope that delegates are able to make significant progress on this front in the hours ahead so that we can move onto addressing artisanal and small-scale mining, discussing waste and storage, and—ultimately—reaching agreement on an effective global mercury treaty.

Follow us on twitter @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore as we post live updates on the negotiations!

Issue Overview: Mercury Waste

by Danya Rumore and Mark Staples

Danya and Mark here. During the INC5 negotiations, we’re covering issues related to mercury waste, mercury trade, and artisanal and small scale-gold mining (ASGM). We’ll be providing overviews of each of these issues separately, to make them more digestible. Here, in the first of our three Issue Overview installments, we provide an explanation of the mercury waste issue, what is already included in the draft treaty text about this issue, and what is likely to be discussed—and hopefully decided—in the week ahead.

The use of mercury in products and processes has a long history, with evidence of human use of mercury dating as far back as 5000 BCE.

Although awareness of the health and environmental impacts of the toxic metal has resulted in reduced use of mercury in many industries, it is still present in many products and processes, including light bulbs, cosmetics, and chlor-alkili production. Many mercury-containing products eventually end up in landfills or other waste sites, and leftover mercury compounds from industrial processes often enter the waste stream. When deposited in landfills, mercury-containing waste, over time, releases mercury into the environment. More problematically, incineration and the combustion of mercury containing waste can result in a sudden and significant release of mercury directly into the atmosphere. According to the UNEP Global Mercury Assessment 2013, waste-related sources made up approximately 5% of global anthropogenic emissions in 2010.

While mercury in the waste stream is a pressing issue, the good news is that solutions are available. Controlling and reducing the use of mercury in products can prevent mercury from entering the waste stream in the first place. Since significant amounts of mercury already exist in products and waste, efforts to capture, contain, and recycle mercury-containing wastes are necessary.  Such efforts are already underway, such as the US EPA’s fluorescent lamp recycling program and guidelines in case of releases and spills. Further, emissions controls on waste incinerators can greatly reduce mercury output from waste combustion and should be implemented wherever possible.

During the INC4 negotiations in Uruguay, progress was made on the question of how to address mercury waste in the globally binding agreement. Most prominently, the draft treaty text includes the provision that all parties to the agreement shall take appropriate measures to manage mercury waste in an environmentally sound way, in accord with the Basel Convention. This part of the treaty seems to be generally accepted, although the question of how to manage the transport of mercury across international boundaries in circumstances where the Basel Convention does not apply remains unresolved.

On Monday, the articles of the draft text relevant to mercury waste were introduced in the plenary session. Switzerland, with support from the EU, called for bringing all definitions and procedures for the trans-boundary movement of mercury in line with the Basel Convention. Lebanon expressed a desire for standards specific to mercury waste disposal, and Chile called for a more clear definition of “mercury wastes”. Additionally, whether and how to make parties who have not signed or ratified the Basel Convention comply with transboundary waste movement regulations was discussed.

The draft treaty also includes text related to the identification and management of sites contaminated by mercury. This topic appears to be much more contentious than the topic of waste management. While the draft treaty includes language indicating that action shall be taken to reduce the risk presented by contaminated sites, it remains to be seen whether capacity building and financial and technical assistance will be a necessary condition of including this in the agreement. In the plenary, Japan requested deletion of the capacity building and assistance provision, while Brazil, Iran and Morocco called for its inclusion.

At the conclusion of the plenary session on the second day of official negotiations, the Chair elected to move discussions of the treaty articles on storage, waste, and contaminated sites to the contact group for selected technical articles. Before addressing these issues, the contact group must first work through the products and processes articles. For now, storage, waste, and contaminated sites are on hold. We anticipate they will be picked up again late Tuesday evening or, more likely, early in the day on Wednesday.

As developments emerge, we’ll be posting updates here on our blog and via twitter @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore.  Stay tuned!