Tag Archives: undecided issues

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!

What to Expect from INC5 Day 5 – Thursday, January 17

By: Amanda Giang

The agenda for Day 5.

The agenda for Day 5.

It’s Day 5 of the negotiations, and the atmosphere is getting tense. Chair Lugris is pushing for some serious progress, and is expecting contact groups to produce some text by the end of day, so that tomorrow can be devoted to fine-tuning. We’re not even going to have a swiss break! We expect that plenary will be suspended early while contact groups tackle the following:


  • A financial mechanism for the convention. The Chair has delayed this important discussion until now, but it’s time to finally iron out exactly how the activities described in the draft treaty are going to be paid for. Looking to be a late night for @alicealpert and @jvanderhoop, who will be covering this issue.
  • Linkages between this treaty and others, and how implementation and compliance will be operationalized, covered by @wolfeyp and @amandagiang.
  • Text for how to address health in the treaty, also covered by @amandagiang and @wolfepy.
  • Finalization of technical issues, like ASGM, supply and trade of mercury (including primary mining), followed by @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore.
  • Dental amalgam—which is a particularly contentious section of the text on mercury products and processes, covered by @Bea_Edwards and @lncz.
  • Draft text for emissions and releases, with fleshing out of Annexes specifying sources and limits, followed by @NoelleSelin, @BeckySaari and @leahstokes
  • If we’re lucky, pizza! We hear our generous Swiss hosts provided some late night study negotiation snacks yesterday. As graduate students, we know nothing fuels brainpower like greasy cheese and carbs.

Don’t forget to follow @MITmercury and #MITmercury to follow the action real-time!

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!

Potential limits on mercury used in products and processes

By: Bethanie Edwards

What do compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), dental fillings, PVC, and paper mills have in common? The intentional use of mercury, of course! While toxic, mercury does have remarkable chemical properties that humans have exploited since antiquity. But, mercury added products and manufacturing processes increase release of mercury into the environment. Luckily there are a number of alternatives, restrictions, and control mechanisms that can be put in place to decrease mercury emissions from this sector.

While the mercury in each CFL has declined from 50mg to 2mg in the last three decades, 13% of the mercury contained in CFLs still makes its way into the environment over a product’s lifetime. Recycling bulbs properly and using protective packaging in transit can reduce releases into the environment. However, consumers should consider how their electricity source may influence net mercury emissions. If you live in an area powered by a coal, using CFL bulbs can decrease your carbon footprint and reduce the mercury being emitted into the atmosphere by reducing the amount of coal burned (remember, coal burning is one of the largest sources of mercury). But if you live in an area powered by hydroelectric energy, replacing all your traditional incandescent bulbs with CFLs will reduce your energy consumption but actually increase your mercury emissions.

Dental amalgams or “silver fillings” bind together mercury and other metals and cap the tooth, preventing further decay. Porcelain and compost fillings are alternatives. However, “silver fillings” are cheaper, more durable, require less skill to apply, and represent an important option as access to dental care increases in low-income countries. To reduce the amount of mercury emitted to the environment from the dental amalgam industry, porcelain fillings could be used when affordable or control technologies such as amalgam traps that prevent the mercury from entering the waste stream could be used when “silver fillings” are unavoidable. There is active discussion at INC5 on what to do about dental amalgams.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a widely used construction material. The original method for making PVC required mercury to catalyze the reaction. While a slightly less efficient mercury-free pathway has been utilized by most nations since the 1950s, China and Russia have yet to phase-out the mercury catalyzed method.

Chlor-alkali production also releases mercury. Paper production is the leading demand for caustic soda, a chlor-alkali output, which is used to bleach paper pulp. There are two alternative pathways for chlor-alkali production that do not use mercury. China is the major consumer of mercury in the chlor-alkali industry, whereas, over the past 15 years chlor-alkali plants in other countries have been successfully converted to membrane-based technology, which does not use mercury.

There are several other products and processes that utilize mercury such as, batteries, cosmetics, measuring devices (thermometers and blood-pressure meters), and electronic switches. Batteries have been successfully phase-out through national level initiatives in most countries. However, China still manufactures some mercury batteries as well as thermometers and blood-pressure meters. The US and other nations have also taken domestic action to phase out mercury in electronics. The graph below provides a breakdown of mercury consumed by geographical region according to each product and process.

Mercury used in products and processes in 2005 for each region. From the UNEP 2013 Mercury Assessment.

During the last negotiating session there was an on-going debate as to whether to use a positive or negative list to restrict mercury products and processes. A negative list approach entails a general ban on all mercury added products and processes with a list of exemptions. For example, if a negative list was adopted, all processes that utilized mercury would be prohibited. China could petition the UN to allow the continued manufacturing of VCM using the mercury until they could convert all plants to the alternative manufacturing method. A positive list would only restrict specified products and processes. So if VCM production was not listed as a banned or restricted process, China could continue manufacturing VCM.

Clearly, the negative list is a more aggressive way to reduce the consumption of mercury as only successfully petitioned products and processes would be allowed. However, for many countries the positive list is much more favorable as it ensures economic flexibility. China, the US, and Canada were strong supporters of the positive list. The African Group was a strong proponent of a negative list, reflecting the concern that mercury added products would continue to make their way into Africa as waste. The positive list vs. negative list debate calls into question whether targeting the product and processes that are the largest emitters is adequate or if all mercury products and processes must be addressed.

Right now the draft text lists a number of mercury-added products as to be phased-out by an uncertain date, although the list of products is subject to change as the delegates negotiate. Dental amalgams are subject to restriction. For processes, mercury use in chlor-alkali production is currently on the phase-out list with a date of either 2020 or 2025. VCM production is currently subject to restriction but is not banned. This is noteworthy, since in 2010 VCM production in China (East and Southeast Asia) alone led to more mercury consumption than all products and process in every other region. In short, this is a very important issue.


How the international community arrives at an agreement on limiting products and processes is sure to be a lively and crucial debate. Be sure to keep an eye out for a follow up report on how it all pans outs.

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.

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!