In February 2009, the Governing Council of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) agreed on the need to develop a global legally binding instrument on mercury. The work to prepare this instrument is undertaken by an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) supported by the Chemicals Branch of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics as secretariat. The goal is to complete the negotiations before the twenty-seventh regular session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in 2013.
A representative of Albemarle Corporation recently attended the INC3 in Nairobi, Kenya, regarding atmospheric Hg emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The event was chaired by committee-elected Mr. Fernando Lugris from Uruguay and attracted over 500 participants representing governments, UN agencies, intergovernmental as well as non-governmental organizations and industry. It was the third of five meeting to be held before 2013 in order to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury.
INC Chair Mr. Fernando Lugris (Uruguay)
While there are still deep opposing views between developed and developing countries on whether control measures should be mandatory or voluntary, they agreed to apply the Best Available Technique (BAT) approach as suggested by the EU.
INC3 plenary in Nairobi
During the week, delegates conducted negotiations and review on a collaborative new draft addressing key issues. The latest text will be the basis for discussion at INC4. Despite the emergence of clear divisions on critical issues and concerns among delegates, INC3 closed on a positive note. In their closing statements, many delegates cited the meeting’s accomplishments and underscored their commitment to constructive participation in the next stage of negotiations.
Division on the path forward
The matter of atmospheric emissions is a complex issue and has no shortage of dividing views including:
should the control measures protocol be voluntary or mandatory, and what is the best financial mechanism to support parties’ implementation of their obligations.
Views from developing countries
Invoking the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, several developing countries (notably China, India and Brazil) argued that mandatory control measures failed to account for socio-economic realities, and were thus both inappropriate and unrealistic.
In contrast, developed countries such as the U.S., the EU, Japan, Norway, Switzerland or Canada argued that this instrument is intended to be legally-binding, and that voluntary measures will undermine the success of the convention in critical areas, such as reducing atmospheric emissions of mercury.
The main sources of anthropogenic atmospheric emissions are coal-fired power plants, which many developing countries consider to be the biggest drivers of industrial development. However, delegates could agree to follow the Best Available Technique (BAT) approach that was proposed by the EU.
Will INC4 produce a compromise on this critical aspect to reduce athropogenic Hg emissions to the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants?
For more information on INC see the UNEP homepage on mercury.