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INC5 – Final negotiations on the UN Global Legally Binding Treaty on Mercury, day 4

Day 4 and the delegates got straight down to business, breaking into contact groups to hammer out the finer details of the treaty text. In the emissions group this meant a drafting group working on the text to combine Options 1 and 2 (as per yesterday’s decision) and a separate group looking at the more detailed text further down in Article 10. This involved extensive debate on issues such as whether mercury needed to be further clarified as “mercury and compounds”, whether “point source” was more specific than “relevant source” and  whether “measured as total mercury” was required at this level in the draft or whether this would be specified under monitoring elsewhere. These can be surprisingly contentious issues. In fact there were so many contentious or “un-agreed” issues that there appears to be more text in square brackets [still to be agreed] than in final form. So at this stage it is very hard to summarise what the final requirements on the treaty may be.

In real terms, the new draft is largely focussed on the NIP (national implementation plan) and is based round the concept of BAT/BEP. It is important to remember that the concept of BAT/BEP at this UN level is much broader than it is in areas such as North America and the EU. In these latter regions, BAT/BEP for mercury would general favour options such as FGD and even flue gas polishing techniques such as oxidation or activated carbon injection. However, to developing regions, with economic challenges, BAT/BEP could include more general approaches such as fuel efficiency, coal cleaning, and multi-pollutant technologies. And so, if and when this treaty moves into practice, there will certainly not be a rush towards installation of activated carbon worldwide but rather that the approaches to mercury control will vary significantly from region to region. with many countries taking far more “general” approaches such as fuel switching, coal cleaning, and efficiency improvements.

Under the new proposed {bis} text, emission limit values (ELVs) or equivalent methods MAY be used by a party to implement BAT/BEP requirements but are certainly not required. And there is yet no indication of how BAT/BEP requirements would be determined within the NIPs. Although many countries wanted some specification within this text, the final result was the transfer of work on BAT/BEP requirements from this meeting to the COP (conference of the parties) and from “guidelines” to “guidance”. Timelines also slipped from “immediately” to “when practicable”. Fortunately the loosening of the text stopped before it became meaningless entirely.

The debate on the wording of this text continued through the night, only finishing at 6am with an agreement that the debate would continue after the next plenary. There is a clear split between those countries who want the text to contain as much guidance, definition and control as possible and those who wish to make the text so flexible that countries can effectively do whatever they want. Judging by today’s debates, there is much work to be done before any agreement is reached.

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