After over seven years of negotiation and planning, the Minamata Convention on Mercury finally reached ratification yesterday, Thursday 18th May 2017 (http://www.mercuryconvention.org/). The main activities which are responsible for the concerning rise in global mercury emissions are artesanal small-scale gold mining, coal combustion, mercury containing materials and waste, and chlor-alkali manufacturing. Putting aside the challenges of reducing mercury emissions from artesanal gold production, which is already illegal, the greatest challenge for many countries will be to reduce mercury emissions from coal-based power generation.
The Convention required 50 signatory countries to move to COP1, the first Conference of the Parties. Although the early ratification list included China, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the USA, the majority of initial signatories were smaller nations with arguably fewer issues of concern. Countries within Europe had been holding off on signing the Convention until the publication of the final decision on mercury emissions limits for large combustion plants under the EU BREF (Best Available Technology Reference document) of the IED (Industrial Emissions Directive). The mercury emission limits set within this EU directive are challenging and are likely to result in co-benefit (multi-pollutant) or mercury-specific control technologies being installed on many plants within Europe. Now that the IED limits are official (as of April 2017), member states within the EU must adopt these or more stringent limits into national policy. In doing so, they will be applying state of the art mercury control, meeting the most stringent of emissions limits, and will therefore be ready to demonstrate compliance for this sector under the Minamata Convention. It was therefore not a surprise that several countries (Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, and Sweden) and the EU itself finally ratified the convention this week. Other EU states are likely to follow, although the decision for Germany may be somewhat difficult considering the continued VGB concern that the new BREF limit for mercury for lignite plants is both too challenging to achieve and too low to monitor accurately.
The Minamata Convention does not itself include any emission reduction targets or limits but will include BAT (best available technology) guidelines. The BAT guidelines for coal combustion have been produced by an international committee of experts which includes the IEA CCC. These guidelines have been completed and accepted at the negotiation phase and will now be raised for adoption at the Minamata COP1 in Geneva in the final week of September this year.
The UN Environment Coal Partnership, led by the IEA CCC, was formed before the first discussions back in 2010 to provide expert guidance and support through the Minamata Convention negotiations. With funding from the EU, Environment Canada and the US Department of State, the Coal Partnership works closely with several developing regions and emerging economies. The IEA CCC has run meetings and projects in Asia, Africa and Russia to help understand the specific challenges in these regions with a view to demonstrating that compliance with the Convention is possible and to encourage ratification. Although it is unclear what new, more official, form the Coal Partnership will take as we move into COPs, the CCC looks forward to working with signatory countries in the establishment of action plans and demonstration projects with a view to seeing real results from this exciting new Convention.