Minamata Convention on Mercury, COP1, part 2

Final decisions and comments from Minamata Convention, COP1, Geneva, Switzerland, 23-29th September

As COP1 (the first Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury) negotiations dragged on through Friday night to Saturday morning, well after the agreed closing time, it is very clear that this is just the beginning of a very long and complex process. As the meeting eventually closed, 83 countries had signed the Minamata convention and committed to developing national implementation plans. Coordinating mercury reduction programmes throughout the world will include numerous social, economic and technological challenges and will be dependent on technology transfer as well as significant international funding. There are a few issues which led to drawn out negotiations, perhaps the most fervently fought being the location and format for the hosting of the Minamata Secretariat which is still to be agreed. An interim secretariat will run in Geneva until final decisions are made.

With respect to the coal sector, the main issue is still the BAT/BEP (best available technology/best environmental practice) guidelines. This document is a list of options for mercury control at sources such as coal-fired power plants which was created by an ad hoc group of experts including members of the Coal Partnership, led by the IEA CCC. The BAT/BEP guidance is similar to the EU BREF (BAT reference document) in that it lists all the possible means for mercury control. However, the UNEP BAT/BEP document has no “teeth” in that it includes no reduction targets or emission limits – these are left to the discretion of each ratifying country, under their national implementation plans. Further, the UNEP BAT/BEP contains numerous caveats noting the potential issues with high ash and low grade coals, for which there are limited data. Despite this, countries such as India and Thailand still did not wish the BAT/BEP to be adopted without additional wording. And so on the last day of the meeting, the COP adopted the draft decision on the guidance in relation to mercury emissions, Final Decision (UNEP/MC/COP/1/CRP.12), the COP, inter alia:

–     decides to adopt the guidance with regard to Article 8, particularly paragraphs 8(a) and (b), best available techniques and best environmental practices, taking into account any differences between new and existing sources and the need to minimize cross-media effects, and on support for parties in implementing the measures set out in paragraph 5, in particular in determining goals and in setting emission limit values; and
–     requests parties with experience in using such guidance to provide the secretariat with information on that experience, and the secretariat to compile such information and, in consultation with parties and others, to update the guidance as necessary.

In simple terms, this means that India is still not prepared to accept that the current BAT/BEP guidance and intends to prepare an additional BAT/BEP guidance document which will address high ash coals such as those encountered in India.

Other significant decisions made at COP1:

–     decides that each party shall report every four years using the full format marked by an asterisk in Annex 1, and report every two years with respect to the questions in that format by 31 December of the following year;
–    adopts the draft road map for establishing arrangements for providing the COP with comparable monitoring data, and elements of an effectiveness evaluation framework, and the draft terms of reference for an ad hoc group of experts on the arrangements for providing the COP with comparable monitoring data, and elements of an effectiveness evaluation framework.

This means that reporting for parties will take place at least every 4 years following ratification, although the basis for this reporting format is still to be determined by an ad hoc expert group which will meet between now and COP2.

A significant issue which still remains is that of funding. The COP is establishing an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the GEF (Global Environmental Facility) to provide funding for projects under the convention. At the close of the meeting several nations were still expressing disappointment at being excluded from funding due to “political reasons”. Further meetings between now and COP2 are required to resolve this problem.

On the subject of GEF funding, the IEA CCC is already in preliminary discussions with the GEF and UNEP secretariat to work on the development of an extensive coal project under the proposed emissions programme with targeted areas for work being identified in Asia, Africa and South America.

And so, as the meeting closed with many delegates running entirely on the free chocolate handed out by our Swiss hosts to keep them working into the early hours of Saturday morning, it is clear that much more chocolate may be required over the coming years to move this convention into a final functioning format. COP2, is planned for Geneva in November 2018.