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Fourth Session of Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee Moves Towards a Global Treaty on Mercury

Friday, 20 July 2012
The fourth session of Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC4) was held from 27 June to 2 July 2012 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The Meeting was attended by over 500 participants representing governments, UN agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, medical and industry organizations.

The main purpose of this session was to conduct further negotiations on the draft text of a global treaty on mercury. The draft text reflected the views submitted by the parties at INC3 and during the intersessional period. As Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP and Under Secretary General of the UN, underlined: “The global mercury legal instrument under development gives an important opportunity to ensure that a small-scale activity, such as this one, continues in a safe and sustainable way”.

INC4 was the fourth of five meetings anticipated to convene prior to the 27th session of the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (UNEP GC/GMEF) in 2013, where the negotiations are supposed to be concluded.

Delegates met in a busy schedule of contact groups in order to forge a way forward. Within the six days of the meeting broad areas were covered, ranging from products that contain mercury and processes that use mercury, to supply and trade of mercury, to emissions and releases, to storage and waste, to financial resources and technical assistance, and compliance.

INC4 achieved a full reading of the draft treaty text, removed brackets and narrowed options in some articles. Despite progress made in smaller issues like storage, waste and contaminated sites, controversy flared over the core and complex issues of financial resources and technical assistance, implementation and compliance committee and  control measures.

In the realm of financial assistance, the delegates faced the quandary whether the financial mechanism should be stand-alone following the model of the Multilateral Fund under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, or rely on existing institutional arrangements like Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Regarding the outstanding issue of implementation and compliance, the representatives reached a basic agreement on establishing a compliance/implementation mechanism in the treaty text itself. At this point, it is worth mentioning that developing countries emphasized that the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” must be reaffirmed in this treaty. In particular, developing countries argued that the effective implementation of their obligations relating to control measures depends on developed countries’ compliance with their commitments related to financial resources and transfer of technology.  Once more, the negotiating process of establishing a global conventional environmental regime was built on the direct correlation between compliance and financial and technological assistance. Indeed, many participants said: “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

Decidedly, this meeting was an important step towards developing a global conventional environmental regime on mercury. Delegates are expected to provide key solutions to challenging issues at the next and last session of the INC in January 2013.  As Mr. Steiner said: “There are only a few months left to conclude this new convention and establish a robust and dynamic regime to protect the environment and minimise the human health risks posed by mercury”.

Source: UNEP, IISD Reporting Services
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