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Earth Negotiations Bulletin, A Reporting Service for Environment and Development Negotiations Online at http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc4/
The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury (INC4) will meet from Wednesday, 27 June, to Tuesday, 2 July 2012, in Punta del Este, Uruguay and continue to negotiate the text of a treaty to regulate mercury use at a global scale. INC4 is the fourth of five meetings that are scheduled to convene prior to the 27th session of the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (UNEP GC-27/GMEF), to be held in 2013, where the negotiations are expected to conclude with the adoption of an international treaty. During the week, delegates will negotiate on the basis of a text compiled by the Secretariat with a view to finishing substantive discussions on key items, to allow for conclusion of negotiations at INC5.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GLOBAL ISSUE OF MERCURY
Mercury is a heavy metal that is widespread and persistent in the environment. It is a naturally-occurring element and can be released into the air and water through weathering of rock containing mercury ore or through human activities such as industrial processes, mining, deforestation, waste incineration, and burning of fossil fuels. Mercury can also be released from a number of mercury-containing products, including dental amalgam, electrical applications (e.g. switches and fluorescent lamps), laboratory and medical instruments (e.g. clinical thermometers and barometers), batteries, seed dressings, antiseptic and antibacterial creams, and skin-lightening creams. Mercury exposure can affect fetal neurological development and has been linked to lowered fertility, brain and nerve damage, and heart disease in adults who have high levels of mercury in their blood.
Since 2001, the UNEP GC/GMEF has regularly discussed the need to protect human health and the environment from the releases of mercury and its compounds.
MERCURY INC4 HIGHLIGHTS:
WEDNESDAY, 27 JUNE 2012
The Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury (INC4) opened on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 at the Conrad Resort in Punta del Este, Uruguay, to continue negotiations on a treaty to regulate mercury use at a global scale. Plenary meetings were held in the morning and afternoon, with contact groups meeting in the afternoon and evening to finalize their consideration of items outstanding from INC3, including artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM), wastes and storage, and information and awareness raising.
Following a short cartoon on mercury and a performance by a children's choir, Fernando Lugris, INC Chair, Uruguay, opened the meeting, underscoring that mercury is a global problem warranting a global solution adapted to everyone's reality. Monique Barbut, CEO of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), detailed several GEF mercury projects, noted that the INC negotiations will conclude as the negotiations for the GEF's 6th replenishment are underway, and called on the INC to consider conveying a message to the GEF on resources needed for a mercury convention. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, speaking via a video-message, called on negotiators to move beyond initial positions and "reach across the table."
Luis Almagro, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Uruguay, called on participants to take big strides towards the fifth and final session of the INC so as to establish a sound, dynamic regime to protect the environment and human health from mercury risks. A video was projected on the risks of ASGM and best practices promoted by UNEP in small gold- roducing communities around the world.
Noting Colombia is home to one of the most contaminated mercury sites in the world, COLOMBIA urged, inter alia, adoption of a strong compliance mechanism, and banning trade with non-parties to encourage ratification. NIGERIA highlighted its efforts to raise public awareness around mercury, and called for promotion of mercury-free products and take-back schemes for mercury-containing products. SRI LANKA stressed the importance of sound technology transfer and appropriate financial assistance.
WHO drew attention to documents on regulatory perspectives on thimerosal in vaccines, and on informal consultations held in April 2012 to develop further guidance on vaccines. A member of the Chilean legislature discussed a new law seeking to phase out thimerosal in vaccines, which she said embraced a precautionary approach to protect vulnerable groups, and asked WHO not to be an "obstacle to risk-free vaccines."
The INTERNATIONAL PEDIATRIC ASSOCIATION called on governments to support allowable-use exemptions for vaccines. SAFEMINDS, underscoring that mercury exposure can have a cumulative impact, supported inclusion of text on health aspects.
ZERO MERCURY WORKING GROUP called for, "ending toxic trade" in mercury and phasing out primary mercury mining. With IPEN, it supported including the precautionary and polluter pays principles in the mercury treaty.
IPEN called for addressing mercury releases in all media, not only the atmosphere, and supporting safer alternatives to mercury-containing products.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH called for mandatory national implementation plans and inclusion of both environmental and public health strategies.
The INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR ANIMAL HEALTH urged consideration of the implications of the mercury treaty on veterinary vaccination programs, which she said were essential to ensure animal welfare.
The GLOBAL INDIGENOUS PEOPLES CAUCUS requested that references to vulnerable populations include the phrase 'and Indigenous Peoples'.
A number of dental organizations intervened. Some warned that suitable alternatives to dental amalgam are not yet available, while others highlighted the effectiveness and efficiency of alternatives and called for a ban of mercury in dentistry.
IN THE CORRIDORS
Energy and enthusiasm suffused the first day of INC4, with participants preparing to tackle the penultimate round of negotiations to prepare a global instrument on mercury and bracing for long hours of hard work. Indeed, as three contact groups were challenged to finalize their work by the second day of this six-day meeting, many delegates commented that the unorthodox lunchtime scheduling of the host country reception, attested to the marathon ahead.
One veteran participant said the progress achieved intersessionally placed INC4 much further along the road to achieving its goals than it was at the conclusion of its work in Nairobi. Indeed, while the latter days of INC3 saw many delegates taking hard lines on a range of complex and interconnected issues, delegates found in Punta del Este evidence of a renewed sense of common purpose and signals of movement in key delegations towards more flexibility and compromise within the INC process.
MERCURY INC4 HIGHLIGHTS:
THURSDAY, 28 JUNE 2012
INC4 met in Plenary throughout the day to deal with reports from contact groups, as well as emissions and releases, financial and technical assistance, and compliance matters. Contact groups also met throughout the day to discuss: technical assistance; storage, wastes and contaminated sites; emissions and releases; and research, development and monitoring.
IN THE CORRIDORS
As delegates dug into their second day of work, many commented that the "gentle pressure" exerted by Chair Lugris is paying off as delegates work cooperatively and purposefully to move through INC4's agenda. A few participants cautioned that contact group discussions on seemingly uncontroversial issues were taking considerable time. One delegate noted, "We have seen progress in the group on contaminated sites, but we keep going in circles on storage and wastes." Another emphasized that strong commitment to cooperation will be required to reach compromise on "thornier" issues, such as finance and emissions. Most, however, said it is unrealistic to expect agreement on the most challenging issues before the final round of negotiations at INC5. They expressed both satisfaction with the amount of work completed so early in the meeting and optimism about the days ahead, pointing to several sections of draft text that have already been submitted to the legal group as evidence of progress.
MERCURY INC4 HIGHLIGHTS:
FRIDAY, 29 JUNE 2012
The Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally-binding Instrument on Mercury (INC4) met in Plenary in the morning to hear reports from contact groups, and to discuss how to regulate mercury in products and processes. Contact groups met throughout the day and into the night on compliance matters, emissions and releases, products and processes, financial resources and technical assistance, and Section J (Awareness raising, research and monitoring, and communication of information). A "Swiss break" was also held in the evening to allow for delegates to interact informally and seek solutions to outstanding issues.
Products and Processes
WHO presented the organization's views on the use of mercury in dental amalgam and thimerosal in vaccines, and with the INTERNATIONAL PEDIATRIC ASSOCIATION, noted that alternatives to multiviral vaccines entail higher costs and refrigeration, and are not viable alternatives for many developing countries. Stating that thimerosal is a "sinking ship" and calling access to "non-toxic vaccines" a human right, the COALITION FOR MERCURY-FREE DRUGS called on the INC to take action to ensure that the most vulnerable are not exposed to mercury poisoning.
The WORLD DENTAL FEDERATION and the INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR DENTAL RESEARCH supported the reduction of dental amalgam use, provided that individual country circumstances are taken into consideration. ZERO MERCURY WORKING GROUP called for a ban on products and processes containing mercury.
The EUROPEAN LAMP COMPANIES FEDERATION noted that it is possible to limit mercury content in mainstream lamps.
SAFEMINDS called for a ban on mercury use in the health sector, particularly in the pharmaceutical and dental industries, and supported a phasedown approach. The INC established a contact group on products and processes and exemptions, co-chaired by Barry Reville (Australia) and David Kapindula (Zambia).
IN THE CORRIDORS
Participants continued working in high gear on Thursday, shifting their work from plenary to a myriad of contact group discussions, including standing-room only sessions on emissions and products and processes. Spirits were boosted in an innovative "Swiss Break" â€“ two hours dedicated to tango, food and conversation. Chair Lugris instructed all participants to set aside formal meetings and enjoy themselves during this time, and the reception proved to be a fertile ground for more relaxed discussions on difficult issues.
Many remarked on how hard participants are working, expressing satisfaction with progress thus far. However, China's comment in plenary about the difference between those countries advancing towards mercury control in "high-speed trains" while others are riding in "ox-driven carts" provides an interesting image of challenges ahead: delegates in groups addressing information and effectiveness evaluation steadily advance in cleaning up text, while those discussing finance and emissions are still trying to identify common ground to ne the scope of this treaty, and some in the compliance group are tugging the reins in an effort to wait for progress in finance. Some delegates emphasized that the work of INC4 will be "end-loaded" and will require sustained energy over the remaining days.