Several decisions taken during the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP3) to the Minamata Convention on Mercury set the stage for further and deeper engagement of the Convention in driving national, regional, and international efforts to address a highly toxic heavy metal that is considered to be one of the top ten chemicals that can harm human health.

At the same time, a centerpiece decision on the effectiveness evaluation was reduced in scope during a compromise at the end of the meeting, resulting in a related reduction in the programme of work and budget.

In addition, a decision on international cooperation on the eve of an important year for policy making on related issues, including chemicals management beyond 2020 and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, did not advance. While most Parties supported a related proposed decision on collaboration with international organizations, consensus was blocked on the grounds that it was a “political statement” that called for collaboration outside the scope of the Minamata Convention.

During opening statements at COP3, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 25-29 November 2019, high-level officials and regional representatives identified entry points in global sustainable development policy processes that can be used to leverage the success of the Minamata Convention, and encouraged delegates to strive to reach agreement on all agenda items in order to set the Convention on the right track. Among these statements, Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), highlighted four areas needing action to reduce mercury exposure globally: artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM); stemming mercury trade; reducing emissions from coal burning, with linkages in climate policy; and e-waste.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported that COP3 delegates were pleased with progress on some institutional agenda items, including the decisions taken on the sharing of secretariat services between the Secretariat of the Minamata Convention and the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions and the operationalization of the Implementation and Compliance Committee.

However, an early morning compromise at the end of the meeting that reduced the scope of the decision on the effectiveness evaluation, which had a direct bearing on the programme of work for the coming biennium, left many participants believing that COP3 had missed an important opportunity.  

Discussions on additional operational issues resulted in decisions on:

  • guidance for completing the national reporting format;
  • the financial mechanism, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Specific International Programme (SIP), enhancement of the SIP, and review of the financial mechanism; and
  • capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer.

The COP reviewed cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The COP also addressed technical issues that resulted in decisions on:

  • releases of mercury;
  • customs codes;
  • mercury waste, in particular consideration of relevant thresholds;
  • dental amalgam;
  • the review of the Convention’s Annexes A (mercury-added processes) and B (processes using mercury or mercury compounds), which is due by 2022; and
  • guidance on the management of contaminated sites.

In addition, the COP discussed issues relating to emissions of mercury resulting from the open burning of waste. 

COP4 is expected to review the Convention’s Annexes and financial mechanism and conduct an effectiveness review of the Convention. It will take place from 30 October to 5 November 2021, in Bali, Indonesia. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin coverage of Minamata COP3]