Remarks at the Opening of the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Programme's Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury

Daniel A. Reifsnyder
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Geneva, Switzerland
January 13, 2013

Let me first thank you, Chair Lugris, and the Government of Switzerland for hosting this crucial fifth session, where we expect to conclude our work. My delegation also extends its appreciation to the Secretariat for the many hours invested in organizing and guiding our efforts.

The United States remains committed to finalizing a robust and effective instrument this week, bringing us one step closer to our shared objective – to reduce global mercury pollution to protect human health and the environment. At home, we have made significant progress in reducing mercury exposure through a number of tools including regulation, policies, voluntary initiatives, and public-private partnerships. For example, over the last 30 years we have reduced mercury emissions significantly in key sectors through the application of pollution control technologies, and we have steadily reduced the availability and use of mercury-added products.

Mr. Chair, I’d like to take a moment to speak to what we see as a significant environmental challenge here – and the largest global source of mercury pollution to be addressed under this Convention -- air emissions.

If this Convention is to achieve our shared objective, all parties must reduce emissions of mercury from a set of defined sources. At past INCs, some have proposed that air emissions be addressed only through voluntary measures. Those proposals seem to reflect two concerns. The first is the need for flexibility in implementation. We believe there is a way to balance clear obligations to reduce emissions with provisions that are inherently flexible in their implementation. We made some progress at INC-4 in this regard. There we worked with other delegations to capture the inherent flexibility of best available techniques (BAT), and we are convinced that here we can build on that foundation to achieve an agreement with clear obligations on air emissions this week with the needed element of flexibility in their implementation.

The second concern is the perception that any obligations with respect to air emission of mercury are somehow inconsistent with development goals, particularly the needs of countries to supply energy to their citizens. Let me be very clear -- we recognize the need for continued growth and development, including the use of coal for power generation. The United States does not advocate an obligation that would require any Party to stop burning coal. But this draft convention does not present a choice between environment and development. Rather, the issue here is whether development will take place sustainably, in a way that protects human health and the environment from mercury pollution. We believe that this convention has no more important purpose than to meet this objective.

Finally, a few words with respect to your text. Like all others, we thank you for your work in putting together this text. At the same time, we have a few concerns. First, we were surprised to see changes to some previously unbracketed, agreed text that went through legal review at INC-4. For example, in paragraph one of Article 20, the nature of the obligation has changed from "should" to "shall." Where the parties have spent much time in reaching an acceptable solution and that solution has been through legal review, we think no changes should be made. We will thus ask to return to previously agreed text there and in other places such as in Article 12. Second, we have concerns with some of the policy choices reflected in the text. For example, we do not think there is consensus that releases to land and water should be addressed in a manner identical to atmospheric emissions. Another example is in Article 15, where the introduction suggests that the Chair’s revision was not intended to eliminate policy options. However several important elements-- a broadened donor base, voluntary resources, and the varying capacities of countries, to name three -- are not adequately captured for consideration in the revised article, and we intend to reinsert them in our deliberations this week. To be clear, we are not seeking to go back to the text from INC4 - my delegation is prepared to negotiate from the basis of your text – but we will need to address these kinds of issues as we go forward.

Mr. Chair, my delegation stands ready to continue to work with you, our many able co-chairs, and all delegations and meeting participants to conclude a comprehensive, balanced and effective new instrument on mercury this week.

And finally, The United States will submit for the record a statement regarding Palestinian status, and we request that the statement be included in the report of the meeting.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.