The Global Environment Facility's (GEF's) involvement in supporting chemicals, including mercury projects, dates back to 1995 when the GEF Council recognized the global significance of problems posed by persistent toxic substances (PTS), with the development of a portfolio of strategically designed projects.
The Global Environment Facility’s (GEF’s) involvement in supporting chemicals, including mercury projects, dates back to 1995 when the GEF Council recognized the global significance of problems posed by persistent toxic substances (PTS), which include mercury, heavy metals and organo-metallic compounds, with the development of a portfolio of strategically designed projects, including regional assessments and pilot demonstrations that addressed a number of pressing persistent organic pollutant (POP) issues.
These initial activities allowed the GEF to quickly respond to requests for support from the negotiators of the Stockholm Convention for implementing that Convention.
Building on lessons learned from this phase and responding to calls from the international community dealing with chemicals negotiations, the GEF has moved from a small program on PTS under International Waters and through the support to countries with economies in transition (CEITs) for their implementation of the Montreal Protocol to a consolidated Chemicals Strategy in GEF-5, which brings together the different pieces of the GEF that addresses POPs and ozone-depleting substances (ODS) as well as new areas including mercury and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).
Initial efforts focused on supporting the development of National Implementation Plans (NIPs) for the Stockholm Convention in eligible countries. To date, the GEF has provided funding to 140 countries for NIP preparation. This process provided the rationale for the GEF to shift from planning to implementation. The shift from NIP preparation to NIP implementation has taken place through the development of a wide range of projects, based on priority activities identified in the countries’ NIPs. These projects include innovative projects on integrated POPs management and introduction of Best Available Technologies and Best Environmental Practices (BAT/BEP) in selected industrial sectors and for the reduction of unintentional POPs releases from open burning of municipal wastes. Management and disposal of obsolete pesticides and PCB projects remain the largest part of the POPs portfolio. Projects also include capacity strengthening, monitoring and reporting to help countries comply with their obligations under the Stockholm Convention.
Early action was also taken to assess the use of mercury in the artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) sector through a pilot project implemented by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). In GEF-4 (2006-2010), important advances in mercury emission reduction were made through a GEF/UNDP multi-country medical waste project to control unintentional releases of POPs (dioxins and furans). The project successfully added a mercury component to remove mercury from selected medical waste streams and facilitated the replacement of mercury containing devices with mercury-free ones.
In GEF 5 (2010-2014), resources allocated for mercury projects were intended to support assessment and pilot activities that will advance the development of the global mercury instrument and improve countries’ abilities to implement its provisions when the instrument enters into force. In that regard, the GEF has approved several projects including five projects for the implementation of integrated measures for minimizing mercury releases from artisanal gold mining in West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (Ecuador and Peru) and Asia (Mongolia and Philippines) and another project for the reduction of mercury emissions in zinc smelting operations in China, one of the largest mercury emissions sources in China.
During the remainder of GEF-5, an allocation of up to US$10 million is available within the Chemicals Focal area, upon request by eligible signatory countries for the funding of an early action pre-ratification program for the Minamata Convention.
Now that the Minamata Convention on Mercury is adopted, it is anticipated that the GEF, designated as an element comprising the financial mechanism of the Convention, will assist eligible countries to address issues covered by the Convention, including ASGM, reduction and elimination of mercury from emissive sources, reduction and elimination of mercury in industrial processes.
Since its inception, the GEF has invested US$705 million for projects in the Chemicals focal area and leveraged some US$2.0 billion in co-financing from partners in the public and private sectors, bringing the total value of the GEF Chemicals portfolio to over US$2.7 billion
Despite these efforts, a lot more needs to be done. For example, NIPs have revealed that a significant quantity of chemicals – PCB, DDT and obsolete pesticides – contained in the original 12 POPs are stored and waiting for disposal in eligible GEF countries. Such disposal activities would require substantial additional investments and capacity development, as would emerging chemicals and waste issues, including reducing mercury use in ASGM and other industrial processes.
To sustain GEF interventions and achieve clean-up and reduction at the scale needed to protect human health and the environment, the GEF will need to play a catalytic role in leveraging budgetary resources from national governments and incentivizing the private sector to contribute more to the achievement of elimination and reduction of harmful chemicals and waste.
The approach taken by the GEF in the chemicals focal area for the next replenishment is promising. It aims to support enabling activities in developing countries and promote the integration of chemicals and wastes management into national budgets and planning processes. The GEF is also working to develop stronger partnerships with the private sector to attract and retain private sector investment in order to achieve significant impact in reducing the prevalence of harmful chemicals and waste.
GEF – (2013) Draft Chemicals strategy, GEF-6 programming document
SAICM (Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management) (2006) – Report of the International Conference on Chemicals Management, Dubai, 2006.
GEF Strategy for mercury programming in the fifth replenishment period of the Global Environmental facility, November 2010.