Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Global commitments


Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA)

The GPA was adopted by the international community in 1995 and “aims at preventing the degradation of the marine environment from land-based activities by facilitating the realization of the duty of States to preserve and protect the marine environment”. It is unique in that it is the only global initiative directly addressing the connectivity between terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems.

The GPA targets major threats to the health, productivity and biodiversity of the marine and coastal environment resulting from human activities on land and proposes an integrated, multisectoral approach based on commitment to action at local, national, regional and global levels. In an era when coastal communities are threatened by new and daunting challenges, e.g. climate change, the holistic ecosystem approach advocated by the GPA is even more relevant today than when first negotiated in 1995.

The GPA works to identify the sources of land-based pollution or harmful activities, and prepare priority action programmes of measures to reduce them. It concentrates not just on problems originating near the shores – such as discharges from megacities, other urban areas, harbours or industrial enterprises in the coastal zone – but targets pollution from entire catchment areas, taking in sources such as agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and tourism.

The GPA, although a global programme, addresses problems at regional, sub-regional and national levels, and thus helps to guide the efforts of the individual Regional Seas programmes to deal with land-based pollution.

Global Partnership on Nutrient Management

The GPNM – a global platform to steer dialogues and actions to promote effective nutrient management

The accelerated use of nitrogen and phosphorous is at the centre of a complex web of development benefits and environmental problems. They are key to crop production and half of the world’s food security is dependent on nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer use. But excess nutrients from fertilizers, fossil fuel burning, and wastewater from humans, livestock, aquaculture and industry lead to air, water, soil and marine pollution, with loss of biodiversity and fish, destruction of ozone and additional global warming potential

The problems will intensify as the demand for food and bio-fuels increase, and growing urban populations produce more wastewater. This will be at a growing economic cost to countries in the undermining of ecosystems, notably in the costal zone, and the services and jobs they provide.

The Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) is a response to this ‘nutrient challenge’ – how to reduce the amount of excess nutrients in the global environment consistent with global development. The GPNM reflects a need for strategic, global advocacy to trigger governments and stakeholders in moving towards lower nitrogen and phosphorous inputs to human activities. It provides a platform for governments, UN agencies, scientists and the private sector to forge a common agenda, mainstreaming best practices and integrated assessments, so that policy making and investments are effectively ‘nutrient proofed’. The GPNM also provide a space where countries and other stakeholders can forge more co-operative work across the variety of international & regional fora and agencies dealing with nutrients, including the importance of assessment work.

Our Nutrient World

The work underpinning the report is an outcome from the GPNM.The message of this overview is that everyone stands to benefit from nutrients and that everyone can make a contribution to promote sustainable production and use of nutrients. Whether we live in a part of the world with too much or too little nutrients, our daily decisions can make a difference. This “Global Overview of Nutrient Management” is a product that governments asked UNEP as the Secretariat of the GPA to undertake during the IGR-3. It was prepared by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh on behalf of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management and the International Nitrogen Initiative.

The UNEP Regional Seas Programme 

The Regional Seas Programme, launched in 1974 in the wake of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, is one of UNEP’s most significant achievements in the past 35 years.

The Regional Seas Programme aims to address the accelerating degradation of the world’s oceans and coastal areas through the sustainable management and use of the marine and coastal environment, by engaging neighbouring countries in comprehensive and specific actions to protect their shared marine environment. It has accomplished this by stimulating the creation of Regional Seas programmes prescriptions for sound environmental management to be coordinated and implemented by countries sharing a common body of water.

Today, more than 143 countries participate in 13 Regional Seas programmes established under the auspices of UNEP: Black SeaWider Caribbean, East Asian SeasEastern Africa,South Asian SeasROPME Sea AreaMediterraneanNorth-East PacificNorthwest Pacific,Red Sea and Gulf of AdenSouth-East PacificPacific, and Western Africa. Six of these programmes, are directly administered by UNEP.

The Regional Seas programmes function through an Action Plan. In most cases the Action Plan is underpinned with a strong legal framework in the form of a regional Convention and associated Protocols on specific problems. Furthermore, 5 partner programmes for the AntarcticArcticBaltic Sea,Caspian Sea and North-East Atlantic Regions are members of the RS family.

All programmes reflect a similar approach, yet each has been tailored by its own governments and institutions to suit their particular environmental challenges.

The work of Regional Seas programmes is coordinated by UNEP’s Regional Seas Branch based at the Nairobi Headquarters. Regional Coordination Units (RCUs), often aided by Regional Activity Centres (RACs) oversee the implementation of the programmes and aspects of the regional action plans such as marine emergencies, information management and pollution monitoring.

​Municipal, industrial and agricultural wastes and run-off account for as much as 80% of all marine pollution. Sewage and waste water, persistent organic pollutants (including pesticides), heavy metals, oils, nutrients and sediments – whether brought by rivers or discharged directly into coastal waters – take a severe toll on human health and well-being as well as on coastal ecosystems. The result is more carcinogens in seafood, more closed beaches, more red tides, more beached carcasses of seabirds, fish and even marine mammals.

The first regional steps to deal with this widespread problem were taken in the Mediterranean, with the adoption of the Protocol on Land-Based Sources of Pollution in May 1980 after three years of difficult and delicate negotiations. Over the next two decades, this landmark agreement led to similar regional agreements in other Regional Seas.

Recent global meetings

Regional Seas Publications

Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution

Since 1979 the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution has addressed some of the major environmental problems of the UNECE region through scientific collaboration and policy negotiation. The Convention has been extended by eight protocols that identify specific measures to be taken by Parties to cut their emissions of air pollutants. 

The Convention, which now has 51 Parties identifies the Executive Secretary of UNECE as its secretariat.

The aim of the Convention is that Parties shall endeavour to limit and, as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution including long-range transboundary air pollution. Parties develop policies and strategies to combat the discharge of air pollutants through exchanges of information, consultation, research and monitoring.

The Parties meet annually at sessions of the Executive Body to review ongoing work and plan future activities including aworkplan for the coming year. The three main subsidiary bodies – the Working Group on Effects, the Steering Body to EMEP and the Working Group on Strategies and Review – as well as the Convention’s Implementation Committee, report to the Executive Body each year.

Currently, the Convention’s priority activities include review and possible revision of its most recent protocols, implementation of the Convention and its protocols across the entire UNECE region (with special focus on Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and South-East Europe) and sharing its knowledge and information with other regions of the world.

The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone

The Executive Body adopted the Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone in Gothenburg (Sweden) on 30 November 1999.  

The Protocol sets emission ceilings for 2010 for four pollutants: sulphur, NOx, VOCs and ammonia.  These ceilings were negotiated on the basis of scientific assessments of pollution effects and abatement options.  Parties whose emissions have a more severe environmental or health impact and whose emissions are relatively cheap to reduce will have to make the biggest cuts. Once the Protocol is fully implemented, Europe’s sulphur emissions should be cut by at least 63%, its NOx emissions by 41%, its VOC emissions by 40% and its ammonia emissions by 17% compared to 1990.  

The Protocol also sets tight limit values for specific emission sources (e.g. combustion plant, electricity production, dry cleaning, cars and lorries) and requires best available techniques to be used to keep emissions down. VOC emissions from such products as paints or aerosols will also have to be cut. Finally, farmers will have to take specific measures to control ammonia emissions.  Guidance documents adopted together with the Protocol provide a wide range of abatement techniques and economic instruments for the reduction of emissions in the relevant sectors, including transport.  

The Protocol was amended in 2012 to include national emission reduction commitments to be achieved in 2020 and beyond. Several of the Protocol’s technical annexes were revised with updated sets of emission limit values for both key stationary sources and mobile sources, as well as with emission ceilings for fine particulate matter. The revised Protocol also introduced flexibilities to facilitate accession of new Parties, mainly countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Document TitleENG
Original text of the ProtocolPDF
Consolidated text of the amended ProtocolPDF

The 1984 Geneva Protocol on Long-term Financing of the Cooperative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-Range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP)

The Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution on the Financing of the Co-operative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP) was entered into force in 1988. Fourty-four ECE countries are currently Parties to this Protocol.  
It is an instrument for international cost-sharing of a monitoring programme which forms the backbone for review and assessment of relevant air pollution in Europe in the light of agreements on emission reduction. EMEP has three main components: collection of emission data for SO2, NOx, VOCs and other air pollutants; measurement of air and precipitation quality; and modelling of atmospheric dispersion. At present, about 100 monitoring stations in 24 ECE countries participate in the programme.

Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes

The  Water Convention is intended to strengthen national measures for the protection and ecologically sound management of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters.

Initially negotiated as a regional instrument, the Convention was amended in 2003 to allow accession by all the United Nations Member States. The amendments entered into force on 6 February 2013, turning the Convention into a global legal framework for transboundary water cooperation. It is expected that non-ECE countries will be able to join the Convention as of end of 2013.

Protocol on Water and Health

The Protocol on Water and Health aims to protect human health and well being by better water management, including the protection of water ecosystems, and by preventing, controlling and reducing water-related diseases. It is the first international agreement of its kind adopted specifically to attain an adequate supply of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for everyone, and effectively protect water used as a source of drinking water. Parties to the Protocol commit to set targets in relation to the entire water cycle.

​Protocol on Civil Liability

The Protocol on Civil Liability provides for a comprehensive regime for civil liability and for adequate and prompt compensation for damage resulting from transboundary effects of industrial accidents on transboundary waters.