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OSPAR Convention (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) and OSPAR Commission

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OSPAR is the mechanism by which fifteen Governments of the western coasts and catchments of Europe, together with the European Community, cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. It started in 1972 with the Oslo Convention against dumping. It was broadened to cover land-based sources and the offshore industry by the Paris Convention of 1974. These two conventions were unified, up-dated and extended by the 22th September 1992 Convention for the Protection of the marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the ‘OSPAR Convention'). The new annex on biodiversity and ecosystems was adopted in 1998 to cover non-polluting human activities that can adversely affect the sea.

The North-East Atlantic

OSPAR Contracting Parties (Credit: Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ))

This is defined as extending westwards to the east coast of Greenland, eastwards to the continental North Sea coast, south to the Strait of Gibraltar and northwards to the North Pole. This maritime area does not include the Baltic or Mediterranean seas. The Helsinki Convention (HELCOM, for the Baltic) and Barcelona Convention (for the Mediterranean) apply in these sea areas.

Due to this spatial extent of the Sea itself and its catchment the contracting parties are:

  • the EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom)
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Switzerland


The Convention

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the “OSPAR Convention”) was developed from the 1972 Oslo Convention on dumping waste at sea and the 1974 Paris Convention on land-based sources of marine pollution. It has been signed on 22 September 1992 by all of the Contracting Parties to the original Oslo or Paris Conventions and by Luxembourg and Switzerland. After ratification it entered into force on 25 March 1998 at the Ministerial Meeting of the parent Conventions. The Ministerial Declarations and Statements made at the adoption of the Convention and at the Ministerial Meetings of the OSPAR Commission guide the work under the Convention. Still, Decisions, Recommendations and other agreements made at the parent Conventions remain valid until they are terminated by newly adopted measures under the new Convention.

While at the first Ministerial Meeting of the OSPAR Commission at Sintra, Portugal, in 1998, the cooperation of the Contracting Parties was extended to cover all human activities that might adversely affect the marine environment of the North East Atlantic (Annex V of the Convention), programs and measures on questions relating to fisheries management cannot be adopted under the Convention.

The Commission

The OSPAR Commission is the forum through which the Contracting Parties cooperate and is made up of representatives of the Governments of 15 Contracting Parties and the European Commission, representing the European Community. Each of the Contracting Parties has 1 vote in the Commision. Important decisions are made unanimously or with three-quarters majority, depending on the issue.

There is usually one meeting per year that is hosted by one of the Contracting Parties. Additional meetings concerning urgent issues can be forced by at least 3 of the Contracting Parties together. In between, the Heads of the Delegations of the Contracting Parties meet regularly to prepare the meetings, to advice in management decisions and to monitor the development and implementations of the agreements made by the Commission.

The Commission is supported by six main committees (one for each strategy – see paragraph "Main targets") some of which are supported by so called working groups. Further support is given by Linguists, Jurists and the Committee of Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen. The Secretariat is headed by an Executive Secretary and is responsible for administrative tasks mainly.

Observers

The work of all above-named groups is watched by different observer organizations. These include intergovernmental organizations from similar fields and non-governmental organizations. The full list of these organizations can be found here.

Aims of the OSPAR Convention

The aim of the OSPAR Convention is to prevent and eliminate pollution and to protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities.

The main objectives of this Convention are:

  • preventing and eliminating pollution of the marine environment
  • protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities in order to protect human health and the marine ecosystem to maintain and, where practicable, restore marine areas affected

Furthermore, the Convention aims to ensure sustainable management of the area concerned. "Sustainable management", according to the preamble of the treaty "management of human activities such that the marine ecosystem, the legitimate uses of the sea can continue to wear and can continue to meet the needs of present and future generations."

To achieve this, the Contracting Parties shall take, individually and jointly, adopt programs and measures and shall harmonize their policies and strategies.

Main targets

The work under the Convention is organised under six strategies:

  1. Protection and Conservation of Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystems
  2. Eutrophication
  3. Hazardous Substances
  4. Offshore Oil and Gas Industry
  5. Radioactive Substances
  6. Monitoring and Assessment

For each of the strategies a committee is formed, that supports the Commission. Some of the committees are in turn supported by working groups.

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Strategy

to halt and prevent by 2020 further loss of biodiversity in the OSPAR maritime area, to protect and conserve ecosystems, and to restore, where practicable, marine areas which have been adversely affected.

Eutrophication Strategy

to combat eutrophication in the OSPAR maritime area, with the ultimate aim to achieve and maintain a healthy marine environment where anthropogenic eutrophication does not occur.

Hazardous Substances Strategy

to prevent pollution of the OSPAR maritime area by continuously reducing discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances, with the ultimate aim to achieve concentrations in the marine environment near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man made synthetic substances.

Offshore Industry Strategy

to prevent and eliminate pollution and take the necessary measures to protect the OSPAR maritime area against the adverse effects of offshore oil and gas activities by setting environmental goals and improving management mechanisms, so as to safeguard human health and to conserve marine ecosystems and, when practicable, restore marine areas which have been adversely affected.

Radioactive Substances Strategy

to prevent pollution of the OSPAR maritime area from ionising radiation through progressive and substantial reductions of discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances, with the ultimate aim of concentrations in the environment near background values for naturally occurring radioactive substances and close to zero for artificial radioactive substances.

Climate Change

to ensure integrated management of human activities in order to reduce impacts on the marine environment, taking into account the impacts of, and responses to, climate change and ocean acidification.

Joint Assessment and Monitoring Programme (JAMP)Strategy

to facilitate and coordinate the work of relevant Contracting Parties in achieving good environmental status under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive by 2020.


Tools

Zones of QSR 2000: I - the Arctic, II - the Greater North Sea, III - the Celtic Seas, IV - the Bay of Biscay/Golfe de Gascogne and Iberian waters, and V - the Wider Atlantic
The work under the OSPAR Convention applies the ecosystem approach to the management of human activities. The same is valid for the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (the Helsinki Commission – HELCOM).

Quality Status Report

The QSR 2000 is the OSPAR Commissions assessment of the environmental quality of the North-East Atlantic. It was released in 2000 to fulfill obligations under Annex IV to the OSPAR Convention. It is based on 5 regional reports (regional QSRs) based on the 5 zones shown on the map.

In 2010 a new QSR was released. This report can be downloaded on the QSR 2010 website.

Joint HELCOM/OSPAR Work Programme on Marine Protected Areas

At the first joint ministerial meeting of the Helsinki and OSPAR commissions (JMM) in Bremen on 25-26 June 2003 the above named programme was adopted. The purpose of the work programme is to ensure that by 2010 there is an ecologically coherent network of well managed marine protected areas (MPAs) for the maritime areas of both HELCOM (Baltic Sea) and OSPAR (North East Atlantic).

References

Full text of the OSPAR Convention, including all Annexes and Appendices (PDF)

External links

Official website of the OSPAR Commission


The main author of this article is Golon, Jona
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.