Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 about the Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment

Since 1982, when the LOSC was adopted, international environmental law has developed
considerably. The increasing degradation of the environment, including the oceans
and seas, revealed the limits of the traditional approach to environmental protection.
It soon became clear that there is a direct link between (marine) environmental degradation
and socio-economic development and these factors can no longer be tackled in
isolation. To fill these gaps the UNCED endorsed the new goal of sustainable development,
as a form of development that meets the needs of the present generation without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, together with
new principles and approaches to achieve this goal. In the marine environmental
context, sustainable development acquires a special importance since millions of people
all around the world depend on the sea and its resources. Agenda 21, the UNCED’s
Plan of Action, dedicates particular attention to oceans and seas and emphasizes the
need to protect and preserve the marine environment in harmony with the rational use
and development of its resources.
Chapter 17 on “Protection of the Ocean and all kinds of seas” sets out the blueprint
for the sustainable development of oceans and introduces new objectives, principles,
and concepts of ocean governance into the existing regime. The protection of the
marine environment is one of the seven areas of action identified in the Chapter.
The LOSC is considered as the proper legal framework for the protection and sustainable
use of the marine environment, but Agenda 21 calls for a new approach to marine
issues. This approach has to be “integrated in content” and “precautionary and anticipatory in ambit”. Considering the limited knowledge and understanding of the marine environment and the difficulty in predicting the impact of human activities on marine ecosystems, the adoption of a precautionary approach to ocean preservation
appears particularly important since it justifies the adoption of preventive measures even
in the absence of “clear scientific evidence”. In addition, Chapter 17 urges States
to conduct a prior environmental assessment of all potentially hazardous activities, to
apply clean technologies (e.g., best available technology (BAT) and best environmental
practice (BET)) and the polluter-pays principle. Furthermore, Chapter 17 urges States
to preserve rare or fragile “ecosystems”, as well as habitats and other ecologically
sensitive areas and it implicitly endorses the ecosystem-based approach.
States are recommended to take measures to address marine degradation (not only
pollution) from land-based activities acting primarily at the national, regional or subregional
level. In addition, they are encouraged to assess the need for additional
measures to control sea-based activities (i.e., shipping, dumping, offshore oil and gas
platforms and ports), acting primarily within the framework of international organizations,
whether they be sub-regional, regional or global. Chapter 17 devotes particular attention to shipping and urges the
wide ratification and proper implementation of existing international instruments.
Furthermore, there is a strong emphasis on monitoring, reporting, and financial and
technological assistance. Finally, Chapter 17 stresses the need to improve cooperation
and coordination among national, regional and global institutions with competence
concerning marine environmental issues, within and outside the UN system.
Despite its legally non-binding nature, Chapter 17 had a decisive influence on the
further development of the marine environmental regime and its principles and recommendations
have worked as guidelines for States and international organizations in the implementation of their commitments under the LOSC. There is a close interaction between Chapter 17 and the Convention. The LOSC establishes the legal framework for the programme of action on oceans laid down in Chapter 17, which, in turn, spells
out the methods for implementing the LOSC. In 1997, at its 19th Special Session, the
UN General Assembly formalized this interaction and required the UN Commission
on Sustainable Development (CSD) to review periodically the progress in the implementation
of Chapter 17 on the basis of the framework established by the LOSC.

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