The 1992 OSPAR Convention
As do most semi-enclosed seas, the North Sea and other parts of the North-East Atlantic (e.g., the Irish Sea) require special protection. In addition, a number of geographical and socio-economic factors increase the environmental pressure in this region. Some of the most polluted European rivers (e.g., the Elbe and the Rhine) flow into its shallow waters and shipping traffic in the area is particularly intense, connecting some of the major European ports (e.g., Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg) to the Baltic Sea. The North Sea and the Irish Sea are among the world’s largest oil and gas reservoirs and there is currently production from the continental shelves of Denmark, Germany, Ireland,
the Netherlands Norway and the United Kingdom. The 1990 Hague NSMC devoted attention to the alarming level of marine pollution affecting the North-East Atlantic and the failure of the existing regime to ensure effective protection and called for a new approach. As a response, in 1992, in the follow-up to Agenda 21, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) was signed, replacing the 1972 Oslo Dumping Convention and the 1974 Paris Convention on Land-based Pollution.
The OSPAR Convention establishes a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic Area from all sources of marine degradation (not only pollution), except fishing, atmospheric and vessel-source pollution, which are considered to be appropriately regulated within other frameworks.
The regime set out by the Convention is particularly stringent and innovatory.
Parties are required to take all necessary measures not only to prevent, but also to “eliminate” marine pollution and “any other adverse effects of human activities” on the marine environment, including ecosystems, and to “restore”, when practicable, marine areas which have been adversely affected. The Convention, moreover, applies to all maritime zones within and beyond national sovereignty and jurisdiction, including internal waters and the high seas (in accordance with international law). The body of the Convention sets out in legally binding terms the principles and approaches of Agenda 21 (e.g., sustainable development, precautionary principle, polluter-pays principle, BAT and BET), broad obligations for contracting parties and more detailed powers and duties of the OSPAR Commission (OSPARCOM). These are further specified in a number of Annexes and Appendixes, which form an integral part of the Convention and have the same legal status. Additional Annexes may be adopted in the future to address new issues as long as they are not “already the subject of effective measures agreed by other international organizations or prescribed by other international conventions” (Article7). This allows the OSPAR regime to extend its scope to new marine threats, avoiding duplication of work undertaken by other bodies.
The OSPARCOM plays a central role in the implementation and enforcement of the Convention. It may adopt legally binding decisions and non-binding recommendations, which have a political weight similar to the NSMC declarations (Articles 10-13).
Decisions and recommendations are taken by unanimity or, when this is not possible, by a three-quarters majority (i.e., 11 votes out of the 14 parties plus the EC). In addition, OSPARCOM may avail itself of a newly established non-compliance mechanism to ensure or facilitate the proper implementation of OSPAR provisions/decisions/ recommendations. This mechanism is much more stringent compared to that under MEAs, but its effectiveness largely depends on the initiative of the OSPARCOM (Articles 22 and 23). Parties are under a duty to periodically report on measures taken to implement OSPAR provisions, decisions and recommendations, as well as on the effectiveness of these measures and the obstacles encountered. On the basis of these reports the OSPARCOM decides, “when appropriate”, on the necessary steps to bring about full compliance with OSPAR provisions and decisions or to promote the implementation of its recommendations. The Commission, however, has a high level of discretion in deciding “when it is appropriate” to act and what steps should be taken.
Cooperation among OSPAR contracting parties at the decision-making level takes place within the annual meetings of the OSPARCOM, and at the working level within three management and advice bodies, as well as six main committees and eight working groups dealing with sectoral issues and preparing the work of the OSPARCOM.
All these meetings are normally attended by officials from the Ministry of the Environment of the contracting parties and representatives from the European Commission (Directorate General Environment (DG ENV)). In addition, OSPARCOM ministerial meetings may be held to determine the guidelines for future work under the Convention.
The OSPAR’s Agenda, therefore, appears to be quite full and it is rather demanding for contracting parties to attend all the meetings.
At the first ministerial meeting of the OSPARCOM, held in Sintra in 1998, the regime established by the OSPAR Convention was reinforced with ambitious targets and deadlines. So far, this regime and the cooperation between OSPAR contracting parties have produced important results in terms of a reduction in the traditional sources of pressure in the area. However, there are still problems in implementation and monitoring, mainly because of resource constraints.
The 1992 OSPAR Convention