The Regional Implementation Regime for Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment

Both the LOSC and Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 place strong emphasis on regional
cooperation, which is considered as the most efficient way to proceed when the nature
of the problem or the geographical characteristics of the seas so indicate. Regional
rules consistent with the LOSC may well contribute to the effective implementation
of the global regime, especially in relation to enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, which
due to their oceanographic and ecological characteristics require special protection.
(Marine) environmental problems, moreover, may be tackled and monitored more
effectively at the regional, rather than global level. In addition, regional agreements
between states sharing similar interests normally result in a lower level of compromise,
stronger commitments and higher environmental standards compared to global instruments.
As a result, in all major regional seas, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific
Ocean, the ocean framework regime has been implemented by means of regional
Conventions. In European seas, which, with the exception of the North East Atlantic,
are all semi-enclosed seas within the terms of Article 122 of the LOSC, the umbrella
regime has been implemented within the framework of three main regional agreements,
i.e.: the UNEP-sponsored 1976 Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean
and related Protocols, as amended, the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection
of the North-East Atlantic and North Sea, and the 1992 Helsinki Convention
for the Protection of the Baltic Sea. These agreements, which in this study are referred
to as “Regional Seas Conventions,” set out the framework for closer regional
cooperation between the neighbouring coastal States in the protection and preservation
of the marine environment from all sources of marine degradation. This cooperation
takes place primarily within the decision-making bodies established by the Conventions,
which, therefore, represent the main fora for the implementation of the global regime
at the regional level. The Regional Seas Conventions have many elements in common.

First of all, they have a similar structure, which closely mirrors the MEAs (i.e., a
framework Convention supplemented by additional Protocol(s) and Annexes). Second,
they do not contain jurisdictional rules, but normally refer to the regime set out in the
LOSC. Third, in the follow-up to UNCED, the three Conventions have undergone
a similar revision process which brought them into line with the main goals, principles
and approaches of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21. Finally, the regime established by the
Regional Seas Conventions is generally stricter than the international one. The main
elements of these Conventions are discussed in further detail in the following paragraphs.
In addition to the Regional Seas Conventions, a number of “sectoral” agreements
play an important role in the implementation of the global regime in European Seas.
These agreements vary in nature, ranging from regulatory instruments addressing specific
sources of pollution (e.g., the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State
Control) to regional environmental agreements covering specific components of the
marine environment (e.g., the Bern Convention for the Protection of European Habitats)
or particular species in a specific geographical area (e.g., the 1991 Agreement on the
Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS)). The
relevant “sectoral” agreements will be covered in detail within the case-study chapters.
Finally, regional political fora, such as the North Sea Ministerial Conferences
(NSMCs), the meetings of the environmental ministers of the Baltic Sea States and the
Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), as well as the Euro-Mediterranean Process
(Euro-Med), play an important role in the implementation of the global ocean regime
at the regional level and strongly influence its further development. Their role is
to identify the specific problems of the region and possible solutions in order to speed
up the decision-making process in the competent regional institutions (e.g., the EC,
OSPAR, HELCOM, and BARCON). Despite their legally non-binding nature, the
declarations adopted by these ministerial meetings provide the political impetus for the
further work of the competent regional organizations and have a profound impact on
their policies and legislation. Moreover, by endorsing most of the commitments of
Agenda 21, regional ministerial declarations have encouraged the application of new
objectives, principles and approaches in the European legal frameworks.

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