Global Programme of Action for the Protection of Marine Environment (GPA/UNEP)

Global Programme of Action for the Protection of Marine Environment (GPA/UNEP)


The Global Programme of Action (GPA) aims at the development of a conceptual and practical guidance for decision-makers at the national and/or regional level dealing with actions to prevent, reduce, control and/or eliminate marine degradation from land-based activities. The GPA supports the states in the identification of adequate policies and measures aiming at the prevention and protection of the marine environment. The GPA has been operating in The Hague since 1997/1998 is coordinating the UNEP Regional Sea Programme which is operating via regional offices. Each regional office has a legal officer which deals with all aspects of IEL aiming at the implementation of the all the UNEP environmental programmes. The GPA founding documents is the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities and the Washington Declaration (1995) and is a soft law instrument with no binding effects on parties.

The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities

The Programme of Action, therefore, is designed to be a source of conceptual and practical guidance to be drawn upon by national and/or regional authorities in devising and implementing sustained action to prevent, reduce, control and/or eliminate marine degradation from land-based activities. Effective implementation of this Programme of Action is a crucial and essential step forward in the protection of the marine environment and will promote the objectives and goals of sustainable development.

The Global Programme of Action reflects the fact that States face a growing number of commitments flowing from Agenda 21 and related conventions. Its implementation will require new approaches by, and new forms of collaboration among, Governments, organizations and institutions with responsibilities and expertise relevant to marine and coastal areas, at all levels, national, regional and global. These include the promotion of innovative financial mechanisms to generate needed resources.

Washington Declaration

Declare their intention to do so by:

1. Setting as their common goal sustained and effective action to deal with all land-based impacts upon the marine environment, specifically those resulting from sewage, persistent organic pollutants, radioactive substances, heavy metals, oils (hydrocarbons), nutrients, sediment mobilization, litter, and physical alteration and destruction of habitat;�

In particular, the GPA invites the UN states to undertake the following activities:

Identification and assessment of problems related to the most common sustainable development criteria (i.e. food security and poverty alleviation, public health, etc.), to the impacts of contaminants (i.e. sewage, persistent organic pollutants, etc), physical alteration (habitat modification and distruction), sources of degradation (i.e. coastal area, atmosphere, etc.), the affected or vulnerable areas of concern (i.e. critical habitats, habitats of endangered species, etc.);

Establishment of priorities for action in respect of the above factors;

Identification of objectives for priority problems for source categories and areas affected on the basis of the established priorities.

Identification, evaluation and selection of strategies and measures to achieve such objectives.

Development of criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of strategies and measures.

In respect of the protection of the marine environment from land-based activities, these are the milestones of GPA in terms of global and regional conventions and events:

1974 - The regional seas Conventions and related Protocols (e.g. North Sea, 1974; Mediterranean, 1976; Kuwait region, 1978; South-East Pacific, 1981; Wider Caribbean, 1983);

1982 - United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

UNEP started addressing issues related to impacts on the marine environment from land-based activities;

1985 - Montreal Guidelines for the Protection of the Marine Environment Against Pollution from Land-based Sources

1992 - United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and Agenda 21, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

1995 - UNEP Governing Council decisions 18/31 and 18/32 pertaining to the Washington Conference and persistent organic pollutants (POP's), adoption of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities and adoption of the Washington Declaration, Jakarta Mandate on the Programme of Action for Marine and Coastal Biodiversity within the CBD

1996 - GPA Implementation Plan presented to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-4), United Nations General Assembly resolution 51/189 on the institutional arrangements for the implementation of the GPA

1997, 1998 - UNEP Governing Council decision 19/14 on global and regional GPA implementation, Establishment and operationalization of the UNEP/GPA Coordination Office in The Hague, The Netherlands

The implementation of the GPA is the result of the joint activity of governments, stakeholders, local communities, public organizations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector which work together in the definition of national and regional programmes of action. Such activity has the support of the UNEP, as the secretariat of the GPA, and its partners. In order to facilitate compliance with the GPA, UNEP uses a wide range of soft law instruments. In December 2006 the document entitled �Guidance on the implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities for 2007�2011� was released by the UNEP.

The GPA is implemented through the cooperation on a regional basis and the UNEP Regional Seas Programme is a perfect example of a functioning integrated framework for national action programmes. Moreover, governments recommended the establishment of the GPA Clearing-House as a tool to mobilize experience and expertise, including facilitation of effective scientific, technical and financial cooperation, as well as capacity-building. The clearing-house provides a rapid and direct referral system to relevant information and data so as to provide appropriate advice and assistance.

The GPA Coordination Office is primarily funded through the regular budget of UNEP (Environment Fund) and a Technical Co-operation Trust Fund financed by various governments including the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Belgium, United States of America, and the United Kingdom. Projects for the implementation of the GPA by Governments are financed by sources such as the Global Environment Fund (GEF).

Among its tasks, the UNEP/GPA Coordination Office assists the duty of States to preserve and protect the marine environment from land-based activities, mainly through several capacity building and technical programmes, such as National Programmes of Action or the Integrated Coastal Area and River-basin Management (ICARM).

The legal officer of the UNEP/GPA Coordination Office is also the person responsible for the legal issues under the UNEP Regional Seas Programme. Therefore the legal co-ordination of the Programme is in The Hague. She sometimes is requested by ministries to write briefings on certain issues, but she is not allowed to take sides.

In a broader context, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has been publishing extensively on international environmental law, mostly on compliance issues and in connection with judicial trainings. UNEP also publishes collections of environmental case law. Its recent publications include:

  • Compliance Mechanisms Under Selected Multilateral Environmental Agreement (2007)
  • Judicial training modules on environmental law
  • Selected Texts of Legal Instruments in International Environmental Law (2005)
  • Judicial Handbook on Environmental Law (2005)
  • Manual on Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (2006)
  • Symposium of Judges and Prosecutors of Latin America (2003)

No cases of environmental nature have been submitted or dealt with by the GPA which was occasionally asked by ministries to provide a briefing but without taking sides.




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