International law

Background - April 26, 2010
EU member states, and the European Union itself, are signatories to a number of international and regional agreements that are relevant to the marine environment and in this context the Community has agreed to a number of commitments. These commitments ought to be reflected in the EU's internal and external marine and fisheries policies.

At international level, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Convention on Biological diversity (CBD), and the World Summit on Sustainable Development's (WSSD) Implementation Plan are among the most relevant bodies. Other agreements and commitments have been signed at regional level, in particular under the OSPAR Convention for the North-East Atlantic, the Helsinki Convention (HELCOM) for the Baltic Sea, the Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea Convention.

The EU has agreed to:

  • protect and preserve the marine environment (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, Article 192);
  • take measures to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment, including those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life (UNCLOS, Article 194);
  • develop national, regional and international programmes for halting the loss of marine biodiversity, including in coral reefs and wetlands (World Summit on Sustainable Development's Implementation Plan; WSSD 2002);
  • maintain the productivity and biodiversity of important and vulnerable marine and coastal areas, including in areas within and beyond national jurisdiction (WSSD);
  • enhance maritime safety and protection of the marine environment from pollution by actions at all levels;

By 2006
-have made every effort to achieve substantial progress to protect the marine environment from land-based activities (WSSD);
- have identified marine protected areas in the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) and in the Baltic Sea (Helsinki Convention);

By 2008
- have taken action to address the under-representation of marine and inland water ecosystems in existing national and regional systems of protected areas (Convention on Biological Diversity; CBD Decision VII/28, 2004);

By 2009
- have designated protected areas as identified through the national or regional gap analysis (including precise maps) and complete by […] 2012 in the marine environments the establishment of comprehensive and ecologically representative national and regional systems of protected areas (CBD Decision VII/28);

By 2010
- have significantly reduced biodiversity loss;
- have encouraged the application of the ecosystem approach in marine management;
- have completed a joint network of well-managed MPAs in the OSPAR and HELCOM regions, and in the Mediterranean to protect, preserve and manage in a sustainable and environmentally sound way areas of particular natural or cultural value, notably by the establishment of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs);

By 2012
- have developed marine protected areas consistent with international law and based on scientific information, including representative networks and time/area closures for the protection of nursery grounds and periods (WSSD);
- have facilitated proper coastal land use and watershed planning (WSSD);

By 2015
- have maintained or restored [fish] stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (WSSD);
- have integrated all protected areas and protected area systems into the wider land- and seascape, and relevant sectors, by applying the ecosystem approach and taking into account ecological connectivity and the concept, where appropriate, of ecological networks (CBD Dec VII/28); and

By 2020
- have achieved the cessation of inputs of hazardous substances into the Baltic, with the ultimate aim of achieving concentrations in the environment near background levels for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances.