From sea to regional sea: meeting the threats
In 1973 the Governing Council of the newly-created United Nations Environment
Programme decided to tackle the problems threatening the ocean environment.
But what was the best approach, global or regional? They decided to use both.
Customizing the programme
While some threats to the health of oceans and coastal areas could be tackled
most effectively at a global level, their particular nature and relative importance
tended to vary from region to region, from sea to sea.
So, through its Regional Seas Programme, UNEP encouraged groups of countries
sharing common seas to find regional solutions to their particular problems.
They might find inspiration and guidance from programmes in other areas, and
advice and support from international organizations, but they would decide the
nature and contents of their own environmental action plans".
UNEP would be like a 'gardener' for the regional programmes: it would collect
the seeds, then plant and nourish them through their early and most vulnerable
years. Once the programmes gained strength and maturity, they would be able
to flourish on their own.
The goal: independent programmes
In this way, what began as a global programme implemented through regional
components gradually evolved into a decentralized collection of more-or-less
independent regional programmes.
The Regional Seas approach was based on periodically revised action plans adopted
by high-level intergovernmental meetings and implemented, in most cases, within
the framework of legally binding regional Conventions, under the authority of
the respective contracting parties or intergovernmental meetings. In its first
20 years the programme grew to encompass fourteen coastal regions and three
partner programmes, gradually becoming so decentralized that the centre began
to wither even as the branches flourished.
New strategic action approach
Following the adoption of the Global
Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment
from Land-based Activities at the Washington Conference in November
1995, UNEP initiated actions to revitalize the Regional Seas programme.
In February 1999 the UNEP Governing Council again stressed the need
for UNEP to strengthen the Regional Seas programme as its central
mechanism for implementation of its activities relevant to chapter
17 of Agenda 21. In June 1998 all the secretariats and coordinating
units of the regional programmes met for the first time at The Hague.
A second Global Meeting of Regional Seas Conventions and Action
Plans was held at The Hague from 5 to 8 July 1999, a third in Monaco
in November 2000.
Today UNEP is developing a new strategic action programme to facilitate collaboration
among the many Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans and their global
counterparts. At its most recent meeting, the UNEP Governing Council encouraged
UNEP's expansion of the Regional Seas programme into new parts of the world,
and called for increased regional and interregional cooperation to protect the
marine and coastal environment.
For more, see 'A World
of Neighbours: UNEP's Regional Seas Programme' by Ellik
Adler (Tropical Coasts, July 2003) (844K)