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Helsinki Convention: preventing pollution in international watercourses and lakes

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Helsinki Convention: preventing pollution in international watercourses and lakes

 

SUMMARY OF:

Decision 95/308/EC — conclusion of the Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE DECISION?

With this decision, the EU joins the Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses*and international lakes. This is known as the Helsinki convention, as it was signed there in 1992.

KEY POINTS

  • The convention provides a legal framework within which 2 or more parties may cooperate to:
    • prevent and control water pollution across national frontiers;
    • ensure the reasonable and impartial use of transboundary waters.
  • Parties must take all appropriate transboundary water measures to:
    • prevent, control and reduce actual or potential pollution;
    • ensure ecologically reliable water management, conservation of resources and environmental protection, including restoration of ecosystems, where necessary;
    • ensure the reasonable and impartial use of resources.
  • Parties must:
    • apply the precautionary principle, i.e. not fail to act because science has not yet fully proved a causal link between particular substances and pollution;
    • apply the polluter pays principle, i.e. the party responsible for causing pollution pays the prevention, control and reduction costs;
    • manage water resources so that future generations’ needs are not harmed;
    • establish programmes to monitor transboundary water;
    • cooperate with each other, especially on information exchange and research to develop effective techniques to prevent, control and reduce transboundary pollution;
    • support international efforts to draw up rules, criteria and procedures for determining responsibility and liability for any pollution.
  • The measures must:
    • be taken at source, where possible;
    • not directly or indirectly transfer pollution to other parts of the environment.
  • Agreements between 2 or more parties may cover issues such as:
    • compilation of data and inventories;
    • creation of joint monitoring programmes;
    • adoption of emission limits for waste water and joint water-quality objectives;
    • introduction of warning and alarm procedures;
    • use of environmental impact assessments.
  • Parties to an agreement must:
    • provide each other any help when requested;
    • ensure information on the state of transboundary water and any measures taken are available to the public.
  • In 2003, the convention was amended to allow non-European countries to join. The amendment entered into force on 6 February 2013.

FROM WHEN DOES THE DECISION APPLY?

It has applied since 24 July 1995.

BACKGROUND

Most environmental problems cross national borders and may even be global in nature. This is why the Lisbon Treaty (Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) tasks the EU with promoting international measures to tackle regional or worldwide environmental problems.

The EU is competent for negotiating and signing international environmental agreements. It has done so in many areas, whether under the auspices of the United Nations or at regional or sub-regional level. It has ratified 6 conventions dealing with water.

For more information, see:

* KEY TERM

Transboundary watercourse:

surface or ground water which marks, crosses or is located on boundaries between 2 or more countries.

MAIN DOCUMENT

Council Decision 95/308/EC of 24 July 1995 on the conclusion, on behalf of the Community, of the Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes (OJ L 186, 5.8.1995, pp. 42-58)

Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes — Declaration by the Community pursuant to Article 25(4) of the Convention (OJ L 186, 5.8.1995, pp. 44-58)

last update 12.07.2016

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