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OSPAR Convention

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OSPAR Convention

The aim of the OSPAR convention is to prevent and eliminate pollution and to protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities.


Council Decision 98/249/EC of 7 October 1997 on the conclusion of the Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic (Paris Convention).


The European Community is a Contracting Party to the Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic, which was signed in Paris on 22 September 1992.

The Convention gives various definitions:

"Maritime area" means the internal waters and the territorial seas of the Contracting Parties, the sea beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea under the jurisdiction of the coastal State to the extent recognised by international law, and the high seas, including the bed of all those waters and its subsoil, situated within the following limits:

  • those parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and their dependent seas which lie north of 36° north latitude and between 42° west longitude and 51° east longitude (but excluding the Baltic Sea and the Belts lying to the south and east of lines drawn from Hasenore Head to Gniben Point, from Korshage to Spodsbjerg and from Gilbjerg Head to Kullen, and the Mediterranean Sea and its dependent seas as far as the point of intersection of the parallel of 36° north latitude and the meridian of 5° 36' west longitude);
  • that part of the Atlantic Ocean north of 59° north latitude and between 44° west longitude and 42° west longitude.

"Internal waters" means the waters of the landward side of the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured, extending in the case of watercourses up to the freshwater limit (the place in a watercourse where, at low tide and in a period of low freshwater flow, there is an appreciable increase in salinity due to the presence of seawater).

"Pollution" means the introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the maritime area which results, or is likely to result, in hazards to human health, harm to living resources and marine ecosystems, damage to amenities or interference with other legitimate uses of the sea.

The Parties to the Convention undertake to take all possible steps to prevent and eliminate pollution and the necessary measures to protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities so as to safeguard human health and to conserve maritime ecosystems and, when practicable, restore marine areas which have been adversely affected. To this end, the Parties will:

  • individually and jointly, adopt programmes and measures;
  • harmonise their policies and strategies.

To meet their obligations, the Parties to the Convention must observe two principles:

  • the precautionary principle, by virtue of which preventive measures are to be taken when there are reasonable grounds for concern that substances or energy introduced, directly or indirectly, into the marine environment may bring about hazards to human health, harm living resources and marine ecosystems, damage amenities or interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea, even when there is no conclusive evidence of a causal relationship between the inputs and the effects;
  • the polluter pays principle, by virtue of which the costs of pollution prevention, control and reduction measures are to be borne by the polluter.

The programmes the Contracting Parties set up must take account of the latest technological developments and best environmental practice.

The measures taken must not increase pollution of the sea outside the maritime area or in other parts of the environment.

The Parties to the Convention, individually or jointly, take all possible steps:

  • to prevent and eliminate pollution of the maritime area from land-based sources;
  • to prevent and eliminate pollution by dumping or incineration of wastes or other matter;
  • to prevent and eliminate pollution from offshore sources (offshore installations and pipelines from which substances or energy reach the maritime area).

A cooperation agreement may be negotiated between the Contracting Parties to tackle transboundary pollution.

A commission is set up, consisting of representatives of the Contracting Parties. Its duties are:

  • to supervise the implementation of the Convention;
  • to review the condition of the maritime area;
  • to check the effectiveness of the measures being adopted;
  • to draw up programmes and measures for the prevention and elimination of maritime pollution;
  • to establish its programme of work;
  • to create the instruments necessary to execute that programme.

An arbitration procedure is laid down for the settlement of disputes between Contracting Parties.

The Convention requires the establishment of complementary or joint programmes of scientific or technical research, to be transmitted to the commission.

The Convention entered into force on 25 March 1998 to replace the Oslo (1972) and Paris (1974) Conventions.



Entry into force - Date of expiry

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Decision 98/249/EC



OJ L 104 of 3.4.1998


Green Paper, 7 June 2006, "Towards a future maritime policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas" [COM(2006) 275 final - Not published in the Official Journal]. The Green Paper covers the various aspects of a future Community maritime policy. It emphasises Europe's leadership and maritime identity, which it is important to protect in a time when environmental pressures are threatening the sustainability of maritime activity. Maritime policy should therefore aim to create an innovative maritime industry which is competitive and respectful of the environment. Apart from maritime activities, the proposed approach also includes quality of life in inshore regions. The Green Paper also poses the question of new technologies and modes of maritime governance to be developed.

Council Decision 2000/340/EC of 8 May 2000 concerning the approval, on behalf of the Community, of the new Annex V to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic on the protection and conservation of the ecosystems and biological diversity of the maritime area and the corresponding Appendix 3 [Official Journal L 118 of 8.5.2000].

The scope of the OSPAR Convention was limited to four main areas defined in four Annexes (on the prevention and elimination of pollution from land-based sources, by dumping or incineration, and from offshore sources, and on the assessment of the quality of the marine environment).

A new Annex V was prepared, on the protection and conservation of the ecosystems and biological diversity of the maritime area. Under it, the Contracting Parties must adopt the necessary measures in order to protect and conserve the ecosystems and the biological diversity of the maritime area, and to restore, where practicable, maritime areas which have been adversely affected.

Work undertaken by the OSPAR Commission

The Commission is the decision-making body of the Convention. Each year it discusses and adopts various decisions and recommendations to this effect, either unanimously or by a majority of three-quarters of the Contracting Parties.

On 22 and 23 July 1998, the first ministerial meeting of the OSPAR Commission took place at Sintra (Portugal), during which several acts were adopted. Under the Convention, the decisions become binding on the Contracting Parties after a period of 200 days, while recommendations are not binding.

In 1994, the Paris and Oslo Commissions examined the measures previously adopted in connection with the new OSPAR Convention. OSPAR Decision 98/1 is the instrument which revokes measures now judged to be obsolete, which are listed in the Appendix. The European Commission considers that it is not necessary to present a proposal on the matter.

OSPAR Decision 98/2 follows the decision of France and the United Kingdom no longer to retain their exemption from the permanent and complete prohibition on the dumping at sea of low or intermediate level radioactive substances, including wastes.

OSPAR Decision 98/3 on the Disposal of Disused Offshore Installations lays down the general principle of forbidding the dumping and the leaving wholly or partly in place of disused offshore installations in the maritime area covered by the OSPAR Convention. Exceptions to the principle are however allowed.

OSPAR Decision 98/4 on Emission and Discharge Limit Values for the Manufacture of Vinyl Chloride (VCM) aims to protect the maritime area against adverse effects of human activities due to the manufacture of VCM. It sets ceilings for emissions to air and discharges to water. OSPAR Decision 98/5 sets emission and discharge limit values for certain dangerous substances generated by the manufacture of suspension PVC from VCM. These emission ceilings apply to all the plants, whether single or combined. It was planned for Decision 98/5 to come into force on 9 February 1999 for new plants and on 1 January 2003 for existing plants.

The subject matter of OSPAR Decisions 98/4 and 98/5 is partly covered by certain Community Directives, in particular Directives 76/464/EEC, 86/280/EEC and 96/61/EC. The OSPAR measures go beyond these Directives in terms of parameters covered. In addition to these decisions, the OSPAR Commission has adopted two Recommendations, 98/1 and 98/2, on best environmental practice, and on emission and discharge limit values for existing aluminium electrolysis plants. It has also adopted Guidelines for the management of dredged materials.

Last updated: 05.09.2006