Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series
Edited by Rosemary Rayfuse
Chapter 16: Forty years of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme: from past to future
In 2014 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Seas Programme (UNEP RSP) celebrated its fortieth anniversary. Since 1974, when the main threats to the marine environment were identified as land-based and vessel-source pollution, much has changed. While these traditional sources of pollution of the marine environment continue as risks, other environmental threats have become far more numerous and complex. Loss of marine biodiversity and habitats, threats to vulnerable marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, threats to the high seas, and threats from climate change are among the challenges the international community must now address collectively. The UNEP RSP was established in 1974 to serve as the mechanism for promoting cooperation among States sharing a common ‘regional’ marine space. Initially its orientation focused on pollution prevention. However, as new international environmental challenges emerged and scientific knowledge grew, a surge in the number of international environmental instruments being adopted made the UNEP Regional Seas Programme the natural mechanism to promote regional implementation of these new instruments. Over the years, UNEP, which was created as the principal international environmental protection body, has been successful in developing a large body of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). However, the challenge has been to implement these MEAs at the national level. Optimally, the UNEP RSP should serve as a robust mechanism for incorporating these obligations, as well as the international principles of environmental law and mechanisms as they relate to the marine environment and for promoting their regional and national implementation.
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