OSPAR Convention

Decision 98/249/EC — concluding a convention protecting the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic

Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic

The decision concluded the OSPAR Convention, on behalf of the European Union (EU) — at the time known as the European Community.
The OSPAR Convention aims to prevent and eliminate marine pollution and thus to protect the north-east Atlantic area against the adverse effects of human activities.

Key Points

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 lays down various definitions such as:
maritime area*,
internal waters*,

The parties to the convention undertook to take all possible steps to:
prevent and eliminate pollution,
implement the necessary measures to protect the north-east Atlantic against the adverse effects of human activities.

These measures seek to safeguard human health, to conserve maritime ecosystems and, when practicable, to restore marine areas which have been harmed. To this end, the parties will (individually and jointly):
adopt programmes and measures,
harmonise their policies and strategies.
To meet their obligations, the parties must observe 2 principles.
The precautionary principle: 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 do any of the following, even when there is no conclusive evidence of a causal relationship between the inputs and the effects;
Bring about hazards to human health.
Harm living resources and marine ecosystems.
Damage amenities.
Interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea.

The polluter pays principle:the costs of pollution prevention, control and reduction measures are to be borne by the polluter.
The programmes the 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, individually or jointly, agree to take all possible steps to prevent and eliminate:
pollution of the maritime area from land-based sources and activities;
pollution by dumping or incineration of wastes or other matter in the ocean;
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 parties to tackle transboundary pollution.

Ospar Commission

The convention sets up a Commission which is the decision-making body of the convention and consists of representatives of the parties. The commission discusses and adopts various decisions and recommendations. Decisions become binding on the contracting parties after a period of 200 days, while recommendations are not binding.
Its duties are to:
supervise the implementation of the convention;
review the condition of the maritime area;
check the effectiveness of the measures being adopted;
draw up programmes and measures for the prevention and elimination of maritime pollution;
establish its programme of work;
create the instruments necessary to execute that programme.

OSPAR’s work

An evaluation of progress in regard to the OSPAR Radioactive Substance Strategy shows that the parties have achieved substantial reductions in discharges from the nuclear sector.
The parties have also adopted measures to protect and conserve a further species (the Atlantic salmon) and habitat (intertidal mudflats) both identified by OSPAR as being particularly vulnerable within the north-east Atlantic.

OSPAR announced in 2016 that 10 new Marine Protected Areas had been added to its network bringing the total to 423.
OSPAR has furthered the international effort to reduce marine litter with the creation of a fishing for litter network across the north-east Atlantic which will allow vessels to land waste in any of over 40 harbours involved. OSPAR parties have also agreed to tackle sources of marine environment micro plastic pollution .
OSPAR also serves as a forum for the coordinated implementation of the EU’s Maritime Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) by EU countries and for interregional cooperation based on MSFD concepts and methods.


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

An arbitration procedure is laid down for the settlement of disputes between contracting parties.


The OSPAR Convention contains Annexes which deal with the following specific areas

Annex I: Prevention and elimination of pollution from land-based sources
Annex II: Prevention and elimination of pollution by dumping or incineration
Annex III: Prevention and elimination of pollution from offshore sources
Annex IV: Assessment of the quality of the marine environment
Annex V: On the protection and conservation of the ecosystems and biological diversity of the maritime area.
EU Arctic strategy

A 2016 joint communication recommends the EU’s

continued engagement in multilateral environmental agreements that also have particular relevance to the Arctic, such as OSPAR;
establishing marine protected areas in the Arctic in order to preserve biodiversity;
working with Arctic states and other international partners to develop an instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.


The decision applies from 7 October 1997.
The convention entered into force on 25 March 1998. It replaces the Oslo (1972) and Paris (1974) Conventions.
The convention has been signed and ratified by Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom ( 1 ) which, with the EU, cooperate to protect the north-east Atlantic ‘s marine environment.


For more information, see:

The OSPAR Convention (European Commission).

Maritime area:
all of the following:

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.

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: 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)).
the introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the maritime area which results, or is likely to result, in any of the following:

hazards to human health,
harm to living resources and marine ecosystems,
damage to amenities,
interference with other legitimate uses of the sea.


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 (OJ L 104, 3.4.1998, p. 1)

Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic (OJ L 104, 3.4.1998, pp. 2–21)


Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (OJ L 164, 25.6.2008, pp. 19–40)

Successive amendments to Directive 2008/56/EC have been incorporated into the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

Joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council — An integrated European Union policy for the Arctic (JOIN(2016) 21 final, 27.4.2016)

( 1 ) The United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union and becomes a third country (non-EU country) as of 1 February 2020.


Important Notice! This website is provided for informational purposes only! It is a fundamental condition of the use of this website that no liability is accepted for any loss or damage caused by reason of any error, omission, or misstatement in its contents. 

Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *