Introduction from the Executive Secretary

Since 1972 the OSPAR Convention has worked to identify threats to the marine environment and has organised, across its maritime area, programmes and measures to ensure effective national action to combat them. In doing this, OSPAR has pioneered ways of monitoring and assessing the environmental status of the seas by setting internationally agreed goals and by agreeing commitments by participating Governments to deliver what is needed. This proven record of success makes the OSPAR Commission a vital mechanism to help Governments cooperate in the region and a key partner in further efforts to improve the protection of the North-East Atlantic.

What is the main issue?

The intense human activity that goes on in and around the North-East Atlantic places tremendous pressure on the marine ecosystem. Pollution, maritime activities, together with climate change and emerging threats, nuclear energy and oil and gas extraction can all have very significant impacts. The significance of these impacts and their interactions must be properly understood and their consequences addressed.

Why does our work matter?

The North-East Atlantic makes a significant contribution to the economies of the countries that bound it. It is essential that the biodiversity, resources and environmental quality of this ocean ecosystem are conserved, protected and sustainably managed. The task of the OSPAR Commission is to ensure that the 16 Contracting Parties are able to work together in the North-East Atlantic and to deliver on their collective commitments. This is done with the involvement of official Observers using modern conservation principles and with the support of a professional Secretariat. OSPAR is also key to facilitating cooperation in other regional and international commitments, such as the European Union Marine Strategy Directive.

What are the strengths of the OSPAR Commission?

Our small core budget provides the leverage to focus significant resources from Government and industry into maintaining a healthy environment for the North-East Atlantic. The sea does not respect national boundaries so OSPAR enables states to work together to take a long-term holistic approach, agree action and cooperate in setting objectives. Furthermore, sound science, careful monitoring and accurate assessment must underpin agreed policies. Every OSPAR measure has its implementation reporting and assessment procedures.

What have we achieved?

OSPAR’s 40-year track record includes comprehensive monitoring of substances, significant reduction in phosphorus and heavy metals inputs; a radical reduction of discharges from nuclear plants since 1989; regulation for offshore oil and gas activity; bans on dumping of waste and offshore platforms; ecological quality objectives for a healthy North Sea; and a growing network of OSPAR Marine Protected Areas. OSPAR publications provide an authoritative record of these achievements.

Current challenges and opportunities?

Despite past achievements there is more to do. Cumulative impacts and emerging pressures have to be considered within the ecosystem approach. The current OSPAR structure of main Committees and Working Groups considers priorities for action, emerging concerns, and synergies with other international bodies . In all these areas it is important to note how OSPAR works - collaboratively and by consensus, with a work programme driven and delivered by its Contracting Parties. It is equally important to share our understanding, concerns and successes with stakeholders and to explain clearly how OSPAR is continuing to make a difference to protecting and conserving the North-East Atlantic and its resources.

Dr Darius Campbell, Executive Secretary