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.

Our achievements

In the year of the 25th anniversary of the OSPAR Convention, an important milestone towards a better understanding of the North-East Atlantic marine environment was reached in the form of an indicator-based assessment linked to data and map services - the Intermediate Assessment (IA) 2017. IA 2017 marks a significant step towards the realisation of OSPAR’s vision of a “clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic Ocean, used sustainably”.

IA 2017 was the culmination of seven years of collaborative work by OSPAR Contracting Parties which required an ambitious data collection exercise combined with the determination of methodologies, indicators and scientific examination.

Alongside the development of the OSPAR Assessment Portal, IA 2017 signals the evolution in OSPAR communication abilities as well as increased visibility of the work of OSPAR through the public access to information upon which assessments were based.

The future

The ambitious international agenda on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources and the Implementation process of Goal 14 of the United Nations’ Agenda for Sustainable Development provides an opportunity for OSPAR to play a major role.

No less important is the ongoing process under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to develop a future legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This will determine the guiding principles on matters covered by OSPAR competence - marine genetic resources and benefit-sharing, area-based management tools such as Marine Protected Areas, Environmental Impact Assessments, Capacity building; and transfer of marine technology. OSPAR intervention in areas beyond national jurisdiction in the North-East Atlantic is likely to become directly linked to the United Nations framework.

As an established Regional Seas Convention, OSPAR provides knowledge on the impacts of human pressures and activities on the marine environment and reinforces its key role as a forum for collective commitment and collaborative work on the protection of marine resources and ecosystems of the North-East Atlantic.