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Conventions (properly called Multilateral Environmental Agreements - MEAs) are agreements made between a minimum number of states within the United Nations (UN).

The UK acts as an EU member in the UN conventions. The Maastricht treaty on European Union 1992 says that the responsibility for enforcement of community environmental obligations has been taken away from inter state and placed on European Court of Justice. This treaty introduces financial penalties for member states who do not comply with community law - of which environment law is seen as the most significant.

In the early 1970s the UN recognised it had the vital role in protecting the environment. The UN drew up an agreed list of the main global environmental impacts. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has classified the global environmental impacts into seven key areas in order to govern various environmental impacts.

Selected conventions are listed below: (Complete UNEP list)

Land Management

Convention Combating Desertification 1994

  • This seeks to reduce the spread of degraded soils throughout the world.


It has been impossible for member countries to agree a convention on deforestation. Instead there are the Forest Principles .


CITES, the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1975

  • CITES, the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1975

Convention on Biological Diversity, Rio 1992


Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of transboundary Watercourses and Lakes 1992 (Freshwater)


International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling 1946

  • In 1982 moratorium on Whaling.

Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean.

Cartagena Convention for the Wider Caribbean 1988

Law of the Sea Convention 1982

  • Now Third UN Law of the Sea Conference.

London Dumping Convention 1991 London Dumping Convention 1991

  • Now Third UN Law of the Sea Conference. Includes phrase
    "the capacity of the sea to assimilate wastes and render them harmless...is not unlimited"

Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic 1992.Oslo Convention on Reduction and Dumping of Wastes in the North Sea

Oslo Convention on Reduction and Dumping of Wastes in the North Sea

Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area 1992. (Seawater)


Convention on Climate Change, Rio 1992

Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (Vienna Convention) 1985.

  • Gave rise to the Montreal Protocol 1987. Article 5 states that while accepting the general obligation to reduce emissions of ozone depleting substances, some developing countries are allowed to delay their compliance with control measures for ten years. Amended London 1990 and Copenhagen 1992.


Convention on the Control of transboundary Movements of hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Basle 1989

Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Rotterdam 1998

  • Provisions whereby any importing country should be told whether the substance has been banned, withdrawn or severely restricted in their country of origin, and then give express consent be given before shipment. The UN produces "The Consolidated List of Products whose consumption or sale have been Banned, Restricted or Withdrawn by governments".

Stockholm Convention on Persitant Oranic Pollutants

  • POPs are chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms and are toxic to humans and wildlife.

Click for summary of Conventions on Chemical Management

To find out more about any Convention - whether global or regional, go to Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators hosted at Columbia University. You can find out from this web site which country has signed up for which convention. You can also put in key words and find all the conventions that involve those words.

View complete list of United Nations Conventions

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2005 Edition