Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA)


Pollution Prevention Act
Land-Based Sources of Marine Pollution Global Programme of Action Cartagena 
Ocean Dumping


The GPA, which was initiated in 1995 as a follow-up to Agenda 21, is a non-binding global agreement that seeks to guide states on how to address land-based activities which have the potential to affect the marine environment.  “It is designed to assist states in taking actions individually or jointly within their respective policies, priorities, and resources which will prevent degradation of the marine environment by land-based activities,”  GPA ¶ 3. 

The GPA is intended to be a source of conceptual guidance.  Implementation is primarily the task of governments and will require new approaches by, and new forms of collaboration among, governments, public organizations, NGOs, and all stakeholders.  GPA ¶¶ 14, 15.  The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which functions as GPA secretariat, has established a Coordination Office which facilitates implementation of the GPA at the national, regional and sub-regional levels through the Regional Seas Programme, as well as in concert with other organizations and institutions at the international level.

First Intergovernmental Review  In 2001, UNEP’s Governing Council organized the first intergovernmental review (IGR)  of the status of implementation of the GPA.  One of the outcomes of the meeting was the Montreal Declaration on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities.  In the Declaration, participants committed themselves to taking specific actions to improve and accelerate implementation of the GPA.  These included strengthening Regional Seas Programmes to play a coordinating and cooperative role in implementation.

Second Intergovernmental Review A second IGR conference was held in Beijing, China in October 2006 and was attended by over 400 representatives of governments, international organizations, and financial institutions. One of the outcomes of the meeting was the Beijing Declaration on Furthering the Implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities in which delegates recommitted themselves to the GPA as a flexible and effective tool for sustainable development of oceans, coasts and islands.  They also renewed their pledge to improve cooperation and coordination at all levels in order to deal with issues related to watershed, coasts, seas and oceans in an integrated manner, and to further application of ecosystem approaches to such management, as well as to strengthen UNEP Regional Seas conventions and programmes.  In their discussions, participants expressed the hope that partnerships would be an effective mechanism for reducing marine pollution from land-based sources. Partnerships were seen as the principal tool for implementing GPA.  They also agreed to focus chiefly on three sources categories – nutrients, marine litter, and wastewater – and called for stronger links between GPA implementation and efforts to reduce poverty.  

Third Intergovernmental Review  The third IRG took place in Manila in January 2012.  During the deliberations, the United States took the opportunity to highlight the partnership between NOAA and GPA in which NOAA provides assistance to support GPA implementation in the nations of Central America and the Caribbean. 

Governments were called upon to commit themselves to three global partnerships. First, they were invited to promote the sustainable use of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) by making full use of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management.  Second, they were invited to consider committing themselves to a global partnership on wastewater.   Finally, governments were invited to commit themselves to a global partnership on marine litter

One of the outcomes of the third IRG was the Manila Declaration on Furthering the Implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities

In the Declaration, participants renewed their commitment to implementation of the GPA at the national, regional and international levels and published their decision that the Coordination Office should focus its work for the following five years on wastewater, nutrients and litter as the three priority source categories for the GPA using global, multi-stakeholder partnerships.  They also pledged to strengthen and promote regional seas conventions and action plans. 

Some participants had hoped that the Declaration would contain concrete targets and specific recommendations that would enable measurement of the impacts of partnerships as well as generally strengthen the implementation of GPA.  Such targets were not adopted, as the delegates focused on development of a Global Partnership on Nutrient Management, as well as establishing global partnerships on wastewater and marine litter.

GPA Challenges  While significant progress has been made in the development of NPAs and regional programs, many of the weaknesses originally identified in GPA still persist, including the lack of a global legally-binding instrument, the lack of clear and specific targets, a lack of political will to take marine pollution seriously, a lack of public education, the predominance of global materialism and overconsumption, limited financial resources, and fragmented legal arrangements.  Implementation and participation at the national level, while advancing, has still been inadequate – as has reporting.  Moreover, the nine sources categories which were identified in the Washington Declaration, and which have framed activities since, have also been seen as something of a limitation.  For one thing, they do not cover the numerous chemicals which are toxic and which find their way into the marine environment, but cannot be described as falling into the action category of “persistent organic pollutants.”

For now, the GPA has fixed its attention on 18 varied regional seas efforts and on promoting support for discrete partnerships, as well as the three global partnerships on nutrients, wastewater, and marine litter.  IGR-4, which is scheduled to convene in 2016, will review implementation of the GPA for the period 2011 to 2016 and, perhaps, set a new Programme of Work for GPA Coordination after 2016.