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Rotterdam Convention on Hazardous Substances

International Programme on Chemical Safety

Through the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), WHO works to establish the scientific basis for the sound management of chemicals, and to strengthen national capabilities and capacities for chemical safety.

Chemical safety is achieved by undertaking all activities involving chemicals in such a way as to ensure the safety of human health and the environment. It covers all chemicals, natural and manufactured, and the full range of exposure situations from the natural presence of chemicals in the environment to their extraction or synthesis, industrial production, transport, use and disposal.

Rotterdam Convention on Hazardous Substances

Dramatic growth in chemicals production and trade during the past three decades has highlighted the potential risks posed by hazardous chemicals and pesticides. Countries lacking adequate infrastructure to monitor the import and use of such substances are particularly vulnerable. The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade aims to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides to better safeguard human health and the environment. The Convention has introduced a mandatory prior informed consent (PIC) procedure to monitor and control the import and export of 33 pesticides (including 4 severely hazardous pesticide formulations) and 14 industrial chemicals, and disseminate national importing decisions to all Parties to the Convention.

The Rotterdam Convention was adopted on 10 September, 1998 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The Convention entered into force on 24 February, 2004. The PRC signed the Rotterdam Convention on 24 August, 1999 and ratified the Convention on 22 March, 2005. The Convention became applicable to the PRC and the HKSAR on 20 June, 2005 and 26 August, 2008 respectively. The non-pesticide hazardous chemicals listed in the Annex III to the Convention are controlled under the Hazardous Chemicals Control Ordinance and the Import and Export Ordinance.

Various Treaties on Marine Pollution

Marine pollution refers to the contamination or presence of pollutants in oceans and seas. The word ‘marine’ comes from the Latin word for ‘sea’ and it is related to similar words, such as ‘mariner’. Ocean pollution is become ever more of a problem in the present day.

Marine pollution can be defined as anything that contaminates the sea. Common marine pollutants include chemicals, small plastic beads in exfoliants and also toxic bio-matter (such as sewage). But, noise – due to excessive traffic around the ocean – can also be defined as pollution if it disrupts marine life.

Pollution can vary depending on the context and the purpose for which seawater is being used. For example, normal seawater has some small particles of plants or sand in, and when the sea is considered as the habitat of marine animals, one would not think of these particles as pollutants – whereas one would definitely define toxic chemicals as pollutants. However if somebody wanted to use this brine for cooking in, they might see the sand and plants as polluting our cooking water.

The London Convention and London Protocol

The London Convention and London Protocol are international treaties of global application to protect the marine environment from pollution caused by the dumping of wastes and other matter into the ocean. In the United States, the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, implements the requirements of the London Convention.

International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was signed in 1946 and it is the International Whaling Commission’s founding document. The Convention includes a legally binding Schedule which, amongst other things, sets out catch limits for commercial and aboriginal subsistence whaling.  The Schedule is an integral part of the Convention, but its provisions, for example catch limits, may be amended by the Commission.  In practice, amendments to the Schedule are almost always agreed at the Commission’s biennial meetings.

Wadden Sea Agreement

The Wadden Sea is a habitat for two seal species, the harbour seal and the grey seal. In the framework of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation, the conservation and management of the Wadden Sea seal populations is of high importance. Under the umbrella of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention) a trilateral Seal Agreement has been concluded between Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The Agreement entered into force in 1991 with the aim to cooperate closely in achieving and maintaining a favourable conservation status for the harbour seal population of the Wadden Sea. It contains provisions, amongst others, on research and monitoring, taking, protection of habitats and awareness.


The Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area (ACCOBAMS) is a legal conservation tool based on cooperation. Its purpose is to reduce threats to cetaceans notably by improving current knowledge on these animals.
This intergovernmental Agreement provides the demonstration of the commitment of riparian Countries to preserve all species of cetaceans and their habitats within the geographical Agreement area by the enforcement of more stringent measures than those defined in the texts adopted previously.

ACCOBAMS results from consultations between Secretariats of four Conventions:

  1. the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and its Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean,
  2. the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals,
  3. the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats,
  4. the Bucharest Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution.

Finally, given the migratory characteristics of these species, the Agreement was established under the auspices of the Bonn Convention (UNEP/CMS).

MARPOL 73/78

The MARPOL Convention is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes. It is a combination of two treaties adopted in 1973 and 1978 respectively and updated by amendments through the years.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) was adopted on 2 November 1973 at IMO and covered pollution by oil, chemicals, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage. The Protocol of 1978 relating to the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (1978 MARPOL Protocol) was adopted at a Conference on Tanker Safety and Pollution Prevention in February 1978 held in response to a spate of tanker accidents in 1976-1977. (Measures relating to tanker design and operation were also incorporated into a Protocol of 1978 relating to the 1974 Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974).

As the 1973 MARPOL Convention had not yet entered into force, the 1978 MARPOL Protocol absorbed the parent Convention. The combined instrument is referred to as the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78), and it entered into force on 2 October 1983 (Annexes I and II).

Oil pollution of the seas was recognized as a problem in the first half of the 20th century and various countries introduced national regulations to control discharges of oil within their territorial waters. In 1954, the United Kingdom organized a conference on oil pollution which resulted in the adoption of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL), 1954. Following entry into force of the IMO Convention in 1958, the depository and Secretariat functions in relation to the Convention were transferred from the United Kingdom Government to IMO.

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