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

The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities is an intergovernmental programme that addresses the inter-linkages between freshwater and the coastal environment. The GPA is designed to be a source of conceptual and practical guidance to be drawn upon by national and/or regional authorities for devising and implementing sustained action to prevent, reduce, control and/or eliminate marine degradation from land-based activities. The GPA aims at preventing the degradation of the marine environment from land-based activities by facilitating the duty of States to preserve and protect the marine environment.

Pollution from the land affects the marine and coastal environment, including estuaries and inshore coastal waters, which are highly productive areas. The environment is also threatened by physical alterations of the coastal zone and activities such as dam construction further upstream. Both are destroying habitats of vital importance for ecosystem health. At the same time, the health, well-being and, in some cases, the very survival of coastal populations depend largely upon the health and the maintenance of ecological functioning of the coastal ecosystems.
In 1982, with the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), nations began to consider the problem of land-based sources of pollution from a global perspective. UNCLOS obligates Parties to protect and preserve the marine environment by cooperating regionally and globally, and to adopt laws and regulations to deal with land-based sources of marine pollution. In response, 108 governments and the European Commission adopted the Global Programme of Action for the protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities during an intergovernmental conference held in Washington, D.C., in 1995. The Conference designated UNEP as the secretariat of the GPA. With the kind support of the Government of the Netherlands, UNEP established the GPA Coordination Office in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1997. The First Intergovernmental Review Meeting (IGR-1), held in Montreal in 2001, was instrumental in shifting focus from planning to action, and developing the GPA as a tool for furthering ecosystem approaches to coasts, oceans and island management.
The agreement includes an action plan for curbing and controlling pollution, habitat destruction and other land-based activities affecting coastal and marine ecosystems. Although it is not binding, it provides a framework for addressing some of the most significant threats to marine ecosystems.
In its establishment, governments emphasized that UNEP's Regional Seas programmes provided an important mechanism to help implement the GPA. Today the GPA plays an active role within the Regional Seas programmes, and a great deal of progress has been achieved in addressing Land-based Activities (LBA) in the regions.

Implementation of the GPA
The implementation of the GPA is primarily the task of Governments, in close partnership with all stakeholders including local communities, public organizations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Formulation of national and regional programmes of action is a necessity for successful implementation. UNEP, as the secretariat of the GPA, and its partners will facilitate and assist Governments in their tasks. Instrumental in this implementation process are the UNEP and other regional seas programmes and the GPA information and data clearing-house.

GPA Programmes
The UNEP/GPA Coordination Office facilitates the realization of the duty of States to preserve and protect the marine environment from land-based activities. UNEP/GPA assists States in taking action at the national, regional or global level through a number of capacity building and technical programmes.

  • National Programmes of Action (NPAs): National Programmes of Action to protect the marine environment from land-based activities (NPAs) are the translation of the GPA at the national level.
  • Physical Alteration and Destruction of Habitats (PADH): Environmental degradation is often the result of the convergence of factors such as a limited resource base, an accelerating rate of economic and demographic growth, inadequate knowledge of resource management and poor enforcement of regulations.
  • Wastewater: Domestic wastewater improperly discharged to freshwater and coastal environments presents a variety of concerns.
  • Training: UNEP/GPA, jointly with UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and under the umbrella of the UNDOALOS Train-Sea-Coast Programme offer training courses for municipal managers and decision-makers on wastewater management.
  • Financing: The overall objective of the financing programme is to ensure an increase in the use of innovative financial arrangements and economic instruments for the purpose of securing affordable and increasingly sustainable long-term financing for GPA implementation.
  • Legislation: The overall objective of the legislation component of the UNEP/GPA Coordination Office’s programmes is to strengthen legislative frameworks to address marine pollution from land-based activities at the regional and national levels.
  • Small Island Developing States (SIDS): Since March 2003, the GPA Coordination Office provides the overall coordination of UNEP’s programmatic delivery in Small Island Developing States.

Second Session of the Intergovernmental Review Meeting on the Implementation of the GPA
The second session of the Intergovernmental Review Meeting (IGR-2) on the Implementation of the GPA was convened in 16 - 20 October 2006, Beijing, China. Over 600 participants - representing 104 governments and the European Commission, international and regional organizations, international financial institutions, and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) - gathered to review the implementation of the GPA and chart the way forward. They recognized that the GPA is an effective tool for integrating environmental concerns into development planning and strategies at the regional and national levels and that, as such, it contributes substantially to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration, and those highlighted in Agenda 21, the Barbados Programme of Action, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, and the Mauritius Strategy for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.
The meeting unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration on Furthering the Implementation of the Global Programme of Action, with a resolve to recommit to:- the Global Programme of Action as a flexible and effective tool for the sustainable development of oceans, coasts and islands; furthering the implementation of the Global Programme of Action in 2007−2011; and to express appreciation for the efforts of the United Nations Environment Programme in helping to advance the agenda with respect to the sustainable development of oceans, coasts and islands and invite it to strengthen its support to the further implementation of the Global Programme of Action through increased contributions from its Environment Fund, enhanced cooperation and coordination with multilateral environmental agreements and improved cooperation with all stakeholders and relevant organizations, including multilateral development banks, at the global and regional levels, in additional to various national, regional, and international actions.