HSE Regulatory Requirements Across the GCC Part 3: International Agreements Related to the Environment

In the previous article of this series – HSE Regulatory Requirements Across the GCC Part 2: International Agreements Related to Worker Health and Safety – I discussed key international agreements related to worker safety, why one should be aware of these agreements, basic terminology associated with international agreements, and ratification status of these agreements with the GCC member states.

This article extends that discussion to the much more extensive list of key international agreements related to environmental protection.

Climate Change, Air and Ozone Depletion

Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP): CLRTAP was adopted in 1979 to address the problem of air pollution that crosses national borders. The convention provides a framework for countries to cooperate in reducing air pollution and its transboundary effects, with a focus on acid rain, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. The convention has several protocols, which are legally binding agreements that provide specific measures and targets for reducing air pollution.  The CLRTAP has been ratified by 51 countries; however, none of the GCC states have ratified this convention.

Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer: The Vienna Convention entered into force in 1988. The Convention aims to protect the Earth’s ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), which are mainly used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and aerosol products.  The Vienna Convention is often considered as the framework agreement for the Montreal Protocol, and both agreements work together to protect the Earth’s ozone layer and mitigate the impacts of climate change.  The Convention has been ratified by 116 countries; however, none of the GCC states have ratified this convention.

Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer: The Montreal Protocol was adopted in 1987 and amended several times and is an international treaty that aims to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), to protect the Earth’s ozone layer. The protocol has been successful in reducing the use of these substances and has helped to reduce the depletion of the ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol has been ratified by 46 countries; however, none of the GCC states have ratified this protocol.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The UNFCCC entered into force in 1992 to address global warming and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The ultimate objective of the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The treaty requires countries to regularly report on their greenhouse gas emissions and to work together to reduce them. It has been  signed by 197 parties including all GCC states.

Kyoto Protocol: The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 as an extension of the UNFCCC. It sets specific targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for industrialized countries, with the goal of reducing these emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels over the period of 2008-2012. The Kyoto Protocol also established the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows developed countries to invest in emissions reduction projects in developing countries to help meet their own emissions reduction targets.  It has been signed by 192 parties including all GCC states.

Paris Agreement: The Paris Agreement is an agreement under the UNFCCC, entered into force in 2016.  This agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, with an ambition to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. It requires countries to regularly report on their emissions and to submit updated plans for reducing them every five years. It has been signed by 192 parties including all GCC states.

GCC States and International Agreements – Climate Change, Air and Ozone Depletion Agreementsnr – not ratified.

Hazardous Substances

: The Basel Convention is an international treaty that aims to minimize the generation of hazardous waste and to ensure the environmentally sound management of hazardous waste generated, and its disposal. It requires countries to regulate the export and import of hazardous waste and to ensure that it is handled and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. 190 countries are parties to this agreement, including all GCC states.

Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade: The Rotterdam Convention was adopted in 1998 to promote the safe handling, use, and trade of certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides. The Convention seeks to prevent the trade of chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted in their country of origin from being shipped to countries without their knowledge or consent. It requires exporting countries to provide information to importing countries about the risks associated with the use of these chemicals and pesticides and to obtain prior informed consent before exporting them. The Convention has been ratified by 161 countries, including all GCC states.

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs): The Stockholm aims to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of POPs. POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to degradation and can travel long distances through air and water, accumulating in the food chain and posing a risk to human and animal health. The Stockholm Convention requires member states to take measures to eliminate or restrict the production, use, and release of POPs and to develop and implement plans for managing and disposing of POPs waste. This treaty has been signed by 152 countries, including all GCC states.

Minamata Convention on Mercury:  The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.  Major highlights of the Minamata Convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining. The Convention also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues. This treaty has been signed by 140 countries, including all GCC states.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) European Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR):  ADR is a multilateral agreement that sets out the regulations for the transportation of dangerous goods by road in Europe and has been adopted across many other jurisdictions .  ADR regulations provide a framework for the safe transportation of dangerous goods, including requirements for labeling, packaging, and documentation.  UAE is the only country in the GCC that has adopted ADR.

Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS):  GHS is an internationally agreed-upon system developed by the United Nations for the classification and labeling of chemicals. GHS aims to ensure that chemicals are managed safely throughout their entire lifecycle, from production and transport to use and disposal. The system uses standard criteria for classifying chemicals based on their physical, health, and environmental hazards, and provides consistent labeling and safety information (safety data sheets) to help protect people and the environment.  In October 2019, the GSO (GCC Standardization Organization) published a draft  for implementing GHS in the GCC countries.  Implementation of the Globally Harmonized System is expected to happen by mid-2020.  After the implementation of GHS, there will be a grace period of 2-3 years for the six countries to place the new law in their legislation.

GCC States and International Agreements – Hazardous Materials

Marine Environment

The International Maritime Organization (IMO): IMO was formed in 1948 as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) and was later renamed in 1982 to its current name.  IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating international shipping and promoting safety, security, and environmental protection in the maritime industry. IMO plays a role in environmental protection by adopting and implementing global regulations and standards for the prevention of pollution from ships. These regulations cover a wide range of environmental issues, including air emissions, ballast water management, and the prevention of oil spills and other forms of marine pollution. The IMO also promotes the use of sustainable and energy-efficient technologies in shipping and works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the industry.  IMO has 175 members including all GCC states.

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL): MARPOL was  designed to prevent marine pollution from ships. It was adopted in 1973 and has since been updated several times, with the most recent amendment in 2011. MARPOL sets out rules and regulations for the discharge of various types of pollutants, including oil, chemicals, sewage, and garbage, from ships into the sea. The Convention applies to all ships engaged in international voyages and aims to protect the marine environment by reducing quantities of pollutants released into the ocean. MARPOL has 172 parties, including all GCC states.

Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (London Convention):  The London Convention came into force in 1975 and is administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).  This treaty aimed at preventing marine pollution by prohibiting the dumping of certain types of wastes and other matter into the ocean. The treaty regulates the disposal of wastes, including industrial wastes, sewage sludge, and radioactive wastes.  In 1996, the “London Protocol” was agreed to further modernize the Convention and, eventually, replace it.  Under the Protocol, all dumping is prohibited, except for possibly acceptable wastes on the so-called “reverse list”. There are 87 parties to this convention, and all GCC states are parties to the convention and/or the protocol.

The International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC):  The CLC entered into force in 1975 and provides a framework for compensation and liability for victims of oil pollution incidents and establishes strict liability for shipowners for pollution damage resulting from the operation of their ships. The convention also establishes a system of compulsory insurance and sets out limits of liability for shipowners. The CLC  has been amended several times since its adoption and has been ratified by  over 130 countries, including all GCC states.

International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC):  OPRC  aims to establish a framework for international co-operation in responding to oil spills. The convention requires member countries to establish measures to prepare for and respond to oil spills in their territorial waters and requires them to co-operate with each other in responding to spills that occur in international waters. The OPRC 1990 provides for the establishment of national and regional contingency plans, the development of technical cooperation, and the exchange of information on oil spill response measures. The convention also establishes the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, which provides financial assistance to member countries in the event of a major oil spill. The OPRC 1990 has been ratified by over 150 countries, including Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM):  BWM entered into force in 2017 and aims to prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through ballast water discharge from ships. The convention requires member countries to establish standards for the management of ballast water and sediments and requires ships to manage their ballast water to meet these standards. BWM  sets out a phased implementation schedule, with the requirement for ballast water exchange to be replaced by treatment systems as the primary method of managing ballast water. The convention also establishes a certification process for ballast water management systems and requires member countries to conduct surveys of ships to ensure compliance. BWM 2004 has been ratified by over 80 countries, including all GCC states except for Bahrain and Kuwait.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention): The LOS Convention, also known as the Montego Bay Convention, entered into force in 1994. The convention is a comprehensive treaty that governs all aspects of ocean affairs, including maritime boundaries, navigation, marine environment, and the exploration and exploitation of natural resources. The LOS Convention established a legal framework for the use and management of the world’s oceans and their resources. It recognizes the rights and responsibilities of coastal states, including their sovereignty over their territorial sea and exclusive economic zone, as well as their duty to protect and preserve the marine environment. The convention also provides for the freedom of navigation on the high seas and regulates the conduct of states in maritime areas beyond national jurisdiction. The LOS Convention is widely regarded as one of the most important international agreements ever adopted, with over 160 countries being parties to the convention, including all GCC states except UAE.

GCC States and International Agreements Marine Environment

Nature and Biodiversity

Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention): This convention was adopted in 1971 and aims to conserve and sustainably use wetlands, recognizing them as critical ecosystems that provide numerous environmental, social, and economic benefits. The Convention focuses on the conservation of wetlands of international importance, known as Ramsar sites, and promotes their wise use through the establishment of national and international frameworks and partnerships. One of the key features of the Convention is the emphasis on the conservation of wetlands as important habitats for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species. As of 2021, the Convention has 171 parties, including all GCC states except for Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES): CITIES was adopted in 1973 aimed at regulating and monitoring international trade in endangered species of plants and animals. The Convention seeks to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of wild populations and ecosystems, by regulating the trade and prohibiting the commercial exploitation of endangered and threatened species. CITES has 183 parties, including all GCC states.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS):  CMA, also known as the Bonn Convention, is a treaty adopted in 1979 aimed at the conservation of migratory species of wild animals and their habitats. The Convention recognizes that migratory species face numerous threats, including habitat loss, climate change, over exploitation, and other human activities, and promotes international cooperation to address these threats. CMS has 133 parties, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): The CBD aims to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. The treaty entered into force in 1993 and includes provisions related to the protection of ecosystems and species, the sustainable use of natural resources, and the sharing of benefits from their use.  196 countries are parties to this agreement, including all GCC states.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD): (UNCCD) is an international treaty that was adopted in 1994 to address the problem of desertification and land degradation, particularly in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. The Convention aims to promote sustainable land management practices, to restore degraded land, and to improve the livelihoods of people living in affected areas. The Convention has been ratified by 197 parties, including all GCC states.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity: This protocol was adopted in 2000 under CBD, with the aim of ensuring the safe handling, transport, and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) that may have adverse effects on biodiversity and human health. The protocol sets out measures to regulate the transboundary movement of LMOs, including requirements for risk assessment, informed consent, and notification to the affected countries. The Cartagena Protocol serves as a critical tool for ensuring the safe and sustainable use of biotechnology in agriculture, industry, and medicine has been ratified by over 170 countries , including all GCC states.

Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity: The Nagoya Protocol was adopted in 2010 as a supplementary agreement to the CBD.  Its main objective is to provide a transparent legal framework for access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization. Genetic resources are defined as any material of plant, animal, or microbial origin that contains genetic information.  Under the Nagoya Protocol, countries that are parties to the agreement must ensure that access to their genetic resources is subject to prior informed consent (PIC) of the provider country and mutually agreed terms (MAT) for the sharing of benefits. This means that any person or organization that wishes to access genetic resources from a provider country must obtain permission and agree to the terms of access and benefit sharing with the provider country.  The protocol  had been ratified by 139 parties, including all GCC states.

GCC States and International Agreements – Nature and Biodiversity

In addition to these broader international agreements, GCC countries also participate in a number of regional initiatives related to environmental protection.

GCC Standardization Organization (GSO): GSO is responsible for developing and promoting environmental standards and regulations across the GCC member states. The organization has developed several environmental standards, such as those related to air quality, noise emissions, and environmental impact assessments.

GCC Environmental Strategy: The GCC member states adopted the GCC Environmental Strategy, which sets out a framework for environmental management and conservation across the region. The strategy includes specific goals and targets in areas such as air and water quality, waste management, and biodiversity conservation.

Gulf Regional Air Quality Management System (GRAQMS): GRAQMS is a regional initiative aimed at improving air quality across the GCC member states. The initiative includes monitoring and reporting of air quality, development of air quality standards, and promotion of clean technologies and practices.

GCC Framework for Sustainable Development: The GCC member states have adopted the GCC Framework for Sustainable Development, which outlines their shared vision for sustainable development and sets out goals and targets in areas such as environmental protection, natural resource management, and climate change mitigation.

Kuwait Regional Convention for Co-operation on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution: The convention entered into force in 1979. The convention was established to address the problem of marine pollution in the region and promote co-operation among the countries bordering the Gulf region. The convention requires member states to take measures to prevent, reduce and control pollution from ships, land-based sources, and offshore installations, as well as to ensure the effective response to pollution incidents. The convention also establishes a Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME), which serves as the coordinating body for the implementation of the convention. ROPME provides technical assistance and expertise to member states in developing and implementing programs and measures to protect the marine environment from pollution. The convention has been ratified by all six Gulf countries.

In the next article in this series, we will discuss the government entities responsible for developing and implementing regulations in the UAE.

As always, feel free to contact us if you need help with your HSE challenges at your site.

Thanks for reading.  Keep safe.  Be healthy.  Respect your environment.

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Randall D. Shaw, Ph.D.
Managing Director at Redlog Environmental Ltd.
Dr. Randall Shaw is Managing Director of Redlog Environmental Ltd. He has a wide-ranging background in health, safety and environment, with a focus on those HSE issues faced by industry in Asia. Dr. Shaw’s blog posts on HSE issues in Asia are based on his experience from working in more than 30 countries, his pragmatic approach to solving HSE problems, and his desire to pass on this knowledge to others. Ultimately, his goal is to help HSE professionals and companies active in the developing world tackle their HSE issues. You can find him on Twitter (@RedlogHSE) and LinkedIn and he is always keen to discuss HSE issues with others.
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