Categories: Marine Article 6

The Ministerial Declaration: An Important Step (Black Sea)

Ellen Hey* and Laurence D. Mee
1 International and European Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
2 Marine Environmental Studies Laboratory, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria

Corresponding author: hey@law.eur.nl

EPL, Vol.23, Iss.5, pp.215-220, 1993


Both authors were involved in the preparation of the Ministerial Declaration on the Protection of the Black Sea


The Ministers responsible for the protection and preservation ofthe Black Sea coastal states on April 7,1993, in Odessa, adopted the Ministerial Declaration on the Protection of the Black Sea (Odessa Declaration). The Odessa Declaration was signed by ministers from Bulgaria, Georgia, Rumania, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the Ukraine. The aim of the Odessa Declaration is to, through individual and joint efforts of the coastal states, attain the rehabilitation, protection and preservation ofthe Black Sea. To this effect explicit environmental goals and time-frames have been agreed. The Odessa Declaration was adopted under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) but is part of a larger framework for the protection and preservation of the Black Sea. Together with the Convention on the Black Sea Against Pollution (Bucharest Convention), adopted in Bucharest on April 21-22, 1992, and the Project for Environmental Management and Protection of the Black Sea, supported by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF Project), the Odessa Declaration seeks to establish a sustainable process for the enhancement and conservation of the seriously deteriorated marine environment of the Black Sea.

The relationship between these three instruments can be characterized as follows: the GEF project will procure the technical and financial inputs essential for fostering sustainable development in the region; the Bucharest Convention, together with a new fisheries convention which Black Sea states are currently negotiating, will establish the institutional, legal and technical framework required to sustain cooperation; and the Odessa Declaration and future ministerial meetings provide commitment at the political level and determine policy priorities. In a wider context, the Odessa Declaration constitutes an instrument towards realizing the implementation of chapter 17 (oceans, seas, coastal areas and their living resources) of Agenda 21 and represents a new modaiityofactionforUNEP'sRegional Seas Programme.

The Odessa Declaration consists of a preamble, a general policy statement and nineteen specific actions. These actions are designed to facilitate the rapid development of pragmatic measures for controlling pollution from land-based and marine sources (including the harmonization of environmental standards); to restore, conserve and manage natural resources; to respond to environmental emergencies; to improve the assessment of contaminants and their sources; to introduce integrated coastal zone management policies and compulsory environmental impact assessments; and to create a transparent and balanced mechanism for reviewing and updating the Declaration on a triennial basis.

The State of the Black Sea Environment and the Odessa Declaration

There is compelling scientific evidence that the Black Sea environment has become seriously degraded largely as a result of pollution, over exploitation of marine and coastal resources and the accidental introduction of exotic species of predatory animals. A recent meeting of regional experts concluded that "the Black and Azov Seas system has become the first semi-enclosed sea where an almost complete destruction of the commercially productive components of the ecosystems seems a realistic possibility in the near future in the absence of remedial actions by the six coastal States of the Black Sea region". The geographical situation of the Black Sea makes it particularly susceptible to the effects of land-based sources of pollution. Although of similar area to the Baltic Sea or North Sea, it is virtually enclosed and connected to the Mediterranean by the narrow and relatively shallow Bosphorus and the contaminated Sea of Marmara. Three quarters of the Black Sea are deep (200-2000 metres) and permanently anoxic below about 150 metres due to limited deep water exchange with the Mediterranean and the naturally rather high production of the surface waters. The remaining quarter consists mostly of two extensive shallow areas: the north-west shelf, which receives major river inputs from the Danube, Dneipr and Dneistr; and the Sea of Azov, which receives water from the Don and Kuban rivers. Together, these major rivers drain almost one third of continental Europe, including substantial portions of non-coastal states, mostly riparian countries of the Danube (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, former Yugoslavia).

With a basin-wide population of about 160 million people, the Black Sea has nearly twice the population pressure of the Baltic. Additionally, much of the industry within the basin was the product of centrally planned economies in which pollution control and waste management were inadequate. The annual loads of many critical contaminants reaching the Black Sea from the Danube for example, often exceed those of all river inputs to the North Sea. Furthermore, considerable contaminant loads reach the Black Sea via atmospheric fall-out, by direct discharge through outfalls, and by dumping (mostly of sewage sludge and spoils from harbour dredging). Economic stagnation has left many coastal settlements with half-completed sewage treatment plants, or in some cases, with no sewerage system at all. Additionally, offshore oil and gas wells are now being exploited, the Black Sea is heavily transited by shipping and there is little or no control over deballasting of oil tankers.

The most dramatic environmental problem however, stems from eutrophication. The inorganic nitrate and phosphate loads carried to the Black Sea by the river Danube have more than doubled over the last 20 years and even larger increases have been reported for the lesser rivers. Formerly, the assimilation capacity of the N.W. shelf for nutrients and other contaminants was enhanced by the presence of vast beds of Phyllophora (benthic macroalgae) and bivalves (mussels and soft-shell clams). These in many senses acted as the "lungs" and "kidneys" of the Black Sea by oxygenating the water column (algae), filtering particulate matter (including phytoplankton) and removing biologically available contaminants (filtration and bioaccumulation by bivalves). As eutrophication progressed (and sludge dumping also continued), this balanced ecosystem became overwhelmed by intense phytoplankton blooms. Light penetration was reduced and the increased oxygen demand from respiring phytoplankton and decaying organic matter gradually led to a hypoxic benthic environment in which the "lungs and kidneys" could no longer survive. As the shelf environment gradually deteriorated, large patches of anoxic water developed on the shelf itself, causing the elimination of most higher benthic life forms and the destruction of valuable natural resources.

The destruction of the shelf habitat was only part of the downwards spiral. The pelagic ecosystem also suffered major alterations with huge blooms of the jellyfish Aurelia aurita which increased in biomass from about 1 million tons in the 1960s to 350-400 million tons in the early eighties. The "final straw" was the accidental introduction of the predatory ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi (probably carried in ballast water) from the east coast of the United States about a decade ago. The ctenophore (a gelatinous organism which predates on zooplankton including fish larvae) quickly adapted to the low salinity conditions and found a ready niche in the eutrophic Black Sea ecosystem, attaining a huge biomass and entirely dominating the ecosystem. It has no natural predators in the Black Sea. The appearance of this voracious animal coincided with the virtual collapse of the most important fishery in the Black Sea, that of the anchovy (the traditionally fished high value migratory species had virtually disappeared in the previous two decades). Whether this collapse was entirely due to Mnemiopsis or partly to overfishing is a matter of speculation but the result has been economic ruin for large numbers of Turkish fishermen who invested heavily in technically advanced gear and processing equipment.

The downward spiral is also having serious negative consequences on tourism which, given the uniqueness of Black Sea beaches as a warm-water resource for eastern Europe, should be a sustainable source of revenue for the region. In practice, poor planning, unsanitary conditions, insufficient drinking water and a lack of user fees, has led to increased environmental stress and severe health problems (including occasional outbreaks of cholera). The regular closure of some beaches has put pressure on the previously clean ones (an unusual form of transboundary transfer of the effects of pollution!). Furthermore in the past, meagre fees and tourist taxes gathered in countries with centrally planned economies were not usually reinvested in improving local services.

All of the above factors have contributed to the present environmental crisis. The major problem is how to halt and reduce the decline? Such is the state of degradation that only an active process (involving massive investments and major policy changes) can hope to have any remedial impact on the Black Sea environment. The cost of the environmental assessments and preinvestment studies necessary to formulate policy alternatives can usually be measured in millions of dollars but the investments required for remedial action (eg. construction of proper sewage treatment plants) may require billions. Until recently, coastal countries have had very little experience with formulating common policies. The 1960 Varna Convention for fisheries failed because it did not include all the coastal countries nor did it lead to the imposition of controls and quotas on fisheries. The Odessa Declaration stemmed from the gradual realization that without a programme of common priorities and environmental goals, the Black Sea would soon deteriorate to an irreversible environmental catastrophe. It is an attempt to generate the tools for making the necessary decisions in the coastal countries within the shortest possible time-frame.

The required decisions are not always clear-cut and may involve "environmental trade-offs". If tourism is considered the top priority for generating necessary new capital, then sewage treatment is a prime concern (apart from the obvious concern for the health of the resident local population). Secondary treatment is probably unaffordable in the present economic situation and improving the primary treatment would make the beaches safer and avoid periodic closures. On the other hand, it would probably increase the nutrient load reaching the sea and, as a consequence, exacerbate eutrophication. The Declaration gives a high priority to the construction of sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants but also calls for low-waste technology to reduce nutrient inputs and the preparation of "coordinated national plans for the reduction of inputs of harmful substances, especially nutrients". Environmental trade-offs are thus excluded but the door is left open for a phased approach to pollution control in which the highest priority is assigned to sewage.

The Procedural Role of the Odessa Declaration

As the above analysis illustrates, the Odessa Declaration provides a vital instrument towards attaining the protection and preservation of the Black Sea. From a more procedural point of view, it is an instrument which evidences present political commitment to improve the condition of the Black Sea environment. More importantly, by establishing clear objectives and specific time-frames and by providing for status reports to be assessed at triennial Ministerial meetings, the Odessa Declaration transfers present political momentum towards the future. It provides the basis for a flexible but continuous process for taking decisions on coordinated national action towards common goals now and in the future. Taking into account the experience in other regional sea areas, where both ministerial declarations and conventions are used to attain the protection and preservation of the marine environment, different roles can be identified for such instruments. Ministerial declarations determine the points of departure for the development of policy, set agendas and establish priorities; while conventions establish the institutional framework within which cooperation of a more technical nature is to take place, indicate the issues with respect to which these fora have competencies and provide decision-making procedures for the adoption and enhancement of legally binding minimum standards. Most conventions cover specific policy areas, e.g. pollution or fishing. It is usually not within the competence of the consultative fora established to consider the interactions between different activities nor their combined effect on the marine environment. Developing integrated management and sustainable development of coastal and marine areas, as agreed at UNCED and asserted in paragraph 15 of the Odessa Declaration, requires that such issues be addressed. In a few other regional seas, Ministerial meetings and the resulting declarations have addressed these issues.

In the case of the Black Sea, the Bucharest Convention addresses the prevention of pollution from various sources. When it enters into force, as with most other regional conventions, it will not as such, provide specific policy guidelines. Instead, it provides the decision-making and institutional framework for the development and adoption of such guidelines. It, however, does not determine priorities or timeframes, i.e. set the agenda, for their adoption. As a result there may be a lack of incentive to adopt and implement measures promptly. The Odessa Declaration does provides the priorities (e.g. common environmental quality objecti ves and where possible emission standards for inputs of substances listed in the Annexes to the Protocols on landbased sources and dumping to the Bucharest Convention; national plans for the reduction of harmful substances, especially nutrients; national plans for applying MARPOL Special Area requirements) and sets the time-frames (e.g. before 1996). The fact that these priorities and time-frames will be subject to joint Ministerial scrutiny at the second Ministerial Conference may be expected, as it has in other areas, to expedite the work. This is for the simple reason that Ministers need to be seen taking action, whereas more technical bodies will more readily postpone the taking of decisions until further studies have been completed. Moreover, besides the prevention of pollution, the Odessa Declaration addresses the wider issues of natural resources use, including fishing, and integrated coastal zone management.

A certain degree of flexibility is essential in attaining environmental protection, among others, because the issues at stake and the understanding thereof are subject to change. This is true especially in the Black Sea region were the socio-economic system is undergoing fundamental transformation and where much remains to be learned about the marine environment and the thr~tsit faces. The Odessa Declaration, on the basis of the information attained through activities undertaken through the GEF Project, provides a framework for the periodic reassessment and adjustment of actions to protect the marine environment. Likewise, once the GEF Project has been completed, the process established through the Odessa Declaration will provide the political forum for assessing and directing the work undertaken within the framework of the Bucharest Convention. As has been illustrated by developments in other regions, e.g. the North Sea, also at that stage political commitment and flexibility remain essential to the success of regional action to attain and maintain the protection and preservation of the marine environment.

Flexibility is also important in anotherrespect. The most efficient way of attaining the protection and preservation of a shared or common environment, as the Black Sea, is not necessarily by requiring that all states concerned take identical action. Diverging socio-economic and environmental conditions may result in different actions aimed at the same goal being a more efficient means of protecting the environment. This is especially important when, as is the case in the Black Sea region, a common understanding of the environment and the problems which it faces have yet to be fully developed. The Odessa Declaration provides such flexibility by emphasizing the need to develop common environmental quality objectives and the need to take coordinated but national action. This as opposed to the Bucharest Convention and many other conventions related to the protection of regional sea areas which prescribe, e.g. with respect to land-based sources, the adoption of uniform emission standards or uniform environmental quality objectives. Although there are advantages to such uniform standards, there are also significant disadvantages.

An Assessment

The Odessa Declaration responds to the environmental crisis in the Black Sea by targeting the areas of primary concern, providing a mechanism for generating valid information necessary for taking sound managementdecisions and by establishing a framework of common policies and strategies which can be gradually refined as more accurate information becomes available. Furthermore, it gives heavy emphasis to accountability, periodic review and public awareness. Accountability should be the key factor to ensure implementation and avoid a prolongation of the "tragedy of the commons". Declaration provides an example of one type of instrument that may be used to implement Agenda 21 and in particular its Chapter 17. Moreover, it provides a valuable new dimension to UNEP's Regional Seas Programme. The adoption of the Odessa Declaration and the expected entry into force of the Bucharest Convention, hopefully soon, mark a significant step towards attaining the protection and preservation ofthe Black Sea. The actual attainment of this goal, however, will require substantial and continuous commitment from both the Black Sea states and from the international community.

EPL Energy Article 6

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