Skip to main content

Regional Knowledge Center

Multilateral agreements

Multilateral environmental agreements are a powerful tool that can be used in order to preserve and improve the quality of environment and human health around the world. 

Air quality

The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP)

CLRTAP, which entered into force in 1983, was originally created with the aim to reduce the negative impact of acid rain of the environment. The Convention has substantially contributed to the development of international environmental law and has created the essential framework for controlling and reducing the damage to human health and the environment caused by transboundary air pollution. It is a successful example of what can be achieved through intergovernmental cooperation.

The key protocols of CLRTAP are:

  • The 1984 Protocol on Long-term Financing of the Cooperative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP)
  • The 1998 Aarhus Protocol on Heavy Metals
  • The 1998 Aarhus Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) 
  • The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone

Protocol on Heavy Metals

The Executive Body of CLTRAP adopted the Protocol on Heavy Metals on June 24, 1998 in Aarhus (Denmark). The main aim of the protocol is to reduce the negative impacts of emissions of heavy metals focusing on the three particularly harmful metals: cadmium, lead and mercury. In 2012 the protocol had undergone a series of amendments introducing more stringent requirements and more flexible implementation mechanisms to facilitate ratification and implementation of the Protocol’s requirements particularly for the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The amended text of the Protocol, although not yet in force, is used in the assessment in the context this project.

The main requirement of the Protocol is to reduce the total emissions into the atmosphere of the specified substances from the level of the emission in the reference year (1990 or an alternative year between 1985 and 1995).

In addition, the Protocol requires introduction of mandatory product control measures, foresees introduction of “best available techniques” (BATs) and stipulates limit values, applicable to a number of industrial sources, combustion plants, and waste incineration. The protocol also encourages introduction of additional product management measures, which are not mandatory, but application of such additional measures might facilitate compliance with regards to the reduction of emissions, which is a primary objective of the Protocol. Such additional measures may include substitution of products containing one or more intentionally added heavy metals covered by the protocol, provision of product information including labelling, etc.

Protocol on POPs

The protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) was adopted by the Executive Body CLTRAP on June 24, 1998 in Aarhus (Denmark). The protocol has been amended in 2009 when the list of restricted or prohibited substances was updated. In its current edition the Protocol includes sixteen substances out of which eleven are pesticides, two industrial chemicals and three by-products/contaminants. These substances are grouped under three annexes of the protocol – annex I (Substances scheduled for elimination), annex II (substances scheduled for restrictions on use), and annex III (Substances referred to in article 3, paragraph 5(a), and the reference year for the obligation). The protocol requires development of appropriate strategies for identifying and environmentally sound utilisation of substances still in use and waste containing defined POPs. Additionally plans and strategies for emission reduction should be developed and implemented.

Similarly to the Heavy Metals protocol, POPs protocol stipulates introduction of BATs and application of limit values that would be at least as stringent as set in the protocol.

Gothenburg Protocol

Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (known as Gothenburg Protocol) is the most recent protocol to the LRTAP convention. It was adopted on November 30, 1999 in Gothenburg (Sweden), originally setting 2010 ceilings for four atmospheric pollutants - sulphur, NOx, VOCs and ammonia. The Protocol was amended in 2012 to include national emission reduction commitments to be achieved by 2020 and beyond. The revised Protocol also introduced flexibility measures to facilitate accession of new Parties, mainly countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In addition the amended Protocol, covers recently incorporated PM emissions.

The underpinning objective of the Protocol is reduction of the total emissions of the sulphur, NOx, VOCs, ammonia and particulate matter is to be achieved through complying with the determined critical loads/levels (acidity, nutrient nitrogen, ozone, PM, ammonia) and delimitation of the national emission ceilings (SO2, NO2, VOCs, NH3). The current version of the Protocol sets out country-specific emission reduction commitments for 2020 and beyond. The protocol also provides limit values both for stationary and mobile sources, requires implementation of the product control measures, BATs, measures encouraging energy efficiency, use of less-polluting fuels, and development of national programmes and strategies.

Taking into consideration that the protocol also focuses on ammonia emissions, it includes minimal NH3 control measures relating to activities in the agricultural sector.


The Protocol is an instrument for international cost-sharing of a monitoring programme which forms the backbone for review and assessment of relevant air pollution in Europe in the light of agreements on emission reduction. EMEP has three main components: collection of emission data for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other air pollutants; measurement of air and precipitation quality; and modelling of atmospheric dispersion. At present, more than 200 monitoring stations in 40 UNECE countries participate in the programme.

Nature and biodiversity

Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. It is the first global agreement to cover all aspects of biological diversity: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

The objectives of the Convention, to be pursued in accordance with its relevant provisions, are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding.


Cartagena Protocol

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty governing the movements of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology from one country to another. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 as a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity and entered into force on 11 September 2003.

The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. It establishes an advance informed agreement (AIA) procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of such organisms into their territory. The Protocol contains reference to a precautionary approach and reaffirms the precaution language in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The Protocol also establishes a Biosafety Clearing-House to facilitate the exchange of information on living modified organisms and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol.


Nagoya Protocol

The 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 is an international agreement which aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS) to the Convention on Biological Diversity is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It provides a transparent legal framework for the effective implementation of one of the three objectives of the CBD: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

The Nagoya Protocol on ABS was adopted on 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan and entered into force on 12 October 2014, 90 days after the deposit of the fiftieth instrument of ratification. Its objective is the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

More information at

The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention)

The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”. The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. Since then, almost 90% of UN member states, from all the world’s geographic regions, have acceded to become “Contracting Parties”.

Under the three pillars of the Convention, the Contracting Parties commit to:

  • work towards the wise use of all their wetlands through national plans, policies and legislation, management actions and public education;
  • designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management;
  • cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems, shared species, and development projects that may affect wetlands.

The Convention has five formally recognized “International Organization Partners”, which provide expert technical advice and assistance in line with Convention principles:

  • BirdLife International
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
  • Wetlands International
  • WWF International

The Convention collaborates with a network of partners:

  • Biodiversity-related conventions including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the World Heritage Convention (WHC), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES);
  • Project funding bodies including global environmental funds, multilateral development banks and bilateral donors;
  • UN agencies such as UNEP, UNDP, UNESCO and the UN Economic Commission for Europe, and specific programmes such as UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme;

More information at

Water resources

Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes

The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) aims to ensure the sustainable use of transboundary water resources by facilitating cooperation. The purpose of this Convention is to improve national attempts and measures for protection and management of transboundary surface waters and ground waters. On the international level, Parties are obliged to cooperate and create joint bodies. The Convention includes provisions on: monitoring, research, development, consultations, warning and alarm systems, mutual assistance and access as well as exchange of information.

It was opened for signature in Helsinki on 17 March 1992 and entered into force on 6 October 1996. As of September 2018, it has been ratified by 43 parties, which includes 42 states and the European Union.

Protocol on Water and Health

This protocol was negotiated in 1999. It is addressing the problems of water related diseases in the UNECE region, where one out of seven people do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Consequently, that brings diseases such as cholera, bacillary dysentery, coli infections, viral hepatitis A and typhoid. The implementation of this Protocol requires setting firm targets: the process of setting targets consists of analyzing the national situation, streamlining and harmonizing responsibilities and commitments in water and health. A State Party has to elaborate a realistic plan for improvement. This process helps focus the attention on the services and actions needed. Some of the areas of work of the Protocol are: small scale water supplies, water supply and sanitation in extreme weather events, water-related disease surveillance, equitable access to water and sanitation etc.

The Protocol on Water and Health entered into force in 2005. As of 2013, it has been ratified by 26 European states.

Protocol on Civil Liability

The Protocol on Civil Liability for Damage and Compensation for Damage Caused by Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents on Transboundary Waters was formally adapted at the Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe" in Kiev, Ukraine, on 21 May 2003. It was initiated by a first joint special session of the Parties to the Water Convention together with the Parties to the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents. Its aim is to give individuals affected by the transboundary impact of industrial accidents on international watercourses (e.g. fishermen or operators of downstream waterworks) a legal claim for adequate and prompt compensation.[37]

The financial limits of liability as well as the minimum amount of financial securities have been agreed by all the actors of the negotiation, including the insurance sector, and are therefore realistic and appropriate.[38] As of 2013, the Protocol has been ratified only by Hungary and is not in force.

More information at

Climate change

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an intergovernmental treaty developed to address the problem of climate change. The Convention, which sets out an agreed framework for dealing with the issue, was negotiated from February 1991 to May 1992 and opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) — also known as the Rio Earth Summit. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994, ninety days after the 50th country’s ratification had been received. By December 2007, it had been ratified by 192 countries.

Parties to the Convention continue to meet regularly to take stock of progress in implementing their obligations under the treaty, and to consider further actions to address the climate change threat. They have also negotiated a protocol to the Convention.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was first agreed in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, although ongoing discussions were needed between 1998 and 2004 to finalize the “fine print” of the agreement.

The Protocol obliges industrialized countries and countries of the former Soviet bloc (known collectively as “Annex I Parties”) to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of about 5% for the period 2008-2012 compared with 1990 levels. However, under the terms agreed in Kyoto, the Protocol only enters into force following ratification by 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, and if these 55 countries included a sufficient number of Annex I Parties that at least 55% of that group’s total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 were represented.

The Protocol finally entered into force as a legally-binding document on 16 February 2005. By December 2007, the Protocol had been ratified by 177 countries, including Annex I parties representing 63.7% of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.

More information at

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and for the first time brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.

The Paris Agreement central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework. Further information on key aspects of the Agreement can be found

Nationally determined contributions

The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts.

The Paris Agreement requests each country to outline and communicate their post-2020 climate actions, known as their NDCs.

Each climate plan reflects the country’s ambition for reducing emissions, taking into account its domestic circumstances and capabilities. Guidance on NDCs are currently being negotiated under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), agenda item 3.

Further information can be found at

Other environmental issues

Convention to Combat Desertification

Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.

The new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in order to restore the productivity of vast expanses of degraded land, improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people, and reduce the impacts of drought on vulnerable populations to build

A future that avoids, minimizes, and reverses desertification/land degradation and mitigates the effects of drought in affected areas at all levels ... to achieve a land degradation-neutral world consistent with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The Convention’s 197 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought. The UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation. The UNCCD secretariat facilitates cooperation between developed and developing countries, particularly around knowledge and technology transfer for sustainable land management.

More information at

Environment Impact Assessment Convention (The Espoo Convention)

The Espoo (EIA) Convention sets out the obligations of Parties to assess the environmental impact of certain activities at an early stage of planning. It also lays down the general obligation of States to notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries.

Principle 17 and 19 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) are the cornerstones of the Espoo Convention:

  • Principle 17: Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority.
  • Principle 19: States shall provide prior and timely notification and relevant information to potentially affected States on activities that may have a significant adverse transboundary environmental effect and shall consult with those States at an early stage and in good faith.

More information at

Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment (Kyiv Protocol)

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Protocol augments the Espoo Convention by ensuring that individual Parties integrate environmental assessment into their plans and programmes at the earliest stages – so helping to lay the groundwork for sustainable development. The Protocol also provides for extensive public participation in the governmental decision-making process. The Protocol entered into force on 11 July 2010.

The (SEA) Protocol, now in force, requires its Parties to evaluate the environmental consequences of their official draft plans and programmes.

More information at

Watch a short introduction to the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The video presents the SEA process set out in the Protocol, together with its benefits and potential as a tool for greening economies.

More information at

This project is funded by the European Union

And implemented by a consortium led by