Since its inception 40 years ago, the Regional Seas Programme (RSP) has constituted a unique approach to the protection of the coastal and marine environment.

A major role of the Programme is to support regions to fulfill their responsibilities towards the priorities identified in relevant UN Environment Governing Council Decisions and resolutions of the United Nations Environment Assembly, to contribute to reaching global targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

UN Environment administers regional programmes in West AfricaCaribbeanMediterraneanNorthwest PacificEast Asian SeasCaspian Sea, and East Africa. The programme also covers several other regions of the world, making it one of the most globally comprehensive initiatives for the protection of marine and coastal environments:

Most of the Regional Seas Programmes function through action plans, which are adopted by member governments in order to establish a comprehensive strategy and framework for protecting the environment and promote sustainable development. An action plan outlines the strategy and substance of the programme, based on the region's particular environmental challenges as well as its socio-economic and political situation.

Fourteen of the Regional Seas Programmes have also adopted legally-binding conventions that express the commitment and political will of governments to tackle their common environmental issues through joint coordinated activities. Most conventions have added protocols , legal agreements addressing specific issues such as protected areas or land-based pollution.

Regional coordinating units and activity centres

In the regions, the Regional Seas programmes work through Secretariats or Regional Coordinating Units (RCUs) and Regional Activity Centers (RACs). The RCU is the nerve center and command post of the action plan's activities and has the overall and practical responsibility for the implementation of the decisions of member countries (or contracting parties) regarding the operation of the action plan.