In most regions, the Action Plan is underpinned with a strong legal framework in the form of a regional Convention and associated Protocols on specific problems. The legally binding Convention expresses in clear terms the commitment and political will of governments to tackle their common environmental issues through joint coordinated activities.

In 14 of the regional programmes, the Parties have adopted a legally-binding convention setting out what governments must do to implement their Action Plan. Most conventions have added protocols, which are separate but linked legal agreements addressing specific issues – such as protected areas or land-based pollution – in more detail.

Some of these regional instruments have proven extraordinarily effective. For example, the Cartagena Convention for the Caribbean and the Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean have always been extremely active and visible. But others continue to struggle with funding problems and the difficulty of putting environmental issues at the top of their governments' agenda.

The first Regional Seas Convention was the 1976 Barcelona Convention, an integral part of the Mediterranean Action Plan (1975). This convention pioneered the ‘framework’ model for environmental treaties which has since been followed in other Regional Seas as well as in several global environmental conventions.

According to this model, governments begin with the adoption a legally-binding general agreement, or ‘framework convention’, setting out what they must do to implement the Action Plan. This convention may be supplemented by protocols, separate but linked legal agreements addressing specific issues such as protected areas or land-based pollution, and containing detailed commitments.

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