Since 2004, the Regional Seas programmes have formulated collective Regional Seas Strategic Directions (RSSD) that lasted for four years.


Over the past decades, the international community has become increasingly aware of the need for improved ocean management at international, regional and national level, in order to effectively conserve the marine and coastal ecosystems. Oceans, seas and coastal environments form integral parts of our planet, providing vital ecosystem services. These ecosystems provide a wide range of benefits to humans, from fisheries to climate regulation, underpinning livelihoods of people around the world. However, severe degradation of oceans has been observed due to pollution derived from human activities. Sea-level is rising, posing great threats to coastal communities, while ocean acidification threatens biodiversity in marine and coastal ecosystems, which underpin ecosystem services.

At the Rio+20 Conference, member states clearly recognised that sustainable management of oceans and seas is critical for humans. Based on the outcome document “The Future We Want” of the Rio+20 Conference, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015. The Goal 14 of the SDGs, “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” emphasizes the importance of oceans for sustainable development. In this context, the UNEP Regional Seas Programme has an increasingly important role in assisting member states with achieving the SDG Goals relevant to oceans and seas.  

The Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans aim to connect regional activities with global processes through the Strategic Directions (2017-2020), strengthening the Regional Seas Programme at the global level in response to the SDGs and 2030 Agenda. The 2017-2020 Strategic Directions will complement the previously adopted Strategic Directions (2004-2007, 2008-2012, and 2013-2016).


The first Regional Seas Strategic Direction 2004-2007 was developed based on the resolution 22/2 III A of the UNEP Governing Council, which requested the UNEP Executive Director to encourage and support Regional Seas programmes to incorporate strategic elements.

The aim of the first Regional Seas Strategic Directions was to

  • strengthen the Regional Seas Programme (RSP) at global level,
  • complement the implementation of the programme of work of the individual Regional Seas programmes
  • improve efficiency through cooperation between Regional Seas programmes.

Subsequently, the  RSSD (2008-2012) and RSSD (2013-2016) were adopted to strengthen the previous RSSDs. These three RSSDs have several recurrent themes such as the implementation of the ecosystem based management and cooperation amongst Regional Seas programmes.

Celebrating its 40 years anniversary since the establishment of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme, the Regional Seas programmes conducted visioning exercises of its future direction at the two occasions: the visioning workshop held in Geneva, Switzerland, 3-4 July 2014, and the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans held in Athens, Greece, 29 September – 1 October 2014. Four key themes were identified from the visioning process: (1) Pollution, (2) Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, (3) Extraction of living and non-living resources; and (4) Governance. 

Based on the four key themes, the Regional Seas programmes drafted and adopted the next RSSD (2017-2020) at the 17th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans held in Istanbul, Turkey, 20-22 October 2015. The new RSSD aims to strengthen the Regional Seas Programme at the global level in response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Two core goals and four thematic strategies were identified for the RSSD (2017-2020):

  1. Promote and facilitate ratification, adoption and implementation of Regional Seas Conventions, Action Plans and Protocols, working in concert with other Regional Seas Organisations.
  2. Strategically work in collaboration with international and regional organizations, including Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) and other relevant stakeholders.

The Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans will therefore aim to:

1. Reduce marine pollution of all kinds in line with the SDG Goal 14.1. This will be achieved through:

  • Enhancing data, information management, monitoring and assessment at national and regional level through development of guidelines, baselines, regional indicators, and monitoring programmes as well as identifying  region-specific emerging issues through research
  • Raising the visibility of relevant pollution issues at all levels and facilitating science-policy interactions emphasizing socio-economic impacts and promoting relevant practices, tools, technologies and measures
  • Raising issues at global level and facilitating regionalization of outcomes of the GPA IGR4 and mandating global partnerships 

2. Create increased resilience of people, marine and coastal ecosystems, and their health and productivity, in line with the SDG Goal 13 and decisions made at the UNFCCC COP21 through:

  • Supporting mainstreaming of climate change into regional and national policies and institutional frameworks
  • Assessing the impacts of climate change and the resilience of people, society and ecosystems in marine and coastal areas to propose adaptation strategies
  • Creating or supporting climate research, policy networks and inter-regional knowledge exchange towards a better understanding of climate impacts on the marine and coastal environment
  • Facilitating access to instruments for climate financing at national and regional levels

3. Develop integrated, ecosystem-based regional ocean policies and strategies for sustainable use of marine and coastal resources, paying close attention to blue growth. This will be achieved by promoting application of guidelines, rules and regulations for exploitation and exploration of living and non-living resources within Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans and develop such instruments, where necessary, based on the ecosystem approach.

4. Enhance effectiveness of Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans as regional platforms for supporting integrated ocean policies and management. UNEP and the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans will

  • Support science-policy dialogue, science-based decisions and provision of regional guidelines
  • Support member states with developing integrated ocean policy and improve relevant national legislation to enhance chronological consistency and coherency across sectors
  • Enhance information exchange and interregional cooperation towards common goals
  • Encourage multi-stakeholder participation including NGOs and the private sector to promote compliance wıth Regional Seas instruments, existing guidelines and regulations of ocean management
  • Ensure the highest standards of Secretariat performance in support in administration of the Conventions and Action plan

In 2017, UNEP and the Regional Seas programmes started the implementation of the RSSD (2017-2020) and will conduct the final review of its implementation by the 22nd Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans.

Regional Seas Strategic Directions 2021-2024

The next regional seas strategic directions 2021-2024 is currently in discussion. It will seek to analyze lessons learnt from implementation of the 2017-2020 strategic directions as well as review the current global processes influencing the proposed strategic directions.