Important Environmental Conference,Conventions and Protocols


Does the plethora of conventions, conferences, protocols that appear in the Environment and Ecology syllabus confuse and put you off? This article is developed in order to make them simple to you. Before we probe in to the actual one, it is imperative to learn the background and process.

Let us understand some definitions.

A Conference is consulting together formally; a type of negotiations, there is only broad theme. In a conference the principle bodies are established for further deliberations if any required on the broad theme for which the conference is called for.

A Conventionis a meeting or gathering to formulate or deliberate on a generally accepted principleaframework in which the parties decide the basic guidelines.

(Note: Sometimes, the line between conference and a convention is very thin and sometimes they are interchangeably used because the outcome document of convention is arrived at the conference)

A Protocol to the convention is an agreement that diplomatic negotiators formulate and sign as the basis for a final convention where the parties set specific aims or legal obligations. Usually, when a major provision is to be incorporated on regulations of the convention, a protocol is called among the countries, who are signatory of the original convention when it was signed and approved.


The international laws or conventions on environment related issues arise under the two international organizations viz., IUCN and the UN. Though sometimes they work together, it is important differentiate which treaty arises from which organization and who handles the administrative and the financial aspects.

Under the UNO

The UN Charter does not specifically mention the environment or sustainable development. Both the General Assembly (UNGA) and the Economic and Social Council(ECOSOC –which is one of the 6 main organs of the United Nations) consider environmental questions.

The lead organization under the United Nations charter that deliberates on the environment related issues is the UN Environment Programme (UNEP is under the UN General Assembly organ of the UN)and theCommission on Sustainable Development is another forum for the countries to discuss the issues.

Economic and Social Council adopts a resolution to recommend the UN General Assembly to consider convening a UN conference on problems of the environment or UNGA may on its own pass a resolution to convene a conference on the issue.

So simply put,

Resolution (by ECOSOC / UNGA)à Conference àConvention à Protocol à Treaty


The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

  • Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland
  • It was previously called the International Union for Protection of Nature– IUPN (1948–1956) and the World Conservation Union (1990–2008).
  • IUCN has observer and consultative status at the United Nations, and plays a role in the implementation of several international conventions on nature conservation and biodiversity. (Note: It is not a member or part of the UN)
  • It is best known for compiling and publishing the IUCN Red List, which assesses the conservation status of species worldwide.

IUCN was one of the few NGOs formally involved in the preparations of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972). The Stockholm Conference eventually led to three new international conventions, with IUCN involved in their drafting and implementation:

  • To establish a stable financial basis for its work, IUCN participated in setting up the World Wildlife Fund (1961) now called the World Wide Fund for Nature WWF.
  • Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972). IUCN provides technical evaluations and monitoring
  • CITES- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1974) IUCN is a signatory party and the CITES secretariat was originally lodged with IUCN
  • Ramsar Convention – Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (1975). The secretariat is still administered from IUCN’s headquarters.
  • In 1975 IUCN started work on the World Conservation Strategy.

The Strategy was followed in 1982 by the World Charter for Nature, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, after preparation by IUCN.


Convention Name Year
RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands 1971
Stockholm Conference 1972
Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972
CITES 1973
Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals 1979
World Conservation Strategy 1980
Nairobi Declaration 1982
World Charter of Nature 1982
Vienna Convention for Ozone Layer 1985
Montreal Protocol for ODS 1987
Helsinki Declaration 1989
Basel Convention on Hazardous wastes 1989
Earth Summit 1992
CBD 1992
UN Convention on Desertification 1994
Kyoto Protocol 1997
Stockholm Convention on POPs 2000
Johannesberg Declaration 2002
UN World Summit 2005
Bali Summit on Climate Change 2007



  • 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 was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975 after UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the Convention’s depositary received the instruments of accession from the countries.


The Montreux Record

  • The Montreux Record is a register of wetland sites on the List of Wetlands of International Importance where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring, or are likely to occur as a result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference. It is maintained as part of the Ramsar List.


The convention entered into force in India on 1 February 1982.

India currently has 26 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), with a surface area of 689,131 hectares. See Appendix 1.

Keoladeo National Park, Loktak Lake, are designated in Montreux record, and Chilka lake was designated but removed since 2002.

The World Heritage Convention, 1972

The Convention recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

The Convention defines the kind of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage Listunder UNESCO

Established in 1992, the World Heritage Centre ensures the day-to-day management of the Convention.

There are 35 (27 cultural, 7 natural and 1 mixed) World Heritage Sites in India that are recognised by the UNESCO as of July 2016. See Appendix 2

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm June 1972

  • Generally called as the ―Stockholm Conference.
  • Itwas the first declaration of international protection of the environment. In the conference
  • Stockholm Declaration contains 26 principles. These principles provide the basis of anInternational Policy for the Protection and improvement of the environment.
  • The UnitedNations Environment Programme has been established by the UNGA in pursuance of the Stockholm Conference.
  • The Environmental Programmewas set up in Geneva in June 1972.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered species of Wild flora and fauna(CITES) 1973

  • It was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • The Conference aims to control or prevent international commercial trade inendangered species or products derived from them.
  • The Convention does not seek todirectly protect endangered species, rather it seeks to reduce the economic incentive topoach endangered species and destroy their habitat by closing off the internationalmarket.
  • India became a party to the convention in 1976. International trade in all wildflora and fauna in general and species covered under convention is regulatedthrough the provisions of the Wild life (protection) Act 1972.


  • The Convention on the Conservation of MigratorySpecies of Wild Animals (also known as the BonnConvention) aims to “conserve terrestrial, marine and avianmigratory species throughout their range.”
  • The Conventionfacilitates the adoption of strict protection measuresfor endangered migratory species, the conclusionof multilateral agreements for the conservation andmanagement of migratory species, and co-operativeresearch activities.
  • Marine Turtles, Siberian and Dugong are a part of the conservation under this convention which are related to India.


  • In 1975 IUCN started work on the World Conservation Strategy.
  • Stopping illegal trade of wildlife is one of IUCN’s priorities
  • The drafting process – and the discussions with the UN agencies involved – led to an evolution in thinking within IUCN and growing acceptance of the fact that conservation of nature by banning human presence no longer worked.
  • The World Conservation Strategy was launched in 35 countries simultaneously on 5 March 1980.
  • It set out fundamental principles and objectives for conservation worldwide, and identified priorities for national and international action.
  • It is considered one of the most influential documents in 20th century nature conservation and one of the first official documents to introduce the concept of sustainable development.
  • The Strategy was followed in 1982 by the World Charter for Nature, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, after preparation by IUCN.


  • World Charter for Nature was adopted by United Nations member nation-states on October 28, 1982. It proclaims five “principles of conservation by which all human conduct affecting nature is to be guided and judged.”
    • Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired.
    • The genetic viability on the earth shall not be compromised; the population levels of all life forms, wild and domesticated, must be at least sufficient for their survival, and to this end necessary habitats shall be safeguarded.
    • All areas of the earth, both land and sea, shall be subject to these principles of conservation; special protection shall be given to unique areas, to representative samples of all the different types of ecosystems and to the habitats of rare or endangered species.
    • Ecosystems and organisms, as well as the land, marine and atmospheric resources that are utilized by man, shall be managed to achieve and maintain optimum sustainable productivity, but not in such a way as to endanger the integrity of those other ecosystems or species with which they coexist.
    • Nature shall be secured against degradation caused by warfare or other hostile activities.

Nairobi Declaration 1982 to Stockholm Conference

  • The Nairobi Declaration was adopted at Nairobi for celebrating the 10thAnniversary of the Stockholm conference on human Environment in 1972.
  • The Declaration envisaged thecreation of a special commission to frame long term environment strategies for achievingsustainable developments upto the year 2000 and beyond.

Vienna convention for the protection of ozone layer (1985)

  • The convention was adopted on 22nd March, 1985 by the conference ofThe Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer is a Multilateral Environmental Agreement.
  • It is under the
  • The Vienna convention of 1985was the starting point of the global cooperation for protection of ozone layer. Later,adoption of Montreal protocol on substances that deplete ozone layer on 1987, theamendment in Montreal protocol in London (1990) and Vienna (1995).

Montreal protocol on substances that deplete ozone layer, 1987 to the Vienna Convention

  • The Protocol came into force in 1989.
  • The protocol settargets for reducing the consumption and production of a range of ozone depletingsubstances.
  • In a major innovation the protocol recognized that all nations should not betreated equally. The agreement acknowledges that certain countries have contributed toozone depletion more than others.
  • It also recognizes that a nation‘s obligation to reduce current emissions should reflect its technological and financial ability to do so. Becauseof this, the agreement sets more stringent standards and accelerated phase-out timetablesto countries that have contributed most to ozone depletion.
  • India accepted this protocolalong with its London Amendment in September 1992.
  • The Ministry of Environmentand Forest has established an ozone cell and a steering committee on the protocol tofacilitate implementation of the India country program, for phasing out ozone depletingsubstances production by 2010 to meet the commitments India has also taken policydecisions.
  • The Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000 weredrafted under Environment (protection) Act, 1986.

Amendment to Montreal Protocol, 2017

  • 170 countries have reached a historic deal to phase out Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) after years of protracted and at times seemingly intractable negotiations in Kigali, Rwanda accepted an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that will see developed countries reduce their use of HFCs from 2019.
  • HFCs are potent greenhouse gases with a significantly higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide and are widely used as refrigerants, aerosol sprays and in solvents. HFCs have been widely used as an alternative to Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) since the Montreal Protocol came into effect to prevent ozone depletion.
  • Developed countries must reduce HFCs use by 10% by 2019 from 2011-2013 levels, and 85% by 2036.
  • A second group of developing countries, including China and African nations, are committed to launching the transition in 2024. A reduction of 10% compared with 2020-2022 levels should be achieved by 2029, and 80% by 2045.
  • A third group of developing countries, including India, Pakistan and Arab Gulf states, must begin the process in 2028 and reduce emissions by 10% by 2032 from 2024-2026 levels, and then by 85% by 2047.

Basel convention on trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes, 1989

  • The industrialized world in the 1980s had led to increasing public resistance to the disposal of hazardous wastes – in accordance with what became known as the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) syndrome – and to an increase of disposal costs. This in turn led some operators to seek cheap disposal options for hazardous wastes in the developing countries, where environmental awareness was much less developed and regulations and enforcement mechanisms were lacking
  • The Convention came into force in 1992.
  • The objectives of the convention are toreduce trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes, to minimize the creation of suchwastes and to prohibit their shipment from Developed countries to the LDCs
  • India ratified the convention andenacted Hazardous Wastes Management Rules Act 1989, encompasses some of theBasal provisions related to the notification of import and export of hazardous wastes,illegal traffic and liability.

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), 1992

  • In continuation of Stockholm Declaration, 1972 and the Nairobi Declaration,1982 the third major Declaration was held in Rio-de-Janeiro in Brazil in the year 1992.
  • Hence it is termed as Rio-Declaration and attended by over 150 countries. Hence, it isalso well known as ―Earth Summit.
  • It discussed global and environmental problemsvery widely.
  • It was the biggest International Conference in the history of Internationalrelations – was also called as the “Parliament of the planet” then.

The formal process of UNCED culminated in the adoption of fivedocuments, namely

  • Rio Declaration– a statement of broad principles to guide national
    conduct on environmental protection and development.
  • Agenda-21, a massive documentcontaining a detailed action-plan for sustainable development.
  • Legally Non-Binding Principles of Forestry.
  • Convention on Climate Change and
  • Convention onBiodiversity.

The Rio Declaration

  • The Rio Declaration was adopted in the conference recognizing the universal and integral nature of Earth and by establishing a global partnership among states and enlisting general rights and obligations on environmental protection.
  • The RioDeclaration is a statement of 27 principles for the guidance of national environmentalbehaviour and enlisting general rights and obligations on environmental protection.
  • Rio principles placed human beings at the centre of sustainable development concerns by stating that humans are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature
  • The gist of those principles are happy and healthy life to all people in the world in order to achieve this goal, concept of sustainable development has been established.
  • To achieve sustainable development, states shall reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, exchange of scientific and technological knowledge, compensation for adverse effects of environmental damage caused by activities with in their jurisdiction or control to areas beyond their jurisdiction, precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states polluter should bear the cost of pollution, Environmental impact assessment as an instrument to monitor the likely environmental effects.


  • It is a comprehensive action plan which gives a future plan in relation to
    environment and development.
  • The Agenda emphasizes on issues like poverty, health consumption patterns, natural resource use, financial resources human settlements and technological
  • It also includes energy, climate and other wide range of issues concerning
    environment and development.
  • Agenda-21 is not a binding document but it constitutes the key document of the Rio

U.N. Frame Work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992

  • In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as a framework for international cooperation to combat climate change by limiting average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and coping with impacts that were, by then, inevitable.
  • The primary goals of the UNFCCC were to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions atlevels that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the global climate.
  • The convention embraced the principle of common but differentiated responsibilitieswhich has guided the adoption of a regulatory structure.
  • India signed the agreement inJune 1992 which was ratified in November 1993. As per the convention the reduction/limitation requirements apply only to developed countries. The only reporting obligationfor developing countries relates to the construction of a GHG inventory.
  • Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement are a part of the UNFCCC

Kyoto protocol, 1997

  • The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits State Parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the premise that (a) global warming exists and (b) human-made CO2 emissions have caused it.
  • The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005.
  • There are currently 192 parties to the Protocol.

Some of the principal concepts of the Kyoto Protocol are:

  • The main feature of the Protocol is that it established legally binding commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases for parties that ratified the Protocol. The commitments were based on the Berlin Mandate, which was a part of UNFCCC negotiations leading up to the Protocol.
  • Implementation. In order to meet the objectives of the Protocol, Parties are required to prepare policies and measures for the reduction of greenhouse gases in their respective countries. In addition, they are required to increase the absorption of these gases and utilize all mechanisms available, such as
    • joint implementation
    • Clean development mechanism and
    • Emissions trading, in order to be rewarded with credits that would allow more greenhouse gas emissions at home.
  • Minimizing Impacts on Developing Countries by establishing an adaptation fund for climate change.
  • Accounting, Reporting and Review in order to ensure the integrity of the Protocol.
  • Compliance. Establishing a Compliance Committee to enforce compliance with the commitments under the Protocol.


  • The Paris Agreement (French: Accord de Paris) is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.
  • It was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 (Earth Day) at a ceremony in New York. As of December 2016, 194 UNFCCC members have signed the treaty, 131 of which have ratified it.
  • The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions pledged during the 2015 Climate Change Conference serve—unless provided otherwise—as the initial nationally determined contribution.
  • The emission reduction efforts will be made in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ̊C by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 ̊
  • The implementation of the agreement by all member countries together will be evaluated every 5 years, with the first evaluation in 2023.
  • The Paris Agreement has a ‘bottom up’ structure in contrast to most international environmental law treaties which are ‘top down’, characterised by standards and targets set internationally, for states to implement.
  • Unlike, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets commitment targets that have legal force, the Paris Agreement, with its emphasis on consensus-building, allows for voluntary and nationally determined targets.
  • The Paris Agreement still emphasizes the principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibility”—the acknowledgement that different nations have different capacities and duties to climate action—it does not provide a specific division between developed and developing nations.
  • The SDM is considered to be the successor to the Clean Development Mechanism, a flexible mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, by which parties could collaboratively pursue emissions reductions for their INDCs. The Sustainable Development Mechanism lays the framework for the future of the Clean Development Mechanism post-Kyoto (in 2020).
  • Not part of the Paris Agreement (and not legally binding)is a plan to provide US$100 billion a year in aid to developing countries for implementing new procedures to minimize climate change with additional amounts to be provided in subsequent years (The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a fund within the framework of the UNFCCC )
  • The agreement stated that it would enter into force (and thus become fully effective) only if 55 countries that produce at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. (US and China together contribute 40% of the emissions.)

Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives:

  • The conservation of biological diversity
  • The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity.
  • The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources
  • The Convention was opened for signature on 5 June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio “Earth Summit”).
  • This convention is a legally binding framework treaty that has been ratified by180 countries.
  • The areas that are dealt by convention are conservation of biodiversity,sustainable use of biological resources and equitable sharing of benefits arising fromtheir sustainable use.
  • The convention came into force in 1993. Many biodiversity issuesare addressed including habitat preservation, intellectual property rights, biosafety andindigenous people‘s rights.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to CBD

  • The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on 11 September 2003.

Stockholm Convention on POPs, 2004

  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is an international environmentaltreaty, signed in 2001 and effective from May 2004, that aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
  • In 1995, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called for global action to be taken on POPs, which it defined as “chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment”.

UN Conference on Sustainable Development (2012)

  • It was the third international conference on sustainable development aimed at reconciling the economic and environmental goals of the global community.
  • It is also known as Rio 2012 / Rio+20 / held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 20th anniversary of Earth Summit
  • 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.
  • The report was themed “The future we want“.

Leave a Comment

× WhatsApp Us (24x7) for queries