International Environmental Conventions and Protocols

by | Mar 7, 2023 | Environment

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An International Environmental Convention is a type of treaty that focuses on environmental issues such as climate change, global warming, air pollution, biodiversity loss, ecological conservation, and protection. These International Environmental conventions are binding in international law and are tools for supporting environmental protection and promoting cooperation and development of global environmental laws and efforts.

Today, environmental conventions are essential in the international community as climate change worsens year after year. We need to protect our environment today more than ever. These conventions help us to achieve that goal.

In general, a convention is a formal agreement between nations or states. It is generally a treaty negotiated under an international organization. Whereas a protocol is a way in which a convention can be modified. The amendments made by the protocols are not binding on countries that have accepted the original Convention.

List Of International Environmental Conventions

We have listed the most famous International Environmental Conventions with their purpose and year of establishment.

Ramsar Convention

The Ramsar Convention (Convention on Wetlands) holds much international importance as it was the first modern treaty between nations to conserve natural resources. The Convention was adopted in 1971 in a small Iranian town called Ramsar. The Convention gets its name from the town.

Under this Convention, a wide variety of ecosystems and habitats, whether natural or human-made, can be classified under wetlands. Wetlands include salt marshes, coral reefs, bodies of water, inland rivers, marine waters, etc. The Ramsar Convention promotes the designation of sites that contain rare, endangered, or vulnerable wetlands as Ramsar sites to conserve their biological diversity in them.

International Environmental Conventions and Protocols


Sites designated as Ramsar sites are included in the Convention’s List of Wetlands of International Importance. By signing this Convention, countries agree to set up and organize a management framework to preserve wetlands. India has added 52 wetland sites under the Ramsar Convention.

Stockholm Convention

The Stockholm Convention on the Persistent Organic Pollutants was adopted on the 22nd of May 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden, by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries. This Convention came into force on the 17th of May 2004. It is an international treaty to protect human and planetary health from toxic chemicals that endure in the atmosphere for quite some time, spread, are inhaled by humans and wildlife, and later severely impact human and planetary health.

In response to this serious issue, the Stockholm Convention required its signatories to take effective measures to remove or reduce the release of POPs into the atmosphere. According to Article 1 of the treaty, the Convention’s main intent is to protect human and planetary health from POPs. One hundred eighty-five nations participated in the Stockholm Convention.


CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is a global treaty between nations to regulate or ban international trade in species that are extremely endangered. Due to growing species extinction and illegal wildlife trade, 21 countries addressed this problem by signing the CITES treaty in 1973.

After nearly four decades of signing the agreement, CITES is today one of the cornerstones of international conservation. It has 183 parties and controls trade in over 35,000 species. CITES nations meet once every two or three years to review the progress and adjust the list of protected species. The Convention brings together law enforcement officers from national parks, police agencies, wildlife authorities, etc., to tackle wildlife crime targeted at animals like rhinos and elephants.

Convention on Biological Diversity

CBD, or Convention on Biological Diversity, is an international treaty for the conservation and protection of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components. The Convention was established in 1992 and signed by 196 countries.

The main objective of this Convention is to promote efforts to protect biodiversity, ultimately leading to a sustainable and better future. The Convention covers biodiversity at all levels, including species, genetic resources, and ecosystems.

The Convention’s governing body is the COP: Conference of the Parties. It is the authority of all parties that have agreed to this treaty; it meets every two years to review, prioritize and develop plans.

Bonn Convention

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also called the Bonn Convention, is the name of an international treaty adopted in Bonn, Germany, in 1979. The Convention came into force in 1983. The regions and nations where migratory species travel from are brought under this Convention to enable measures for their protection and conservation.

International Environmental Conventions and Protocols


The objective of the Bonn Convention is to protect migratory species of wild animals and their habitats. This is the only international treaty that focuses on migratory species and works under the support of the United Nations Environment Programme. This Convention contains legally binding agreements and non-legally binding MoUs modified according to conservation needs.

Vienna Convention

The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer is an international treaty adopted in 1985. By 1985, the world has witnessed several advancements in the scientific understanding of ozone reduction and its impacts on human and planetary health. The creation of the Vienna Convention was to protect the ozone layer in response to this issue.

This treaty is a framework convention that lays out several principles and objectives adopted by its parties. The Convention signed by all countries involved took effect in 1988. It aims to encourage global cooperation among states by exchanging information on the effect of human actions on the ozone layer. This could motivate policymakers to adopt measures to tackle those activities responsible for ozone depletion.

Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an important agreement that controls the production and consumption of almost 100 human-made chemicals, also known as ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Parties adopted the Convention on the 15th of September 1987. It is a landmark convention as the Protocol to date is the only treaty ratified by every country on the planet- 198 United Nations Member States.

The Convention tries to reduce the production and consumption of various ODS step-wise, with different timetables for developing and developed countries. All signatories have different responsibilities to reduce ODS, control their trade, licensing systems to control their imports and exports, etc.

The treaty has evolved due to new developments and continues to be modified. The treaty’s governing body is the Meeting of the Parties, while the Ozone Secretariat assists the parties.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted on the 11th of December 1997, has 192 parties. The Protocol only came into force on the 16th of February 2005, as the ratification process was a bit complex. The Protocol puts into operation the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialized economies and countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions according to a set of agreed individual targets.

The Protocol is based on the provisions and principles of the Convention on Climate Change and follows its structure. It mainly focuses on developed countries and places a heavier burden on them. It does so because it recognizes the large amounts of greenhouse gases emitted by developed countries.

International Environmental Conventions and Protocols


Annex B of the Protocol includes binding emission reduction goals for around 37 industrialized countries in transition and the European Union. There was a 5 per cent emission reduction between 2008 and 2012 (the first commitment period) compared to emission levels in 1990.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCC established a legal framework and principles for global climate change cooperation to balance greenhouse gas emissions to prevent severe interference with the climate system.

According to the Convention, stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions would need to happen within a time frame to enable ecosystems to adapt to climate change and ensure that food security is not threatened. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, was to boost the effectiveness of this 1992 convention.

The UNFCC came into being mainly to support and begin a process for future agreements about how to respond to climate change and global warming.

Rio Summit

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also called ‘Rio Summit’ or ‘Earth Summit’ was a global conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

The summit was held on the 20th anniversary of the Human Environment Conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972. The Rio Summit highlighted the different economic, social, and environmental factors and how success in one sector requires efforts in other sectors.

The summit’s main objective was to create a schedule and a new plan for international action on environmental and development issues. It concluded that sustainable development was an achievable goal for the world, whether at the local, national, or international level.

Some of the great achievements of the summit include the Rio Declaration, the UNFCC, Declarations of the Principles of Forest Management, etc.


The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, signed in 1994, is the only legally binding agreement connecting the environment and development to sustainable land management. The UNCCD addresses the arid regions known as drylands- where some of the most vulnerable and rare ecosystems and species reside.

The parties meet every two years in the Conferences of the Parties and other meetings throughout the year. When land degrades and fertile land diminishes as the years go by, women are differentially affected as they have an important role in agriculture. Agriculture is the main livelihood of around 80 per cent of all employed women in developing and least developed countries.

The UNCCD focuses on the major role played by women in areas affected by desertification and drought.

Basel Convention

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, adopted in 1989, came into force in 1992. This Convention is the most detailed and inclusive international agreement on hazardous wastes and other kinds of waste.

As of the 31st of March 2011, the Convention has 175 parties- almost universal membership. The Basel Convention aims to protect human and planetary health against the severe effects of transboundary movements and the management of hazardous wastes.

The Basel Convention commits its parties to ensure that hazardous waste is disposed of and managed efficiently and in an eco-friendly manner. It covers most kinds of waste like toxic, explosive, flammable, and infectious waste.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is a treaty that oversees the movements of living modified organisms (LMOs) caused by modern biotechnology from one country to another. Signed on the 29th of January 2000 as an additional agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity, it came into force on the 11th of September 2003.

This Protocol aims to protect and preserve biological diversity from the risks posed by LMOs. It ensures that countries are provided with adequate information to make informed decisions before importing such organisms into the country.

Article 1 of the Protocol, it aims to ensure the protection of safe transfer, handling, and use of LMOs- which may affect the biological diversity and human health in a region.



The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries is the United Nation’s advisory and knowledge platform on various forest solutions to climate change. It was established in 2008 and adds to the capacity and expertise of three UN agencies- the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the United Nations Environment Programme.

The objective of the UN-REDD is to help realize forest solutions to the ongoing climate crisis by preventing emissions and promoting carbon sequestration. So far, it has 65 partner countries and helps them implement the Paris Agreement to prevent deforestation, encourage sustainable land use, and increase international cooperation.

Nagoya Protocol

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is a global treaty aiming at sharing the benefits from genetic resources in a just and equal manner. The Protocol adopted in 2010 came into force on the 12th of October, 2014. It implements the obligations of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The genetic resources from microorganisms, animals, and plants are valuable in developing enzymes, molecules, and enhanced genes. These resources can help in drug development, crop protection, production of chemicals, and various other fields. Sharing these resources is vital to biodiversity-rich nations and the global community.


The Katowice Climate Change Conference included COP24- the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC. It occurred from the 2nd to the 14th of December 2018 in Katowice, Poland.

The main objective of COP24 was to finalize a handbook that would guide countries toward going below the 2 degrees Celsius target established by the Paris Agreement. Besides this, the parties also discussed various emission reduction targets and the need to gather financial commitments toward the $100 billion goals set up by COP15 in 2019.


The Paris Climate Conference or 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UNFCC happened from the 30th of November to the 11th of December 2015 at Paris-Le Bourget.

International Environmental Conventions and Protocols


According to the International Panel on Climate Change recommendations, the COP21 led to a new climate agreement aiming to keep global temperatures at 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. France, the host of COP21, is committed to supporting a negotiation process and listening to all the stakeholders to finalize an agreement.

Around 197 parties committed to formulating long-term emission reduction strategies. This was the first time that a global agreement was reached against fighting climate change.

Kigali Amendment

In the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, delegates from around the world gathered from the 10th to the 15th of October 2016 for the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

Over 170 countries agreed to amend the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer during the meeting aimed at protecting the climate and the ozone layer. The amendment is known as the Kigali Amendment.

The amendment aimed to cut down hydrofluorocarbons by reducing their production and consumption. The Montreal Protocol has become a much more powerful instrument in fighting climate change with the amendment.

Minamata Convention

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a multilateral agreement that addresses certain human activities that significantly contribute to the spread of mercury pollution. Adopted in 2013, it is the most recent international agreement on health and the environment.

The Convention is named after the area of Minamata, where a mercury poisoning incident occurred. In the 20th century, industrial wastewater with high mercury levels poisoned hundreds of people from Minamata, resulting in various health damages.

Since the Convention, parties have been working together to control mercury supply and trade and raise public awareness.

Rotterdam Convention

The Rotterdam Convention is an international agreement established to help countries make proper decisions regarding trade in toxic chemicals. It sets down a list of covered chemicals and requires countries that want to export a chemical first to prove that another country has allowed the chemical’s import.

The Convention covers industrial chemicals and pesticides that meet the criteria for listing under the Convention. The chemicals are subject to the ‘Prior Informed Consent procedure if they are included in Annex III of the Convention. You can view the list of chemicals here.


The 25th Conference of the Parties held from the 2nd to the 13th of December 2019 in Madrid, Spain, had to finalize the Paris Agreement Article 6 (rules of future global carbon markets) and review the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

The slogan of the conference was ‘Time to act‘. The main objective of COP25 was to raise ambitions beyond the goals of the Paris Agreement. It also encouraged a shift to climate and energy solutions that ensure temperatures stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The negotiations were promising and disappointing due to the compromise offered by negotiators and the failure to deliver some pending issues.

Also Read: Costly Coffee: Climate Change Is The Culprit


  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.

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