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History of the Convention and its Protocol

The Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, asserted the responsibility of States to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (principle 21 in the Declaration ). In 1975, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe   referred to ECE to follow up on the concept of environmental impact assessment (EIA). By the early 1980s, EIA procedures were in place in a number of ECE member States and, in 1982, a Groups of Experts on EIA was established under the Senior Advisers to ECE Governments on Environmental and Water Problems. In January 1987, the UNEP Group of Experts on Environmental Law elaborated the concept of EIA in a transboundary context.

Then later in 1987 the ECE Group of Experts held a seminar on EIA in Warsaw. The rapporteur for the topic "EIA in Specific Circumstances" was Robert Connelly (Canada). In the absence of papers from member States, Mr Connelly drafted a summary focussing on EIA in a transboundary context. The Group of Experts recommended to the Senior Advisers the development of a framework agreement on EIA in a transboundary context. The Senior Advisers subsequently agreed to establish an ad hoc meeting to elaborate a draft. Six negotiating meetings followed, from October 1988 to September 1990.*

The Senior Advisers, at their fourth session held in Espoo (Finland) from 25 February to 1 March 1991, adopted the Convention on 25 February 1991 (session report ECE/ENVWA/18). This was followed by the Convention’s signature by the European Community (now European Union) and twenty-nine States in the period up to 2 September 1991. The Convention was opened for ratification, acceptance, approval and accession from 3 September 1991. Poland was the sixteenth State to ratify the Convention, 12 June 1997; the Convention entered into force ninety days later on 10 September 1997 (latest status ).


Subsequent development:

Number of Parties to Convention**

Number of Parties to Protocol**


First Meeting of the Parties, Oslo, 18-20 March 1998








Second Meeting of the Parties, Sofia, 26-27 February 2001, included adoption of a first amendment to the Convention






Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties, Kyiv, 21 May 2003, for the adoption and signature of the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment




Third Meeting of the Parties, Cavtat (Croatia), 1-4 June 2004, included adoption of a second amendment to the Convention










Fourth Meeting of the Parties, Bucharest, 19-21 May 2008








Fifth Meeting of the Parties to the Convention, and first to the Protocol, Geneva, 20-23 June 2011



Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment

In 1995, the third ‘Environment for Europe’ Ministerial Conference, held in Sofia (Bulgaria), welcomed the Sofia Initiative on Application of Environmental Impact Assessment (Sofia EIA Initiative). Following up on the Sofia EIA Initiative, recommendations   were made by Croatia and the Regional Environmental Center for Central for Central and Eastern Europe (REC-CEE) to the fourth ‘Environment for Europe’ Ministerial Conference, held in Aarhus (Denmark) in 1998, on the use of SEA in Central and Eastern Europe and in Newly Independent States. The Conference invited countries to introduce or carry out SEAs. (The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was also adopted at the Aarhus Conference, and is generally referred to as the Aarhus Convention.)

In 2000, a background paper on options for developing a legally binding UNECE instrument on SEA was discussed at sessions of the Committee on Environmental Policy (Seventh Session), the Meeting of the Signatories to the Aarhus Convention and the Espoo Convention’s Working Group on EIA (CEP/WG.5/2000/9, MP.EIA/WG.1/2000/16). The Working Group on EIA decided in principle to proceed with negotiation of a Protocol on SEA.

This decision was supported in 2001 when the Meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention decided to start negotiations on a protocol to the Convention addressing SEA (decision II/9). The UNECE Member States, with the exception of Canada and the United States of America, then negotiated a draft Protocol on SEA at a series of eight meetings, beginning in May 2001 and lasting until January 2003. The provisions of the Espoo and Aarhus Conventions and the European Community (now Union) Directives on EIA and SEA influenced those negotiations. Negotiation of the Protocol began just as the European Parliament and Council of the European Union (EU) adopted the SEA Directive (European Union Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment) in May and June 2001. The SEA Directive greatly influenced the negotiation of the Protocol. However, there are a number of important differences between the two legal instruments, including the geographical scope and the consideration and integration of environmental concerns in the preparation of policies and legislation.

The Protocol negotiations concluded in January 2003 and an extraordinary meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention adopted the Protocol on 21 May 2003, in Kyiv (Ukraine), during the ‘Environment for Europe’ Ministerial Conference. Thirty-six States and the European Community (now Union) signed the Protocol (Montenegro later succeeded to signature). The Protocol entered into force on 10 July 2010 (latest status ).


* The first two paragraphs above are based on Robert Connelly's article The UN Convention on EIA in a Transboundary Context: A historical Context, published in Environmental Impact Assessment Review 1999:19:37-46.

**On the first day of the respective Meeting of the Parties, taking into consideration that a State only becomes a Party 90 days after the deposit of its instrument of ratification, etc. (art. 18, para.3).

© United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe – 2013