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United Nations System-Wide

Postal Address

The Administrative Secretary of GESAMP
Marine Environment Division
International Maritime Organization
4 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7SR, UK 

Internet http://gesamp.imo.org 


GESAMP was established in 1969. It now is co-sponsored between eight organizations: International Maritime Organization (IMO), Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), World Health Organization (WHO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), United Nations (UN), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 

Organization and Dynamics

Membership: GESAMP is flexibly organized. Each of the sponsoring bodies appoints a Technical Secretary and IMO an Administrative Secretary. Together these nine individuals form the Joint Secretariat. Moreover, each of the sponsoring bodies appoints up to four experts to serve as GESAMP members. Members meet annually, in sessions, to discuss past work and organize future work. The substance of this work is carried out in Working Groups which meet intersessionally. The participants of each Group, chaired by a GESAMP member, are appointed by GESAMP drawing also on experts beyond the membership. Groups are established for the purposes of carrying out specific projects only and then disbanded. Projects, in turn, are initiated by GESAMP at the request of one or more of the sponsoring bodies and usually last for up to two or three inter-sessional periods. Although sponsored, the decision to approve and publish a report is made exclusively by the experts themselves. 

Experiences with Membership Composition, Selection and Organization: While the foci of GESAMP's work have changed, certain characteristics are judged to be at the heart of its success over the years. 
- Interdisciplinarity: GESAMP is seen by its proponents as a valuable example of an interdisciplinary body. However, it does focus specifically on the natural sciences. Projects have been rejected in the past on the basis that they were not interdisciplinary enough or involved economics and politics to a larger degree.
- Avoiding Duplication: The major accomplishment of GESAMP, it is claimed, is that is minimizes duplication in the efforts of the various sponsoring UN bodies. Equally, the balance between GESAMP's independence and close link with intergovernmental processes is also valued.
- A Varied Membership: Experts from approximately 40 countries have participated in GESAMP. While, this number is impressive, in absolute terms the overwhelming majority of participants have, however, been from North America and Europe. 

Review of GESAMP:
A review, by Stjepan Keckes, some years ago pointed out some problems which warrant mentioning here. First, funds are missing to continue to support GESAMP at a level to maintain its integrity. The main feature seems to be, that having a scientific advisory body that succeeds over the longer-term requires stable funding. Second, GESAMP suffers from two organizational problems:
1. the principle of limiting membership of each expert is ignored often by sponsoring agencies and some experts have acquired a 'semi-permanent status, thus diminishing the opportunity for introducing new experiences, ideas and approaches;
2. the problem of geographical representation threatens to 'politicize' GESAMP, which is relevant here insofar as independence is valued, both by the participants and the policymakers over the longer term (integrity and trust need to be built); and, GESAMP likes to align itself very closely with policy process, but to remain separate. Keckes notes that this is part of its success. However, the more analytic GESAMP reports become, i.e. looking at cause-and-effect relationships, the closer it will come to policymaking processes. 

The administrative Secretary of GESAMP has also published an article reviewing GESAMP's role some years ago (Oleg Khalimonov (1995) 'Report on GESAMP and its role for the protection and sustainable development of the marine environment' Ocean and Coastal Management 29(1-3):297-302). 

The report of CSD-7 states: “The Secretary-General and the executive heads of the agencies and organizations of the United Nations system sponsoring [GESAMP] should be invited to review the Group's terms of reference, composition and methods of work, with a view to improving its effectiveness and comprehensiveness while maintaining its status as a source of agreed, independent scientific advice.” More recently, the sponsoring organisations of GESAMP have agreed to review the efficiency of the Group including operational structures and mechanisms. 

Major Areas of Work

GESAMP's principal task is to provide scientific advice to its co-sponsors, i.e. IMO, FAO, UNESCO-IOC, WHO, WMO, IAEA, UN and UNEP. These ask for advice on issues and aspects raised during meetings of their bodies, e.g. committees, sub-committees, ad hoc groups, etc. Such requests for advice are not necessarily connected with the implementation of international conventions. In the past GESAMP has prepared studies on many issues, including: the fate of emissions in the atmosphere, the pathways of radioactive substances discharged into the sea, the use of chemicals in aquaculture, the effects of thermal discharges, and ocean energy developments. GESAMP has further prepared studies regarding the impact of hydrocarbons on the marine environment, as well as those of a range of substances entering the marine environment from all sources. 

GESAMP acts as advisory process to the MARPOL 73/78 Convention. Relative to IMO conventions, GESAMP Working Group One, or the EHS Working Group of GESAMP (GESAMP Working Group on the Evaluation of the Hazards of Harmful Substances Carried by Ships), was established in 1974. It formally carries out hazard evaluations of chemicals carried in bulk (Annex II substances) or as packed goods (Annex III substances) by ships, for the MARPOL 73/78 Convention. Results of the working group go directly to the Marine Environment Protection Committee of IMO, London, for the assignment of pollution categories. To date, 30 experts from 11 countries have served under 6 chairmen. The group has convened 36 times up to February, 2000, and about 2200 substances, mixtures and industrial formulations have been assessed. The group reports annually to GESAMP. (Reference: Wells, P.G., T. Hofer and M. Nauke. 'Evaluating the hazards of harmful substances carried by ships: the role of GESAMP and its EHS working group,' The Science of the Total Environment (237/238:329-350, 1999).) 

Recent Publications

In 2000, GESAMP will publish two major assessments at the request of UNEP. These are:
- A Sea of Troubles is the first in a planned biennial look at critical issues arising in the area of marine environmental protection and is targeted at the public and decision-makers. 
- Land-Based Sources and Activities Affecting the Quality and Uses of the Marine, Coastal and Associated Freshwater Environment. This report was requested by the Conference that adopted the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA/LBA) in Washington, D.C. in 1995. 

In addition to these assessments GESAMP has recently prepared studies on integrated coastal management, marine biodiversity, the revision of hazard evaluation procedures and on the safe and effective use of chemicals in aquaculture. 

Linkages with Sponsoring and Other Bodies

FAO: GESAMP just approved the publication of the report of Working Group 31 - Environmental Impacts of Coastal Aquaculture - entitled "Planning and Management for Sustainable Coastal Aquaculture Development", which was prepared primarily for FAO. Other recent GESAMP reports and studies on the environmental impacts of coastal aquaculture and coastal management issues include "Towards Safe and Effective Use of Chemicals in Coastal Aquaculture (1997); The Contributions of Science to Integrated Coastal Management (1996); Monitoring the Ecological Effects of Coastal Aquaculture Wastes (1996); and Biological Indicators and Their Use In the Measurements of the Condition of the Marine Environment (1995).

IMO: At the request of IMO and its Marine Environment Protection Committee, GESAMP has initiated a Working Group on Estimates of Oil Entering the Marine Environment from Sea-Based Activities. This working group has met several times and is well on the way to completing their report. GESAMP expects to approve publication of the report at its meeting in August, 2001. The draft report has also been provided to the US National Academy of Sciences to assist in their review of oil in the sea.

GIWA: GESAMP has been involved with the initial efforts in GIWA in several ways. The Vice Chair of GESAMP (currently Dr.. Michael Huber) is an ex-officio representative to the GIWA Steering Committee, and through that representative GESAMP has provided considerable advice relative to individuals and topics for GIWA Task Teams. Several GESAMP members are members of GIWA Task Teams, and Dr. Per Wramner, Director of GIWA, has been present at the last 2 GESAMP meetings.

WHO: In cooperation with WHO, and as part of the GESAMP Marine Environmental Assessment Working Group, GESAMP and WHO jointly supported a special report by Prof. Hillel Shuval entitled "A Preliminary Estimate of the Global Disease Burden Associated with Disease Caused by Wastewater Pollution of the Marine Environment". This report, which will be part of the two major reports to be published this year, identifies clearly for the first time very serious human health effects from sewage. It is believed that this will generate great interest and concern among the public, the media and policy-makers.

IOC/UNESCO: GESAMP members have often been involved actively with the IOC/UNESCO Health of the Ocean Working Group of IOC, and these individuals have contributed to several IOC strategic documents and programs on the health of the oceans. 

At the recent meeting of GESAMP in Monaco, GESAMP agreed to take on several scoping activities in areas of potential concern relative to the protection of the marine environment. These are as follows:

a) IMO has requested that GESAMP consider the need for evaluating methodologies for Ballast Water Management control to minimize the risks of alien species transfer, including the elaboration of guidance for setting criteria and standards reflecting the efficacy of such ballast water control measures. Mr. Rick Boelens, a member of GESAMP, will prepare a feasibility study of this for GESAMP and IMO.

b) FAO introduced a proposal on aquatic (ecotoxicological and microbiological) environmental hazard assessment methods for application in seafood safety risk assessment and management. GESAMP agreed that the proposed work under this proposal would be significant to issues related to human health and the oceans. It was agreed that a scoping document would be prepared by GESAMP members and other interested organization for presentation at the GESAMP meeting in 2001.

c) IOC, with the likely cooperation of SCOR (the ICSU Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research), agreed to support a scoping activity to evaluate whether a joint working group on the issue of intentional fertilization of the coastal and pelagic oceans is desirable. There are currently a number of proposals to add either iron or nitrogen to nutrient-limited regions of the ocean, and there is significant concern about the biogeochemical, legal, and policy implications of such artificial nutrient enrichments.

d) GESAMP, FAO and EIFAC (European Inland Fisheries Advisory Committee) plan to cooperate in the exchange of information on endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and the preparation of a scoping document by GESAMP on the implications for marine ecosystems of exposure to EDCs. This work is proceeding between May 2000 and August 2001. 


Prepared by Jan-Stefan Fritz for the Second Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development, 2000
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