Glossary for MEAs

of MEAs related terms

This glossary briefly lists the definition of the major legal or environmental terms used in the Legal CHM, in the listed  MEAs and during SPREP activities. For a more detailed glossary please refer to the
MEA Negotiator's Handbook or to the UNEP MEAs Negotiators Glossary.


In practice acceptance is used instead of ratification when, at a national level, constitutional law does not require an agreement to be ratified by the Head of State. Acceptance has the same legal effect as ratification.
 Accession Act whereby a State becomes a Party to an international agreement already negotiated and 
closed for signature. Accession has the same legal effect as ratification, although an acceding State has not signed the agreement.
 Accreditation Approval and assertion of the fact that credentials submitted by delegates to a particular meeting are in order.
 Ad hoc
Latin word meaning “for this purpose.” An ad hoc committee, for example, is created with a unique and specific purpose or task and once it has studied and reported on a matter, it is discontinued.
1) Actions taken to help communities and ecosystems cope with changing climate conditions 
2) Genetically determined characteristic that enhances the ability of an organism to cope with 
its environment (CBD).
Adaptation Fund
Fund established under the Kyoto Protocol to provide support for adaptation projects.
1) Adoption by a country of an international agreement refers to the process of its 
incorporation into the domestic legal system, through signature, ratification or any other 
process required under national law.
2) Adoption by the international community of an international agreement is the formal act by 
which the form and content of a proposed treaty text are established.
3) Adoption of a decision, resolution, or recommendation is the formal act (e.g. strike 
of gavel) by which the form and content of a proposed decision, resolution or recommendation are approved by delegations.
Advanced Informed Agreement
Principle or procedure whereby the international exchange of resources or products that could have adverse effects on the environment should not proceed without the informed agreement of, or contrary to the decision of, the competent authority in the recipient country.
1) Generic term for an international legally binding instrument. In this sense, encompasses several instruments, such as treaties, conventions, protocols or oral agreements.
2) Specific term used to designate international instruments that are sic “less formal”, thus 
corresponding to soft law and deal with a narrower range of subject-matter than treaties
Alien Species
Species occurring in an area outside of its historically known natural range as a result of 
intentional or accidental dispersal by human activities. Alien species are not necessarily invasive species.
1) A modification or addition to an existing legal instrument (e.g., treaty, convention, or protocol).
2) A modification to a proposal under negotiation (e.g., draft decision, draft recommendation, or draft resolution).
In practice, approval has been used instead of ratification when, at a national level, constitutional law does not require an international agreement to be ratified by the Head of State. Approval has the same legal effect as ratification.
Binding Adjective that means an instrument entails an obligation (usually for States) under international law
Biodiversity  Shorthand for biological diversity. Variability among living organisms from all sources including 
terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems (CBD, CITES, CMS, Ramsar, WHC).
Biological resources  Genetic resources, organisms or parts thereof, populations, or any other biotic component of 
ecosystems with actual or potential use or value for humanity (CBD).
Set of measures or actions addressing the safety aspects related to the application of biotechnologies (see biotechnology) and to the release into the environment of transgenic plants and other organisms, particularly microorganisms, that could negatively affect plant genetic resources, plant, animal or human health, or the environment.
A formal structure that oversees the running of meetings. The Bureau is usually composed 
of representatives of each regional group and a secretariat representative. In some instances, such as the International Conference on Chemicals Management, an extended bureau may be created that includes intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations.
Clearing House Mechanism
The term originally referred to a financial establishment where checks and bills are exchanged 
among member banks so that only the net balances need to be settled in cash. Today, its meaning has been extended to include any agency that brings 
together seekers and providers of goods, services or information, thus matching demand with supply. The CBD has established a Clearing-house Mechanism to ensure that all governments have access to the information and technologies they need for their work on biodiversity.
Funding principle according to which funded activities must be coherent with national programmes and policies to maximize global environmental benefits.
Fulfillment by a Party of its obligations under an international agreement.
Conference of the Parties (COP)
One of the designations for the main negotiating body under an international agreement. The COP is a policy-making body that meets periodically to take stock of implementation of the agreement and adopt decisions, resolutions, or recommendations for the future implementation of the agreement.
A mode of adoption of decisions, resolutions, or recommendations without voting. A decision is adopted by consensus if there is no formal explicit objection made. Whether there is consensus on an issue or not is determined by the presiding officer on the basis of the views expressed by delegates and his/her subjective assessment of the sense of the meeting.
Contracting Parties
A State which has consented to be bound by an international agreement, whether or not the international agreement has entered into force (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties).
Formal expression of the will of the governing body of an international organization or international agreement. Usually binding but may also correspond to soft law.
A formal statement of aspirations issued by a meeting. Usually issued by high-level representatives. A declaration is not binding.
Representative of a State or organization who has been authorized to act on its behalf and whose credentials are in order.
Team of delegates to a meeting from the same country or organization.
Dynamic complex of plant, animal, micro-organism communities and their non-living environment, interacting as a functional unit (CBD). Ecosystems exist irrespective of political boundaries.
Ecosystem approach
Strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way (CBD, FAO, Ramsar Convention).
Ecosystem services
Processes and functions provided by natural ecosystems that sustain life and are critical to 
human welfare.
Range of procedures and actions taken by a State and its competent authorities to ensure that persons or organizations failing to comply with laws or regulations are brought back into compliance or punished through appropriate action.
Entry into force
Coming into legal effect of an international agreement, i.e. time at which an international 
agreement becomes legally binding for the States that have ratified it or acceded to it or otherwise expressed their consent to be bound by the agreement.
Environmental Impact Assessment
Process by which the environmental consequences of a proposed project or programme are evaluated and alternatives are analyzed. EIA is an integral part of the planning and decision-making processes.
Environmentally Sound Management
In terms of the Basel Convention, the phrase is defined as taking all practicable steps to ensure that hazardous wastes or other wastes are managed in a manner which will protect human health and the 208 Multilateral Environmental Agreement Negotiator’s Handbook PACIFIC REGION environment against adverse effects which may result from such wastes.
Latin phrase meaning “not the original or natural environment.”
Framework Convention
Convention that provides a decision-making and organizational framework for the adoption of 
subsequent complementary agreements (e.g., Protocol). Usually contains substantial provisions of a general nature, the details of which can be provided in the subsequent agreements.
General clauses/provisions Clauses/provisions of an international agreement or decision that create the context, principle and directions helping the understanding and application of the rest of the agreement or decision.
Global Environmental Facility
Launched in 1991, the Global Environment Facility provides grant and concessional funds to developing countries and EITs for projects and programmes targeting global environmental issues: climate change, biological diversity, international waters, ozone layer depletion, land degradation and persistent organic pollutants. Its implementing agencies are UNEP, UNDP, and the World Bank. Designated as the operating entity of the financial mechanism for some MEAs (e.g., the CBD and the UNFCCC).
Hard Law Term used to describe the legally binding nature of various agreements or provisions, which leave no or little room for discretion. Often opposed to soft law.
Hazardous Waste
Wastes that exhibit one or more hazardous characteristics, such as being flammable, oxidizing, poisonous, infectious, corrosive, or ecotoxic (Basel Convention).
Implementation For a Party to an international agreement, implementation refers to the process of adopting relevant policies, laws and regulations, and undertaking necessary actions to meet its obligations under the agreement.
In situ Latin phrase meaning “within the original place.” In situ condition is the condition of genetic resources in their ecosystems and natural habitats and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties (CBD).
Institutional clauses/provisions
Clauses/provisions of an international agreement that relate to the institutions established under the agreement.
Inter alia  Latin term meaning “among other things.” The term is often used in legal documents to compress lists of Parties and such like.
International Seabed Authority International organization established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to address matters related to the regime for the seabed and ocean floor, and subsoil thereof located outside the limits of national jurisdiction (i.e. “The Area” as designated pursuant to Part XI of UNCLOS). 
Invasive Species  A species that invades natural habitats.
Memorandum of Understanding A simplified type of international instrument, which can be concluded between States, between States and international organizations or between international organizations. MoUs can provide a framework for cooperation or be concluded for specific time-bound activities.
Mitigation In the context of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, mitigation refers to actions to cut net emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce climate change as a consequence.
Multilateral Environmental Agreement
A generic term for treaties, conventions, protocols, and other binding instruments related to the environment. Usually applied to instruments of a geographic scope wider than that of a bilateral agreement (i.e., between two States).
Must  As negotiating language, “must” creates an obligation to act for the addressee. It is binding
Mutatis Mutandis Latin phrase meaning “with such changes as are necessary on the points of detail” (e.g., “the dispute settlement provisions of the Convention apply mutatis mutandis to the Protocol”).
New and additional financial resources
1) Financial resources that are provided in addition to the UN target level of 0.7% of Gross National Product (GNP) for Official Development Assistance (ODA).
2) Financial resources that are new and additional to annual general ODA funding which has remained constant or increased, in absolute terms or in ODA/GNP terms.
Non-Party Informal text aimed at facilitating negotiations. It is not a formal proposal.
Notification Formal communication that bears legal consequences (e.g. start of a time-bound period)
Objection Oral or written statement by which a delegation informs a meeting that it objects to the adoption of a proposed decision, resolution, recommendation, or measure.
Obligation clauses/provisions Clauses/provisions of an international agreement or decision that provide for the actions to be taken, individually or jointly, by the Parties to achieve the objectives of the agreement or decision.
Non-State or State actor invited to participate in a limited capacity in discussions during negotiations. Observers are not allowed to negotiate text and have no voting powers. In practice, some observer States do engage in negotiations but do not participate in final decision-making.
Plenary The main meeting format of a COP or a Subsidiary Body. Decisions or recommendations approved by sub-sets of the Plenary have to be forwarded to the Plenary for formal final adoption.
Plenipotentiary Individual who carries or has been conferred full powers to represent their State or government in negotiations.
Policies and Measures
Steps taken or to be taken by countries to achieve greenhouse-gas emissions targets under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.
Preamble Set of opening statements, called “recitals,” of an international agreement, decision, resolution, or recommendation that guides the interpretation of the document. Often contrasted with the operative paragraphs.
Precautionary approach/principle
Approach/principle according to which the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing action where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the environment or human health. The approach/principle is embedded in several instruments, including Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The phrase “precautionary approach” is often used in negotiations to infer a less definite meaning than the precautionary principle.
Prior Informed Consent Consent to be acquired prior to accessing genetic resources or shipping internationally regulated chemicals, substances or products. Granted by competent authorities on the basis of the information provided by the partners to a prior informed consent agreement. The notion is linked to the principle of the Advanced Informed Agreement.
Protocol 1) International legal instrument appended or closely related to another agreement, which constitutes a separate and additional agreement and which must be signed and ratified by the Parties to the convention concerned. Protocols typically strengthen a convention by adding new, more detailed commitments.
2) Rules of diplomatic procedure, ceremony and etiquette.
3) Department within a government or organization that deals with relations with other missions.
Provisional Agenda  Draft agenda of a meeting that has yet to be adopted.
Ratification Formal process by which a Head of State or appropriate governmental official or authority signs a document that signals the consent of the State to become a Party to an international agreement once the agreement has entered into force and to be bound by its provisions.
Recommendation Formal expression of an advisory nature of the will of the governing body of an international organization or international agreement. It is not binding.
Secretariat The body established under an international agreement to arrange and service meetings of the governing body of that agreement, and assist Parties in coordinating implementation of the agreement. Also performs other functions as assigned to it by the agreement and the decisions of the governing body.
Signatory  A State that has negotiated and signed an international agreement.
Act by which the Head of State or government, the foreign minister, or another designated official indicates the authenticity of an international agreement and, where ratification is not necessary, it may also indicate the consent of the State to be bound by the agreement.
Soft Law The term used for quasi-legal instruments that either do not have any binding force or whose binding force is somewhat “weaker” than the binding nature of traditional law that is often referred to as “hard law”. In the field of the international law, soft law consists of non treaty obligations that are therefore non-enforceable and may include certain types of declarations, guidelines, communications and resolutions of international bodies (e.g. Multilateral Environmental Agreement Negotiator’s Handbook PACIFIC REGION 225 
resolutions of the UN General Assembly). Soft-law may be used to encourage broader adhesion to a proposal.
Sound Management 
Taking all practicable steps to ensure that management takes place in a manner which protects human health and the environment against the adverse effects of activities, processes, products or substances
Specialized Agency Autonomous international organization linked to the United Nations through specialagreement.
Status quo Latin phrase meaning “the current state of affairs.”
Steering Committee Restricted group of individuals planning the work of a major meeting. Deals exclusively with procedural matters.
Strategic Environmental Assessment
Procedure for incorporating environmental  onsiderations into national policies, plans and 
programmes. Sometimes referred to as “strategic environmental impact assessment.”
Subsidiary Body A body, usually created by the governing body of an international agreement or international 
organization, with a specific mandate (e.g., Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and 
Technological Advice under the CBD). Different from a working group in that it is usually permanently established to assist the governing body.
Sui generis A Latin term meaning “being the only example of its kind; constituting a class of its own; unique”. Often used to describe a unique (legal) system.
Summit Meeting at which the participants are high-level officials, such as Heads of State or Government.
Traditional Knowledge The knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous people and local communities. 
Traditional knowledge is the object of various MEA provisions, including Article 8(j) of the CBD.
Transboundary movement
Movement from an area under the national jurisdiction of one State to or through an area under the national jurisdiction of another State or to or through an area not under the national jurisdiction of any State.
Treaty International agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties).
Umbrella Agreement  Framework Agreement
Unanimity  Type of decision-making. A decision is adopted by unanimity when it has received the support of all delegations. Established by show of hands, voting, or other means.
Working-group 1) During a meeting, a sub-division of the Plenary mandated to negotiate specific issues of the 
agenda, usually arranged by clusters. Open to all Parties.
2) Between meetings, a subsidiary body established by the governing body of an international agreement to provide it with advice on specific issues. These working groups can be open-ended and meet periodically, or be time-bound and meet once only. Open to all Parties. Example: the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Working Group on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing under the CBD.
Working Paper Informal paper used during a meeting to support negotiations.