What is the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands?


The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Thus, though nowadays the name of the Convention is usually written "Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)", it has come to be known popularly as the "Ramsar Convention". Ramsar is the first of the modern global intergovernmental treaties on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, but, compared with more recent ones, its provisions are relatively straightforward and general. Over the years, the Conference of the Contracting Parties has further developed and interpreted the basic tenets of the treaty text and succeeded in keeping the work of the Convention abreast of changing world perceptions, priorities, and trends in environmental thinking.

The official name of the treaty, The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, reflects the original emphasis upon the conservation and wise use of wetlands primarily as habitat for waterbirds. Over the years, however, the Convention has broadened its scope of implementation to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, recognizing wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation and for the well-being of human communities, thus fulfilling the full scope of the Convention text. For this reason, the increasingly common use of the short form of the treaty's title, the "Convention on Wetlands", is entirely appropriate.

The Convention entered into force in 1975 and now has nearly 160 Contracting Parties, or member States, in all parts of the world. Though the central Ramsar message is the need for the sustainable use of all wetlands, the "flagship" of the Convention is the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the "Ramsar List") – presently, the Parties have designated for this List more than 1,850 wetlands for special protection as "Ramsar sites", covering about 180 million hectares (1.8 million square kilometres), larger than the surface area of France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland combined.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) serves as Depositary  for the Convention, but the Ramsar Convention is not part of the United Nations and UNESCO system of environment conventions and agreements. The Convention is responsible only to its Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP), and its day-to-day administration has been entrusted to a secretariat under the authority of a Standing Committee elected by the COP. The Ramsar Secretariat is hosted by IUCN–The World Conservation Union in Gland, Switzerland.

The mission of the Ramsar Convention, as adopted by the Parties in 1999 and refined in 2005, is "the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world".

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The Convention today

Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

Ramsar Secretariat

Rue Mauverney 28
CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 22 999 0170
Fax: +41 22 999 0169
E-Mail: ramsar@ramsar.org
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