The Convention’s CEPA Programme


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The development of the Australian National Action Plan for CEPA, 2001-2005:
A summary of the Outreach Programme in Australia as it has unfolded over the last 2 years in response to the adoption of the Resolution on the Outreach Programme at Ramsar COP7 in 1999

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by Chris Prietto, Australia's CEPA NGO Focal Point
8 January, 2002

[Editor's Note:  As a means to encouraging other Contracting Parties to take the initial steps in developing their national CEPA Action Plan, I invited Chris Prietto, the NGO CEPA Focal Point for Australia to "tell the story" of how Australia developed its National Action Plan. From the selection of the Task Force, the challenge of interpreting the guidelines, and the national survey of CEPA "players", to the brainstorming, writing and re-writing to produce the final Action Plan, you can sense the many challenges facing the reviewers and action planners for wetland CEPA! You can view the fruits of their labours, the Australia CEPA Action Plan, right here. Finally, many thanks to Chris for responding so quickly and efficiently to my request, I am sure other CEPA Focal Points will find this stimulating reading.]

The first steps in the unfolding of the Outreach Programme in Australia were somewhat tentative. In the spirit of Outreach, the Task Force, which would drive the reviewing and action planning process for wetland CEPA, should have strong representation from the NGO community. Australia has "lots" of players. While this may seem enviable, for Environment Australia as the lead government agency this made things somewhat difficult. The problem was how to select the starting team without "stepping on toes".

A few of us volunteered straight away, and this at least provided a starting point. Beyond that, Environment Australia identified other criteria for including the initial organisations in the Task Force, including the field and scope of activity for each organisation, the level at which they were working and pre-knowledge of the task. Another major issue was funding, as the delivery of Outreach recommendations had to be achieved on a very small budget and would depend heavily on the good will of the individual Task Force representatives.

Representatives from the following organisations played a major role on the Task Force with guidance and funding assistance from Environment Australia:

The Wetlands Centre, Australia Australian Wetlands Alliance
Wetland Care Australia Wetlands International, Oceania
World Wide Fund for Nature Murray-Darling Basin Commission

These NGO organisations represent policy-focused organisations, fund-raising organisations, those which give priority to on-ground works, those which focus on wetland CEPA, and technical organisations. It represents only a sample of the groups, which could have participated directly in this stage. It is important to note that the make-up of the Task Force was dominated by NGO’s while State Government representatives from the existing National Ramsar Committee only joined the group later in the process. This has produced a document with a strong NGO perspective that represents a joint perspective from those organisations on the interpretation of the Outreach Programme.

Once we had our beginning team we probably lost one whole meeting achieving consensus on the meaning of keywords in the Outreach Programme, how they fit the Australian context, and what direction that gave us for delivering. Key words like communication, education and public awareness soaked up hours of discussion and debate! Behind these healthy tussles were more than a few strong minded and committed people with individual ideas about where it all should go. In the end, we all agreed that we had to start somewhere and soon.

Our agreed starting point was to develop and distribute a national survey, which would serve several purposes. Survey respondents represented a modest cohort with a strong connection to wetlands. We see this as a first sweep and intend to redo our survey for different audiences as part of the action plan. The responses confirmed:

  • broad agreement on the value of and need for improved CEPA;
  • the existence of a wealth of organisations, activities and products related to wetlands;
  • communication among organisations working in the same sphere was reasonably ok;
  • communication between spheres could be a lot better.

Following the survey we used the responses and our existing knowledge of who was in the field to identify organisations or groups of players that might play a lead role in the development and delivery of CEPA products. Strategies to successfully engage the interest, support and participation of these groups are of critical importance. Beyond the obvious, we identified other groups which also have an impact on wetlands

Wetland Centres and other related organisations: Australia has some 15 centres which are either identified as such or have a strong focus on wetlands or wetland species. There are number of other centres which are well positioned to support CEPA products and initiatives. As on-going symbols of CEPA in action, Wetland Centres are unbeatable. As vehicles for building capacity in wetland management they are also valuable. Having a network of them throughout a country, whether they be many or few, small or large, elaborate or simple, delivers a strong and constant message about wetlands.

Government Agencies: Governments, as the responsible agency, are in the best position to guarantee a place on the agenda for CEPA. Likewise, communication between and among government departments can only be driven by Government.

NGO’s: The NGO Community in Australia is active and varied. Specific agendas, lots of commitment and what sometimes looks like boundless energy are strong driving forces for these organisations. Although these organisations are often in flux, expanding or contracting, they are interested and valuable players.

Local communities: Community involvement is a major challenge for Outreach in Australia, as communities across the country are so varied, from very urbanised communities to indigenous communities for whom local wetlands are critical to their livelihood. Currently programmes such as Waterwatch have successfully involved communities across Australia. In other situations, such as through Wader Study Groups or local communities with historical knowledge banks, communities are in key positions to act as CEPA deliverers.

Private Sector: Opportunities for enlisting the interest and support of the private sector in wetlands are increasing, with a number of large initiatives currently available in Australia. Communities and NGO organisations can supply manpower and commitment, but they often cannot supply funds. There are some excellent examples of Private sector support around the world and we hope to develop and channel such initiatives towards CEPA objectives.

After 4 meetings over 12 months, lots of talking, lots of rewriting, lots of brainstorming, we produced our Action Plan in time for launching on World Wetland Day, 2001, but only just. Our final review and group rewrite took place in May of 2001 and it was only in November 2001 that we signed-off as a group, representing nearly two years of collaboration.

The CEPA Action Plan presents a national framework for the delivery of an international initiative. It aims to coordinate, but not to control, a collaborative approach to wetlands CEPA. It has been developed through a participatory process and successful delivery and implementation will likewise depend on participation. It is all about identifying and supporting effective communication methods and products and facilitating the exchange of information. A copy of the Australian CEPA Action Plan can be found on the Ramsar website.

What Next? The completion of the Action Plan in Australia can only be described as a difficult birth. In preparation for the job ahead, the Task Force has renamed itself as the Australian Wetlands Information Network, a name that more clearly describes what we hope to achieve over the next four years as we seek to implement the Action Plan. We face many challenges, which include low funding levels, the need for increased participation and the key task of building appreciation for CEPA as a valuable tool.

The Task Force agrees that the delivery of the action plan needs to be a fluid and evolving process with regular reviews. The Task Force also agrees that, while it had a role in developing the Action Plan, it is not realistic for the Task Force to be responsible for delivery of actions in most instances. Exceptions for Task Force management might include planning for World Wetlands Day and the identification of National Campaigns and slogans. Delivery of individual actions were seen to be best placed in the hands of individual organisations or groups in consultation with the Task Force.

The Outreach Programme has a number of recommendations, all of which can be approached in many different ways. Overall Outreach aims to increase and improve the use of communication, education and public awareness to improve wetland conservation. This account reflects the Australian experience, which should only be used as a guide; the process and the results in other countries must be useful in the context of that country. Australian Focal Points look forward to working with Focal Points from other countries to progress Outreach objectives world-wide.

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