Ramsar COP8 - Address by WWF International on behalf of the IOPs

"Wetlands: water, life, and culture"
8th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties
to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
Valencia, Spain, 18-26 November 2002

SPEECH Embargoed for 15.00 hrs GMT 18 November 2002
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Address on behalf of of International Organisation Partners to 8th Ramsar Convention Conference of Contracting Parties, Valencia, Spain

Dr Claude Martin, Director-General, WWF - On behalf of BirdLife International, IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Wetlands International and WWF.


In 1971 NGOs played a major role in the creation of this Convention. Today, Ramsar continues to engage civil society organisations more than almost any other convention. I bring you the greetings of the four Ramsar International Organisation Partners - non-government organisations - that provide official support to the Ramsar programme - BirdLife International, IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Wetlands International, and my own organisation WWF - the World Wide Fund for Nature.

We value the basis of trust and respect with which the Contracting Parties and the Bureau accept our organisations as Partners. At a time when the efficiency of multi-lateral institutions is being questioned, this eighth Conference of Parties is a prime opportunity to celebrate a remarkable treaty process that is making tangible progress to ensure effective wetland conservation at global, regional and local levels.

We thank our Spanish hosts for their excellent organisation of the Conference and their hospitality. Spain is a nation with a close relationship to wetlands and where water is a key element of this great nation's cultural and natural wealth. Many great wetlands located in this country have been a source of inspiration for conservation initiatives globally.

The timely theme of this Conference is "Wetlands: Water, Life and Culture". I wish to highlight some of the links between these following the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Progress from COP7 to COP8

The last Conference was a milestone for the Convention, adopting significant tools and guidance for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. Notable at COP7 was the dialogue with indigenous and local peoples and commitment to their role in the wise management of wetlands. The Conference agreed on a range of strategies to improve the systematic application of the Convention, and we must take stock at this conference of our efforts to implement them.

Our organisations have actively contributed to the successes of the Convention since we last met in Costa Rica in 1999. I will not regale you with tales of our efforts, as now is the time to look forward and ask what more can we achieve?

The International Organisations Partners also wish to acknowledge - in his last COP as Secretary-General - the leadership of Delmar Blasco in strengthening the position of the Convention. The acceleration in activities to achieve the Convention's mission is in no small part due to his vision and enthusiasm.

The last decade has seen the Ramsar Convention's mission increasingly recognized in the mainstream of world environmental affairs - most recently in the marine section of the Plan of Implementation from the World Summit for Sustainable Development. We must seize the opportunity of this Conference of Parties to continue the process of "mainstreaming" the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Future of the Convention

Our organisations endorse the 15 challenges identified by the Secretary-General in his report to this conference.

We urge delegates not just to think about how they should react to what the meeting puts in front of them, but to be proactive and define today what they want from this Conference and what they hope for from the Convention in the coming triennium.

Our organisations want to highlight two areas where a marked improvement is required to fulfil the Convention's mission - starting at this COP:

1. Implementing commitments

We wish to see the commitments made at these Conferences fully implemented. We highlight the fact that a number of Contracting Parties have done more for wetland conservation than they pledged at CoP7 - such as Algeria, Bolivia and the United Kingdom. These countries are a model for us all.

Regrettably, however, not all Contracting Parties have shown the same dedication. For example, at CoP7 Contracting Parties committed to designating 398 new Ramsar sites by this Conference. As of a few weeks ago, only 30% of these pledges had been implemented. Further, there is little evidence of national implementation of a more strategic approach to the conservation and wise use of wetlands, such as designation of under-represented wetland types or adoption of national wetlands strategies. Further, some Ramsar sites had parts destroyed with little evidence of application of full assessment and remedial measures.

It is with respect for Spain and the long history of wetlands conservation work in this country that I must raise concerns about the Spanish National Hydrological Plan. We ask whether the economic, social and environmental implications of this Plan and alternatives to it have been assessed. At the occasion of COP8, we look to the government of Spain to provide global leadership and to demonstrate its commitment to the Ramsar Convention. We look to the government of Spain to apply the provisions of the Convention in a transparent and effective manner.

Our organisations have supported the rapid development of the extensive resolutions, guidelines and Ramsar 'tool kit' over the last three Conferences of Parties. However, the real value of this impressive body of work will be in its implementation. There is a need for more direct assistance to Contracting Parties on Ramsar site management, wise use of wetlands, national wetland management programmes, and managing competing demands for water.

The assistance sought by most Contracting Parties cannot be supported by the Convention's meager budget. A comparison between the Ramsar Convention and other international environment conventions reveals that it continues to be a 'poor cousin', receiving just 20-40% of the funds of comparable treaties, such as CITES. The Ramsar Bureau does give remarkable service and produce the highest quality products. The Standing Committee has proposed a budget increase of just 5% per year for the next triennium. We urge the Contracting Parties to support this minimal increase, and to see what they can do to make the additional voluntary contributions that will be needed to achieve what this COP is proposing as the programme of work.

2. Increasing Ramsar's voice in world conservation affairs

We want to see Ramsar increasing its voice in the world it's doing well, but let us support all opportunities for it to be even more assertive in the global sustainability debate. The spotlight is on all multilateral environment agreements now, as never before, to account to wider audiences for the difference they make in the hard, post - World Summit realities of the 21st century. This does not mean abandoning the focus on the wetland conservation and wise use agenda the Ramsar Convention's strength - but it does mean working to improve the Convention's penetration of higher levels of decision making in national governments and international processes.

The World Summit highlighted the pre-eminence afforded to the Millennium Development Goals, national Poverty Reduction Strategies and Integrated Water Resources Management Plans by many governments and multilateral institutions. Those of us engaged in the Ramsar Convention must ensure that the role of the conservation and wise use of wetlands in eradicating poverty and in the sound management of water is recognized and supported in these plans.

Although we need to invest in building the capacity of Ramsar Administrative Authorities, we cannot ignore the fact that other ministries and players have the capacity to achieve conservation - or cause degradation. In most cases the Ramsar Administrative Authorities can increase their efforts to have the Convention's wise use guidance adopted in critical processes. One example is the lack of reference to the Convention in the freshwater section of the Plan of Implementation from the World Summit for Sustainable Development.

For the Ramsar Convention to play a more meaningful role in water allocation, impact assessment, dams, invasive species, wetland and river basin management, planning, ecosystem restoration and agriculture - as it should - then this conference must decide how we collectively engage other water management agencies.


In conclusion, the Ramsar Convention is not just a discussion forum but also a binding treaty, with solemn commitments that have to be implemented in a fair and accountable way in the interests of all Parties.

The strength and relevance of the Convention extends beyond wetlands management, and its guidance needs to be applied to mainstream water, marine and ecosystem management and influence relevant policies and legislation.

The International Organisation Partners call on all participants to use these days of the COP to secure the best shared and strengthened understanding of what the Convention means in practice - and reach out to new audiences - at a time when the world needs healthy wetlands more than ever.

Our organisations look forward to working with you at this Conference and in the next triennium to achieving even more. Thank you.

For further information, or to arrange interviews with Dr. Claude Martin:
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager, WWF Living Waters Programme, Tel. +41 79 372 1346, email: LHadeed@wwfint.org
Mitzi Borromeo, Press Officer, WWF International, Tel. +41 79 477 3553, email: MBorromeo@wwfint.org

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