Press coverage of the Evian Project protocol signing

22/03/1998

(4 February 1998)

[The following article by Lawrence Speers appeared in International Environment Reporter and expresses very well the Evian Project's importance as the first significant participation of the private sector in implementation of the Ramsar Convention.]

Reprinted with permission from International Environment Reporter, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 109-110 (Feb. 4, 1998). Copyright 1998 by the Bureau of National Affairs Inc. (800-372-1033). <http://www.bna.com>

France

FOOD CONGLOMERATE TO PARTIALLY FUND WETLANDS PRESERVATION UNDER RAMSAR TREATY

PARIS – French food conglomerate Danone January 27 signed a pact to partially fund wetlands preservation efforts under the Ramsar Convention, making it the first private-sector enterprise to ever associate itself to the international conservation treaty.

Danone will participate in a wetlands water quality action program initiated by the French government as a protocol to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, also known as the Ramsar Convention. Signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, the convention was the world’s first nature conservation treaty and remains the only treaty dealing specifically with wetlands preservation (INER Reference File 1,21:0201).

The new protocol will fund a series of measures over the next three years to improve wetlands management at sites covered by the treaty worldwide. Focusing primarily on improving communications, networking, and management technique exchanges among wetlands conservation authorities, the protocol highlights the importance of water resource protection within the domain of wetlands preservation.

Danone, which produces Evian spring water, among other products, will make an initial contribution of FFr 4 million (US$ 650,000) to the FFr 6.5 million ($1.05 million) wetlands water quality action plan. A nongovernmental organization, the French Fund for the World Environment [French Global Environment Facility], will add the remaining FFr 2.5 million ($400,000).

A second plank of the protocol will see the French city of Evian and the government-run Conservatory for Coastal Areas and Lake Shores (Le Conservatoire de l’Espace Littoral et des Rivages Lacustres) provide FFr 7 million ($1.15 million) for creation of a Ramsar Information Center at a conservatory-owned property on the French lake shore of Lac Leman.

The site, which faces the Swiss lakefront headquarters of the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, will host seminars aimed at raising awareness of the importance of wetlands conservation among public officials from developing countries.

Private Sector Involvement Hailed

For Delmar Blasco, secretary general of the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, the protocol is "a very significant development. Not for the amount of money involved, which is actually quite small, but for the symbolic value of seeing a major private sector enterprise get involved in the Ramsar Convention."

Having recognized that governments have limited resources for environmental protection, the 1997-2002 strategic plan for wetlands conservation approved during the 1996 meeting of the contracting parties to the treaty in Brisbane, Australia, laid the groundwork for private sector involvement through protocols to the convention, Blasco told BNA January 27.

"In principle, all the contracting parties are engaged in implementing the strategic plan, so we hope to see other governments and private sector firms moving in a similar direction," Blasco said.

Danone has undertaken water preservation activities near the city of Evian, where it has produced 1.3 billion liters of bottled mineral water annually for decades, said Danone President Franck Riboud at the signing ceremony January 27. "Water is a fragile resource, and that is why Evian and the entire Danone Group are concerned about preserving both its quantity and quality worldwide," Riboud said.

Associating itself to the Ramsar Convention is a "gesture of citizenship for the company," Riboud said, adding that the firm would seek to promote water quality protection and wetlands conservation through its subsidiary operations in some 150 countries worldwide.

The new protocol will reinforce implementation of the Ramsar Convention in France, which only ratified the treaty in 1995, according to French Minister of Environment and Territorial Development Dominique Voynet, who also spoke at the signing ceremony. The information exchange aspect of the protocol should aid French wetlands preservation experts seeking to undo years of environmental degradation inflicted by industry and agriculture on the country’s 18 Ramsar-listed sites, comprising some 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres).

Voynet praised the business-government-NGO partnership and expressed hope that the new Ramsar Information Center near Evian would serve to "break down the terrible lack of understanding as to the economic and environmental importance wetlands bring to bear in their surrounding communities."

Photos of the protocol signing ceremony here.

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