Collaboration between CBD and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands -- Ramsar report to CBD SBSTTA10


CBD SBSTTA10, Bangkok, Thailand, 7-11 February 2005

Collaboration between CBD and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands: progress in the development of ecological assessments and indicators

Report to SBSTTA10 by
Spyros Kouvelis (MedWet Co-ordinator, Ramsar Secretariat)

Mr Chairman,

Photo: Earth Negotiations Bulletin

Thank you for the opportunity to report on the continuing and enhanced collaboration between our Conventions, here concerning particularly our common interest in targets and indicators. This forms part of our on-going efforts to simplify and harmonise the joint implementation mechanisms of the CBD and Ramsar Convention for wetlands, in line with Ramsar's role under CBD Decision III/21 as a lead implementation partner for wetlands (both inland waters and coastal and nearshore marine systems), the 3rd CBD/Ramsar Joint Work Plan, and the implementation of the revised CBD programme of work on the biological diversity of inland waters adopted by CBD COP7 in 2004 - a programme which was developed jointly between Ramsar and CBD.

In particular I will address the joint development of targets and indicators for assessing the global 2010 biodiversity target, and the preparation of a range of inventory, assessment and monitoring guidance in support of this. In doing so, I will provide you with a topical update on the work of Ramsar's Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP), which met in its 12th session in Switzerland last week, and during which made significant progress in its preparation of a major range of updated and new guidance for consideration by Ramsar Contracting Parties at the Convention's ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to be held in Uganda in November this year.

In all, it is a pleasure to report significant further progress in establishing practical mechanisms for better harmonising the implementation and reporting between our two Conventions, a process which we believe continues to lead the way in the much requested and expected harmonisation between multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

Indicators. Members of the STRP and Ramsar Secretariat have contributed to the development of the proposed CBD indicators for assessing achievement of the 2010 biodiversity target, through participation in the Montreal expert group meeting which prepared the recommendations you are considering here.

In a related exercise, Ramsar Parties have requested the STRP develop a set of indicators for "assessing the effectiveness of the implementation of the Convention". The STRP has focused on identifying a set of ecological "outcome-oriented" indicators designed to complement the largely "process-oriented" indicators embodied in National Reports from Parties, and last week agreed a set of seven indicators for its first tranche for which it is now preparing fact-sheets for their application, and a further four indicators for possible future development.

This first tranche for Ramsar covers:

  • Overall conservation status of wetlands (inland, coastal and nearshore marine);
  • Status of the ecological character of Ramsar sites;
  • A water-related indicator - with elements focusing in the first instance on water quality, environmental flows and river fragmentation;
  • Frequency of threats affecting Ramsar sites;
  • Wetland sites with successfully implemented conservation or wise use management plans;
  • Population trends of wetland taxa - initially focusing on waterbirds; and
  • Changes in status of globally threatened wetland taxa - focusing initially on amphibians and waterbirds.

Data for some of these indicators will be collected at site level and then aggregated, but for others will be handled and presented at the river basin, biogeographic region or global scales. The Panel has also recognised the value of starting with qualitative, questionnaire-based methods for information acquisition, especially where quantitative data is lacking at present. The STRP has also recognised that there is still a serious lack of quantitative data at a global scale on the distribution, status and trends of many wetland types, both inland and coastal.

There are clearly very close links between our two sets of indicators, and the Ramsar fact-sheets will include identification of the contribution of these indicators to the 2010 target assessment and their relationship with the CBD indicators. But the Ramsar approach goes further than just trying to assess trends against this target, and will also seek to analyse trends in biodiversity status against relevant National Report process indicators so as to assess implementation effectiveness. It is anticipated that for at least some of the Ramsar indicators, a preliminary analysis and assessment will be prepared for Ramsar COP9.

Targets, Ramsar site designations and inland waters programme of work implementation. Through participation in the working group and Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group meetings, the Ramsar Secretariat and STRP members have worked jointly with CBD in the development of the targets for the inland waters and coastal and marine programmes of work, which you are considering here, and which we commend to you.

In doing so, the STRP has realised that the Ramsar Convention is lacking such equivalent targets for its implementation (other than the five broad targets for its Strategic Plan General Objectives). The Panel will be reviewing the outcomes of your target discussions here, with a view to linking your inland waters and coastal/marine targets, where appropriate, to Ramsar implementation processes, notably in relation to the role of Ramsar sites establishing comprehensive protected areas networks.

On a related matter, CBD COP7 Decision VII/4 on the inland waters programme of work invited the Ramsar Secretariat and STRP to review and as appropriate further develop the Ramsar site designation criteria and the guidelines for their implementation, so as to achieve more comprehensive coverage of the components of biodiversity recognised by CBD. I am pleased to report that the STRP's Working Group on these matters, also in response to a related Ramsar COP8 request, is responding to this in two ways.

First, it has recognised that the guidelines for Ramsar's existing Criterion 1 can and should be elaborated so as to cover all types of wetland ecosystem services as described by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), and notably that this can include socio-economic and cultural services derived from biodiversity.

Second, the STRP is proposing a new, ninth, quantitiative Criterion covering non-avian wetland-dependent taxa, including inter alia amphibians. It is intended that this will be supported by an assessment of population size data and 1% population thresholds from the IUCN Species Survival Commission and its Specialist Groups, in a manner equivalent to that well-established for waterbirds by Wetlands International's regularly updated global Waterbird Population Estimates products.

Inventory and Assessment. So as to assist Parties in using the burgeoning suite of implementation guidelines, the STRP is preparing several overarching implementation frameworks, which show how, when, and for what purpose to apply the Convention's more specific guidelines. Amongst these, it is preparing an integrated framework for inventory, assessment and monitoring. This will include guidance on several aspects of assessment including the relationships between environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment, risk assessment and vulnerability assessment. Supporting this will be additional guidance on economic valuation and on vulnerability assessment, an issue which has assumed increased significance in this region in the aftermath of the disastrous Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December last year.

In relation to this, the Ramsar Secretariat has requested Wetlands International and its other International Organisation Partner NGOs to establish a "Ramsar tsunami reference group" so as to provide assessment and management response guidance to the Convention's Parties, particularly concerning the extent to which natural coastal ecosystems (notably mangroves and coral reefs) can and have acted to mitigate the impacts of such natural disasters - and the extent to which conversion of such systems to other land uses increases vulnerability.

Access to reliable rapid assessment methodologies is vital for such assessment and advice. The CBD rapid assessment guidelines for inland waters and coastal and marine ecosystems, developed jointly with the Ramsar Convention and endorsed by CBD COP7, are therefore most timely. The STRP is creating a consolidated version of these guidelines, covering the full range of Ramsar wetlands for COP9 consideration, thus ensuring that consistent advice is provided to both CBD and Ramsar national focal points and administrative authorities.

Water and the wise use of ecosystems. The STRP is also preparing a related framework for addressing the critical relationships for human well-being between water and wetland ecosystems - which is becoming an increasing focus of Convention attention. Supporting this will be additional guidance on groundwater management, environmental flow assessment and allocation, and river basin management. I am also pleased to report to you that the River Basin Initiative (RBI) proposal jointly developed by CBD and Ramsar has now been submitted to UNDP-GEF, and a decision on funding is expected imminently. Implementation of this initiative is designed to support the efforts of our respective Parties and governments to ensure that the vital roles of wetland ecosystems are better recognised and reflected in water resource management practices.

Finally, the STRP has reviewed and is proposing to update definitions of the Convention's fundamental concepts of "Wise Use" and "ecological character", so as to also harmonise Ramsar definitions with the subsequently developed CBD ecosystem approach and sustainable use guidance. The Panel has also recognised that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) conceptual framework provides a valuable framework for the delivery of Wise Use, and for showing how and where to apply the Ramsar "toolkit" of Wise Use Handbooks of implementation guidance. This provides one of several examples of how the MA's work has contributed to the work of the Convention. At its meeting last week, the STRP also reviewed and endorsed the MA's Wetland Synthesis Report to the Ramsar Convention.

The key findings of the MA in that report stress the vital role and huge value of wetland ecosystems in supporting human well-being and poverty reduction - yet it also reveals that wherever one looks coastal and inland wetlands (and different wetland dependent taxa) continue to be in rapid and accelerating decline, and at rates faster that those of other terrestrial ecosystems, for example forests. Clearly, all our efforts to achieve the coastal and inland water targets you are considering establishing have never been more critical and urgent - yet much decision-making continues to ignore the implications of these wetland losses.

If we are to halt or, even better, reverse this alarming situation the message from the MA is very clear: we all need to rise to the challenge of shifting urgently to a fully cross-sectoral understanding and delivery of ecosystem values in decision-making. Continuing to focus only on sectoral biodiversity conservation will not achieve this; it needs full engagement of the other key sectors of governance whose business and decisions currently affect the capacity of wetlands to deliver their services - and without which the long-term achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for food and water security and poverty reduction will be jeopardised.

Thank you.

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