Ramsar Address to the Governing Council of UNEP, February 2003
Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Nairobi, Kenya, 3-7 February 2003
Statement by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971), 4 February 2003
Thank you for allowing me to address the Governing Council on behalf of the secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, the Ramsar Convention.
Let me touch upon a few issues on your agenda which are of particular interest to the Convention on Wetlands, and on which our cooperation with UNEP could be strengthened. We had the honour of having you, Mr. President, in attendance at our Conference of the Parties last November in Spain, where you kindly offered to host our next COP in Uganda in 2005. I am sure that you would agree with me that there are a good number of issues on which UNEP and Ramsar should be working more closely together. The fact that Ramsar is not a UN- or UNEP-administered convention has made our connection less intense, but in my view it should not be a question of who administers a convention, but rather a question of what we have in common when it comes to providing support and services to the Contracting Parties.
In the area of water, for example, our COP has adopted Guidelines for the allocation of water for maintaining the ecological functions of wetlands. These guidelines have now the status of soft law adopted through an intergovernmental process and could be applied, mutatis mutandis, to all aquatic ecosystems. They are at UNEP's disposal, and they could help in bringing UNEP to pay more attention to the question of the health and integrity of aquatic ecosystems, which in my view is not sufficiently present in the water strategy of a Programme whose prime concern should be to safeguard that integrity.
In this sense I was pleased to hear a number of countries calling upon UNEP to make a more active application of the ecosystem approach in its water-related work. The ecosystem approach was reaffirmed in the Plan of Implementation of WSSD, though I accept that some countries are still having problems with the definition and the application of the concept.
Our COP has also adopted guidelines on how to incorporate wetland issues in integrated coastal zone management, which could also be useful to UNEP in its quest to establish a better link between integrated river basin management and coastal zone management, a quest that we fully share.
The Ramsar COP also adopted guidelines for the identification and designation of coral reefs and mangroves as Wetlands of International Importance. I very much hope that the Governing Council, in its proposed decision on coral reefs, could call upon Ramsar Contracting Parties to apply those guidelines as much as possible, since Ramsar designation would be a means to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs.
We are presently working very closely with UNEP in the wetlands strategy within NEPAD and we are extremely pleased with the way this cooperation is evolving.
In the area of cultural diversity, at our last COP we had the same arguments of the pros and cons of taking up this issue in another forum outside UNESCO and WIPO, but finally the Ramsar COP adopted a resolution on Guiding principles for taking into account the cultural values of wetlands in the effective management of sites. If the proposed decision on cultural diversity is adopted by the Governing Council, we will be very pleased to work with UNEP and UNESCO in a joint effort to implement the decisions of our respective governing bodies in this area.
We are also fully associated with UNEP in the context of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and we would very much like to expand our association in other endeavors related to monitoring and assessment.
Finally, let me touch upon one more issue: synergies among conventions. Ramsar is proud of having been a sort of a pioneer in this area, by having taken a proactive approach in trying to work as closely as possible with the other conventions. We have made considerable progress, in particular with CBD, through the Joint Work Plans that have been adopted by our respective COPs. Our last COP has recognized the efforts made by UNEP in promoting synergies, but we consider that these efforts have been too timid. We very much hope that the Governing Council will agree to provide the necessary resources to UNEP to increase its work in this area, and in turn we hope that UNEP will be able to undertake a highly professional job in order to do so. Because promoting true synergies among conventions is a real need, but it requires serious dedication and high professional competence. Otherwise, we, the conventions, will continue to operate with very little coordination among us, and thus fail to bring to the Parties the concerted support that we could provide if our acts were put together in a more effective manner.
Mr. President, I wish you every success in conducting the business of this important meeting.
(Photo: Earth Negotiations Bulletin)