30th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee -- Agenda paper SC30-4

30th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee
Gland, Switzerland, 13-16 January 2004
Agenda item 6.1

DOC. SC30-4

Report of the Chair of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel

Action requested: The Standing Committee is invited to receive the Report of the Chair of the STRP and to weigh the issues identified as arising from the implementation of the STRP's modus operandi, with a view possibly to the preparation of a revised modus operandi for CoP9 consideration.

1. This report covers the first seven months of the work of the STRP since it met for the first time during this triennium in April 2003. It first makes some general observations on progress and then identifies a number of key issues emerging from the experience to date of applying the STRP's modus operandi adopted by CoP8 Resolution VIII.28. Information on the progress of each of the tasks being undertaken by the Panel's Working Groups and other processes established by the Panel, in the form of tabular summaries, is provided as an Annex.

2. A report on progress in the implementation and work of the STRP Support Service is provided separately in DOC. SC30-5.

General progress

3. The 11th meeting of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel, held on 8-11 April 2003, reviewed the tasks allocated to it by CoP8 and previous CoPs and the priorities established for these tasks by the 29th meeting of the Standing Committee.

4. The STRP established six Working Groups to undertake the substantive work for each of the six high priority areas identified to the Panel by the Standing Committee. Two co-leads for each Working Group were appointed by the Chair of the STRP. The Working Groups are as follows:

Working Group 1: Wetland inventory and assessment
Max Finlayson (Australia) & Lijuan Cui (China)

Working Group 2: Wise use concept
Steve Edwards (IUCN) & Randy Milton (Canada)

Working Group 3: Water resource management
Heather MacKay (South Africa) & Rebecca Tharme (IWMI)

Working Group 4: Ramsar site designation
David Stroud (UK) & Dick Ho (Malaysia)

Working Group 5: Wetland management
Francisco Rilla (Uruguay) & Frank Alberts (RIZA-Netherlands)

Working Group 6: Assessing the effectiveness of implementation of the Convention
Teresita Borges (Cuba) & David Pritchard (BirdLife)

5. In the course of the meeting, each Working Group established the scope of, and mechanisms for, each of its requested tasks; identified timeframes and lead persons for undertaking these tasks for delivery to the Standing Committee and CoP9; established whether a mid-term workshop or workshops would be needed to progress its work; and identified for which tasks it would need additional expertise and/or resources.

6. The STRP also established mechanisms for addressing high priority cross-cutting issues of communication, education and public awareness (CEPA) and agriculture in the work of each of the six Working Groups.

7. The STRP also agreed ways and means for progressing some of the work indicated by the Standing Committee as lower priority, with the exception of work on incentives, through the identification of a lead organization or organizational representative to develop the work requested; agreed mechanisms for delivering the ongoing tasks of the Panel; identified several key strategic issues for the Convention in the future; and identified tasks which it proposed to defer until the 2005-2008 triennium.

8. The STRP's proposed Work Plan 2003-2005 was approved by circulation by the members of the Standing Committee in May 2003.

9. Despite the helpful prioritization of work areas made by the Standing Committee, it must be noted that within the six areas directed as high priority there still are a very large number of substantive specific tasks, which involve the preparation by the Panel of some 26 major technical reports, reviews and guidelines for Parties. It needs to be recognized that this is a very challenging programme of work for the Panel to complete given its current capacities and levels of resourcing.

10. Under the STRP modus operandi approved by CoP8, the expert Working Groups are now working largely through electronic discussion mechanisms until the next and final meeting of the Panel during this triennium in December 2004. However, all Working Groups have now indicated that they wish to hold a mid-term workshop in mid-2004 to review and revise draft materials.

11. Subsequent to its 11th meeting and the approval of its Work Plan 2003-2005, co-leads and members of the Working Groups have been further defining terms of reference, scope, contents and timeframes for a number of their tasks, and further identifying which tasks require additional funding for their implementation.

12. As planned, STRP's Working Group 6 on the effectiveness of implementation of the Convention has completed the first phase of its work, and a separate paper proposing a suite of indicators of Convention effectiveness has been prepared by the Working Group co-leads with the assistance of the Secretariat for the Standing Committee's consideration (see DOC. SC30-7).

13. To facilitate the work of the Working Groups, the STRP Support Service, provided by Wetlands International under contract from the Ramsar Secretariat, has established a mini-Web site, with separate pages of resource materials, access to a searchable experts' database, and a discussion forum with associated e-mail listserver for each Expert Working Group. Similar mechanisms have been established by the STRP Support Service for other work areas in the STRP's work plan 2003-2005. The STRP Web site is password accessible to all members and observers of the STRP and to those additional experts who have been invited by the co-leads of each Expert Working Group to contribute to the work of their groups.

14. The STRP Support Service has been assiduous in assisting Working Groups with utilising the facilities of the STRP Web site and in reminding groups of their established deadlines, as well as in reporting on progress to the STRP Chair and Vice-Chair and the Ramsar Secretariat.

15. The Working Groups have now identified that a significant number of their tasks require additional resources to engage professional assistance in preparing draft guidelines and other reports and materials. These tasks and their estimated costs have been compiled by the STRP Support Service and provided to the Ramsar Secretariat, which is currently seeking funds to undertake this work through voluntary contributions from Parties and others. An update on progress on this fundraising will be provided to the Standing Committee at its 30th meeting.

Strategic issues

16. An important ongoing priority task for the Panel is the identification of key additional strategic scientific and technical issues that should be considered by the Panel during the triennium (Annex to Resolution VIII.28). At its 11th meeting the Panel identified seven such issues and established a mechanism for bringing these to the attention of the Standing Committee and CoP (see section E of the Annex to this report). Importantly, the Panel recognized that in providing its advice on strategic issues it should highlight scientific and technical challenges for the Convention as a whole, as well as identifying future tasks for the Panel itself.

17. This strategic advice on future scientific and technical issues will be included in the Report to CoP9 of the Chair of the STRP. The Panel will also consider preparing a draft CoP9 Resolution on these matters for consideration by the Standing Committee.

Issues arising from the current modus operandi of the STRP 2003-2005

Involvement of appointed members

18. It is a serious concern that several Working Group co-leads and the STRP Support Service report that the level of engagement of a significant number of the appointed members of the Panel in the work of the Panel and its Groups has been extremely low or non-existent. Despite the efforts of the Secretariat and Standing Committee to ensure that those experts appointed in their own right to the Panel are willing and able to contribute fully to the work of the Panel, this is a repeat of the situation which occurred in the last triennium. Whilst the appointed members are not, under the modus operandi, expected to lead in preparing substantive materials, it can be anticipated that they must have the capacity and interest at least to review and comment on relevant materials (at this stage such as task terms of reference, discussion papers, etc.) posted on the STRP Web site. With notable exceptions, this is not happening.

19. The removal in the current modus operandi of a mid-term full meeting of the Panel also means that there is little opportunity to better engage appointed members during the period when the main preparatory drafting work and consideration of draft materials takes place. The proposal by most Working Groups to hold mid-term workshops (in mid-2004, if resources permit) to review progress and draft texts may help the process. However, in the core budget for STRP support there is only a small sum (Sfr 20,000) allocated for 2004 for costs of sponsored member support, and if the present very limited input from many of these members continues, they are unlikely to be able to contribute significantly to the workshop process.

20. Therefore, the Standing Committee may wish to consider whether the current structure, and the substantial core budget line for sponsored STRP member support for meeting attendance, offers the most efficient and cost-effective modus operandi for the STRP for the next triennium. There is a case for considering a substantial overhaul of how scientific and technical materials are prepared for consideration by the Standing Committee and CoP. This also has relevance to the work of the Standing Committee's Subgroup on Resolution VIII.45.

21. One model to consider might be that for any scientific and technical topic indicated as a high priority by the Standing Committee, a small Working Group is immediately established by the Ramsar Secretariat and STRP Support Service, and a lead expert or experts identified who is willing and able to draft each substantive paper required. Each Working Group would then meet in one or more mid-term workshops to review and revise draft materials, before these are sent for peer review to a wider network including through the STRP National Focal Points. Experts representing their region/subregion (on a pro-rata basis, as currently) would then meet as the STRP to consider and approve final draft materials for transmission to the Standing Committee and CoP. For the first year of the triennium, this could have the advantage of freeing up the core budget allocation for sponsored appointed members' participation in meetings, which might then be made available for at least partially funding the expert drafting of materials.

STRP Support Service

22. Wetlands International is to be congratulated for its rapid establishment of the STRP Support Service, including in preparation for the 11th meeting of the STRP, and its further work, notably in establishing the STRP Support Service Web site, and updating and reminding leads of each task on progress needed, and keeping the Secretariat and Chair and Vice-Chair of STRP up to date on progress. This work is significantly assisting the Secretariat in providing support capacity for developing the substantive work required of the Panel.

23. Some elements of the Support Service work have proved harder to implement, notably in identifying and engaging input from additional global experts and from external expert networks, including Specialist Groups. In addition, it has proved essential for the Secretariat, notably the Deputy Secretary General, to continue to provide advice and guidance on some of the STRP's work areas, particularly in relation to the history and development of Convention materials and other related Convention processes.

24. As is anticipated in Resolution VIII.28, the operations of the STRP Support Service will be kept under review by the Secretariat and Wetlands International, in consultation with the STRP Chair and Vice-Chair, Working Group leads and other STRP participants, so as to bring forward any proposals for changes to the Support Service operations for discussion, in the first instance by the Panel at its 12th meeting in December 2004.

Funding of the Panel's work

25. As had been anticipated, although a number of major tasks set for the STRP are being undertaken by members or observers working in a voluntary, unpaid capacity, the Working Groups have indicated that work on a significant number of products requires additional funding in order to engage the help of global experts in drafting materials on these topics. In addition, further resources will be needed to fully cover the costs of mid-term workshops indicated by the Working Groups as required in mid-2004 to progress their work.

26. Since there is no core 2003-2005 budget allocation for this substantive work, to fully deliver the STRP's tasks requires additional, voluntary contributions to be made. The Secretariat has been seeking such additional funding from Parties and is grateful to the Government of Sweden for its support in this matter, which has ensured that several key areas of STRP work are now being progressed. However, additional resources are still required, without which not all high priority STRP tasks will be completed during this triennium.

27. In addition, the time needed to seek such funding, subsequent to all Working Groups having established which tasks need funding and how much, delays the commencement of the work itself. The issue of adequate financing of the STRP's work continues to be one of the main impediments to the efficient and effective delivery of scientific and technical guidance to the Convention.

28. It may be useful to request the STRP Support Service to assess and advise the Chair and Vice-Chair on the financial mechanisms used by other conventions to engage experts and draft necessary documentation for consideration by their scientific and technical subsidiary bodies.

Other issues

29. Through two nominated focal points, the STRP has been actively involved in the development of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Discussion is now focusing on how the Assessment can best contribute to the work of the STRP over the next 12 months, including through increasing the contribution of experts from the MA process to relevant specific tasks being undertaken by the STRP's Working Groups and contribution to, and review of, the MA's Synthesis Report for the Ramsar Convention. It is anticipated that the STRP and the Assessment will be able to demonstrate many mutual benefits from this ongoing collaboration.

30. Similar mutual advantage is being developed through collaboration with the Japanese (JAXA) and European (ESA) space agencies to develop satellite-based tools for mapping and assessing the condition of wetlands. The expertise and knowledge gained through these programmes will provide a valuable contribution to the STRP's work on ecological character and change in ecological character, including the status and trends of Ramsar sites. This work would not be possible without the contributions made or being planned by these agencies.

Annex to DOC. SC30-4

Progress on tasks in the STRP Work Plan 2003-2005 (PDF)

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