Standing Committee Subgroup on COP8 -- Report of the meeting

CONVENTION ON WETLANDS (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)Meeting of the Standing Committee Subgroup on COP8
Gland, Switzerland, 15 - 17 May 2002

Report from the Subgroup on COP8

[Discussions have been rearranged into the order of the agenda items.]

Agenda item 1: Opening of the meeting and adoption of the agenda

1. Spain (Chair of the Subgroup) welcomed the participants and sought approval of the agenda. The agenda was adopted with minor alterations.

Agenda item 2: Preparations for COP8

2. The SG drew attention to DOC. COP8 SG-2 reporting progress in COP preparations and provided updates on several matters. The COP invitation packet is ready to be posted and put on the Web, and the printed form of the Draft Strategic Plan 2003-2008 has been distributed to the Parties, with up to 20 more copies available to each Party if required. He noted that input on the Parties' National Targets are needed by 31 August in order to permit construction of a list of global targets. COP8 documentation will go out to the Parties in mid-August, as required, and will be made available to all pre-registrants in hard copy, CD-ROM, or download from the Web, as they prefer. Presently 79 National Reports have been received out of 131 Parties, about 120 of which would be expected to submit reports.

3. The SG noted that the on-line pre-registration form are available on the Ramsar Web site, and urged pre-registrants to use these on-line forms both for COP registration and for hotel registration (on the MKI Web site) to save staff labor. He updated the situation on pledges for delegate support and asked other Parties to indicate their contributions soon so that planning for delegate travel can proceed.

4. The SG reported that only 21 replies have been received to the diplomatic notification concerning the desirability of calling for an Extraordinary Meeting of the COP to consider Algeria's proposed amendment to the text of the Convention - since this is far from the required 44 requests, the issue should be considered closed.

5. Spain reported on COP8 preparations within the host country, particularly with regard to involvement of government agencies at national and autonomous regional level and NGOs. A company has been chosen to handle logistics, funds are being provided to the Bureau (for documents, consultants, delegate support, inter alia), and plans have been firmed up concerning exhibition space and five planned excursion opportunities for Documents Day on 24 November. A Web site has been set up by the Ministry of Environment, and negotiations are in hand with Iberia airlines for special rates for delegates. The Ministry plans a exhibition at COP8 on environmental work in the country, and the whole organizing team continues to be enthusiastic about the COP.

Agenda items 3 and 4: Site criteria and boundary issues

6. Australia, as chair of the contact group on site boundary issues, thanked other members of the group and outlined the proposals. The first two texts are alternative draft resolutions (DRs) for dealing with Ramsar sites that lose their international importance; the third is a proposal for dealing with changes to Ramsar site (RS) boundaries for reasons other than national interest.

7. BirdLife International indicated a preference for the first alternative, which offers the Parties steps to be taken, whereas the second would be a missed opportunity, failing to benefit from this year's discussions. He noted that one part of the Standing Committee's (SC's) mandate had not been addressed: the situation in which part of an RS loses its international importance or never had it. Trinidad and Tobago inquired whether these texts address the situation of an RS losing its importance but the Party not wishing to remove it from the List. Australia replied that the texts do not create an obligation to remove a site, only a process whereby a Party may do so if it wishes. Japan supported the second alternative, which calls for further study, since SC26 only mandated a call for future discussion and the first alternative goes beyond that by raising issues not discussed by SC. Japan also objected to the reference to the need for a Resolution by the COP for removal of a site from the List, which would seem to conflict with Article 2.3 on the sovereignty of the Parties.

8. India noted that compensation for removed RSs is not mentioned, and BirdLife observed that compensation, for both sites with deterioration and those which never met the Criteria, is mentioned in a later paragraph. With reference to issues pertaining to drought raised by some countries in a subregional meeting in Tehran in February 2002, India wanted to know about actions taken in this regard.

9. France echoed Japan in preferring the second alternative, since some matters require further study, especially concerning interpretation of the Convention text and the role of natural events. The UK supported the first alternative because it provides concrete guidance for the Parties, and offered to help in further refinement. Costa Rica reported that in Costa Rica the law requires a ¾ majority of representatives in order to modify a Ramsar site. Australia, too, preferred the second alternative in order to resolve the outstanding issues, as soon as possible, but with full discussion.

10. The Chair, Australia, the Deputy Secretary General (DSG), Uganda, and BirdLife discussed drought as a natural or human-made effect and frequently part of a natural cycle rather than a sign of "deterioration". The DR is aimed at irrevocable loss of international importance and should avoid issues of temporary or seasonal loss - prior to certainty of irreversibility of loss, restoration should be the priority.

11. The Chair called on the contact group to work further on merging some of the first into the second alternative, or into the third as well, and report back to the Subgroup. Trinidad and Tobago urged that the matter of the COP Resolution, or an SC decision, being necessary for removal from the List not be lost from the discussion. WWF International suggested changing the title of the third DR to "Defining Ramsar site boundaries more accurately in Ramsar Information Sheets". The UK called for clarification on the issue of minor changes to a site, and urged some quantifiable guidance on what "so minor" means.

12. Subsequently, Australia reported on the newly revised versions, in which some elements of the first alternative have been added to the second, and the DR on defining site boundaries more accurately has been kept as a separate Resolution. The first DR specifies a number of areas in which further study is called for.

13. BirdLife International thanked the members of the contact group for their work. He noted that BirdLife has long been involved in Ramsar discussions of these criteria and boundary issues and a lot of debate has profitably been held over the years. BirdLife has been happy to assist in this process, but now wishes the record to show that it disagrees with this deferral for further study because a few Parties, despite years of discussion, would now like three more years of it before guidelines can be foreseen.

14. The Regional Coordinator for Europe seconded BirdLife's feelings about further delay, since the Regional Coordinators, who must daily deal with Parties requiring guidance on these issues, had seriously hoped to have some answers by COP8. The legal gap will now have to remain for another three years. The Chair expressed sympathy with the Regional Coordinators' problems with this lack of direction from the COP and urged the Bureau to try to solve the problem internally on an interim basis, perhaps by soliciting legal advice.

15. Uganda proposed that the first operative paragraph (no. 6) should be moved to the preambular section, and this was agreed.

Decision SG COP8-1: The Subgroup approved the two draft Resolutions on criteria and boundary issues, as revised by the contact group, for transmittal to COP8.

Agenda item 5: Climate change

16. The DSG reported on the process of developing the draft Resolution, the revised Key Issues annex, and the comprehensive information document, and explained the unavoidable delays in having these ready for the Subgroup's consideration.

17. Spain urged that the DR stipulate that input should be sought from the Millennium Assessment. Australia proposed a number of amendments to the DR text concerning the need for clarity between mitigation of or adaptation to climate change effects, or both; inaccuracies in whether the IPCC's TAR specifically identified vulnerable wetlands and Small Island Developing States or just small island states; whether the role of peatlands in carbon sequestration should be so strongly highlighted; duplications between several paragraphs that could be merged; and an inappropriate reference to the Kyoto Protocol, which is not yet in force. Argentina pointed out several other inaccuracies in the draft text. BirdLife wished to preserve the text pointing out that measures to mitigate climate change effects should not cause additional environment problems, and urged addition of a cross-reference to Resolution VII.16 and additional references to Environmental Impact Assessments.

18. France noted that the phrase calling for climate change effects on wetlands to be reported to COP9 in the National Reports might not be achievable, and the UK suggested adding the words "as far as possible". Argentina described an initiative in the Neotropical Region, developing the idea of a regional monitoring network using agreed criteria.

19. Subsequently, the DSG tabled a revised version of the DR showing comments made in the discussions. The USA apologized that some further comments had just been received from home, and suggested a number of additional changes of wording, which were noted, and requested the removal of references to welcoming the Marrakesh Accords. The USA suggested tempering the reference to requesting the UNFCCC secretariat to undertake joint activities, since that secretariat is presently overburdened with such requests. The DSG recalled that that request for cooperation with UNFCCC is mandated in the Ramsar Strategic Plan and, in any case, consultations have been under way for some time between the secretariats, both of which are aware of resource constraints and are proceeding at a judicious pace.

20. Argentina emphasized the need to include a reference to the Marrakesh Accords and urged that that be bracketed. The USA suggested the compromise of citing the Marrakesh Declaration and not the Accords, for there is an important distinction there. Argentina insisted upon its insertion, in square brackets if necessary, for further consideration.

21. Australia, BirdLife, IUCN, and the USA debated the wording of paragraphs 11 and 12, in order to suppress references to the Kyoto Protocol but retain other ideas, such as afforestation and reforestation and the need to avoid causing new damage, and these four agreed to draft new wording to meet their concerns.

Decision SG COP8-2: The Subgroup approved the draft Resolution on climate change for transmittal to COP8, with the inclusion of wording for paragraphs 11 and 12 to be agreed by the Bureau, Australia, BirdLife International, IUCN, and the USA.

Agenda item 6: Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

22. The DSG noted that this document, only just received from the STRP process, needs more work and urged later adoption by e-mail. The purpose is to assist planners in other sectors to understand the role of wetlands in ICZM and explain ICZM principles to wetland managers.

Decision SG COP8-3: The Subgroup requested that work continue on the Draft Resolution and Guidance document on Integrated Coastal Zone Management and that it be circulated to the Subgroup by e-mail for comment and adoption by mid-June.

Agenda item 7: Synergies with other conventions

23. The DSG offered background on the need for harmonization and synergies amongst MEAs and provided updates on Ramsar's agreements with the CBD, MAB, CMS and AEWA, and SPREP. He noted Ramsar's leading role in developing synergies, but these are so far mainly amongst secretariats and must be extended to national level. Uganda and Australia also called for more MEA cooperation at national level.

24. Trinidad and Tobago called for a review mechanism, e.g. every three years, of the success of synergies to be added to the draft Resolution. The DSG proposed to add text on synergies with regional seas instruments and agreed for the need for review. The purpose of the various MOUs and joint work programmes so far is mainly to identify common ground and share results, since few secretariats have the capacity to take on additional work.

25. The DSG wondered whether DOC. SG-23, concerning UNEP's guidelines on compliance of MEAs, intended to help Parties meet their commitments and already agreed by Ramsar Parties within the UNEP context, should be folded into the Synergies draft Resolution. Japan observed that this was a new issue, never discussed before, and that the Subgroup had no mandate from SC to discuss it; Japan urged that more time for discussion within Ramsar would be needed. India called for greater harmonization of national reporting among MEAs and more advice on synergies to the Parties.

Decision SG COP8-4: The Subgroup adopted the draft Resolution on Partnerships and Synergies for transmittal to COP8, with the addition of wording on a review mechanism.

Agenda item 8: Gaps in and harmonization of Ramsar guidance

26. The DSG explained the Bureau's feeling that the annexed framework called for by SC26 should now be presented to COP8 as an information document, and he proposed an additional information paper for COP, to be written by Ms Carmen Revenga, seconded to the Bureau from the World Resources Institute, summarizing other assessment initiatives.

Decision SG COP8-5: The Subgroup approved the Draft Resolution on Gaps and Harmonization for transmittal to COP, with its associated information papers.

Agenda item 9: Article 3.2 reporting issues

27. The DSG recalled that SC26 did not approve the proposed Resolution on Article 3.2 issues and called for a discussion paper with elements of a possible draft Resolution. BirdLife welcomed the discussion paper and strongly supported tabling at COP8. BirdLife suggested a greater emphasis upon using information on adverse change in ecological character to respond to the situation, relative to the need for reporting that information to the Bureau; recommended that Parties be more strongly urged to make a response; and proposed amending the text to indicate that Article 3.2 obliges Parties to notify the Bureau of such information "without delay", not just in National Reports.

28. Trinidad and Tobago sought smoothing out of overlaps among some paragraphs. Australia noted that describing the Montreux Record as the primary mechanism for responding to Article 3.2 was too broad, as it is one of several mechanisms, and observed that it would be premature to define the reporting format ('similar to the RIS') before the STRP had prepared its recommendations. Australia agreed that the DR should be approved by e-mail. India called for greater room for mention of interventions the Parties have made to redress changes in ecological character, and suggested that the revised RIS should ask what interventions have been made and how the site benefited from them, as an example for other Parties.

29. France expressed doubt about the DR's extension of Article 3.2 beyond anthropogenic changes of ecological character to include natural causes as well, which seems contrary to the spirit of the Convention. If natural causes were to be included, too, different types of information and methods of reporting would be required. Argentina agreed that adding "natural causes" would require amendment of the Convention and would require increased costs in reporting. He noted that Article 3.2's text on notification applies only to Ramsar sites, whereas the assessment advice applies to all wetlands, and he pointed out that the purpose of 3.2 was only to report negative changes, not the positive ones.

30. The DSG agreed that Article 3.2 is subject to different interpretations and doubted that only negative changes were intended; future discussion of this issue might be fruitful. He noted that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between natural and anthropogenic causes of change. France indicated that she could support the draft Resolution without the extension to naturally caused changes - the principle should be aimed at fixing environmental responsibility, which does not apply for naturally caused changes, and such a sudden extension of the reporting mandate might mean that Parties would be unable to comply fully.

31. Costa Rica observed that the Montreux Record has not been fully used and urged further discussion of its purpose. The DSG pointed to the Record's original mandate as the "identification of priority sites for attention" and noted that in that limited sense there have been many successes. Perhaps a simpler Article 3.2 mechanism, coupled with encouragement to the use of the Montreux Record, would make an effective combination. It should be made clear that the Record is one of a range of response options.

32. Switzerland suggested that "human- or naturally-induced" should be amended to "whether directly or indirectly human-induced", to which France would add "according to the appropriate mechanisms".

Decision SG COP8-6: The Subgroup instructed the Bureau to prepare a draft Resolution based upon the "elements" in paragraph 37 of DOC. COP8 SG-9, with amendments to subparagraph iv) by agreement with France and Switzerland and with more precise wording concerning the Montreux Record. The draft Resolution will be circulated by e-mail to the Subgroup for adoption, and the discussion paper will be prepared as an information document for COP8, with a new title that indicates its relevance both to Article 3.2 mechanisms and to reporting the overall status and trends of wetlands.

33. Trinidad and Tobago noted that there is a perception that placing a site on the Montreux Record is like blacklisting oneself, admitting that one is not doing enough for one's wetlands. She suggested that a publication be prepared demonstrating the successes of the Montreux Record process. The DSG added that the proposed San José Record of well-managed sites may well include some that are or were on the Montreux Record, and he suggested that the Parties also publicize their Montreux Record successes.

Agenda item 10: Impact Assessment

34. The DSG pointed to another good example of how the conventions working together can provide consistent guidance: the DR includes adoption of the CBD Guidelines with Ramsar annotation.

35. France voiced reservations about the DR's call for use of the Guidelines, which would be difficult to implement, and urged addition of "to the best of their ability". She noted that there was no reference to the Ramsar Resolution on involving local populations in wetland management. Trinidad and Tobago, noting that some Parties have already committed to the CBD guidelines, whilst others may not be Parties, urged care not to give disharmonizing advice about which Parties are obliged and which can only be urged to apply the guidance.

Decision SG COP8-7: The Subgroup endorsed the draft Resolution and annex on impact assessment for transmittal to COP8, subject to the amendments suggested by France.

Agenda item 11: Unofficial data for the Ramsar Sites Database

36. This item has been subsumed under Agenda item 16.

Agenda item 12: New Guidelines on management planning

37. Australia indicated that it could support the draft guidelines with one exception. Paragraphs 38-40 on the "precautionary principle" have not been discussed, and the reference should properly be to the "precautionary approach". He urged amendments to para 38 and the deletion of paras 39-40. Para 40 iv) calls for certainty that threats do not exist, which may not be scientificially possible and may provoke debate at COP8. The USA, Japan, Mexico, and Argentina supported this suggestion.

38. The Regional Coordinator for Europe observed that para 40 iv) is central to the Convention and urged that it be attached to para 38. The USA suggested that 40 iv) be used to introduce this section, but that "conclusive evidence must" be amended to "best available evidence should indicate". Precautionary "principle" should be changed to "approach" throughout. Argentina reported that some of the comments her country had made upon the draft were not present and that text will be provided to the secretariat again; specifically the addition of "institutional factors". IUCN suggested that a reference to the draft Resolution on the WCD report be included.

Decision SG COP8-8: The Subgroup adopted the New Guidelines for management planning for Ramsar sites and other wetlands for transmittal to COP8, with the amendments mentioned.

Agenda item 13: Report of the World Commission on Dams

39. The DSG recalled that the STRP was tasked to contribute to the work of the World Commission on Dams and report back to the COP, with support from IUCN. The DR urges Parties to use the WCD report "where appropriate". BirdLife, IUCN, and France suggested minor amendments to the text.

Decision SG COP8-9: The Subgroup endorsed the draft Resolution and its associated information paper on Ramsar and the World Commission on Dams for transmittal to COP8, subject to the amendments suggested by France, BirdLife International, and IUCN.

Agenda item 14: Alien invasive species

40. The DSG reported that the revised document takes account of the CBD's modifications to its draft Guiding Principles, includes the text adopted by CBD's COP6, and offers additional text on the Ramsar interpretation of those guidelines.

41. Australia indicated that his country could not agree to the CBD's Guiding Principles being adopted or referenced in the Ramsar Resolution. Australia, like some other states, objects to the procedure of COP6's adoption of the text - despite their protests it was reported as having been adopted anyway. Australia's objections have to do with "unclear language" on the precautionary principle, risk assessment, burden of proof, etc., which could be taken out of context to permit measures to be taken without appropriate scientific basis. Australia supports the document in both the CBD and Ramsar contexts except on those issues. Australia stated that it is not in Ramsar's interest to endorse a contested document, and that if it remained in its current form Australia would be forced to take the same position at COP8 as it did at the CBD COP6. Therefore, it would be better to resolve the issue now. Australia urged that the Ramsar DR and Guidance be divested of all references to the CBD document, leaving a stand-alone Ramsar document, which could allude to material developed for the CBD but not adopted by it. Australia is willing to provide amendments to the existing draft for the Subgroup's consideration.

42. The SG observed that, as a first thought and regardless of Australia's position vis-à-vis the CBD, the guidelines were duly adopted by the CBD, and it would be delicate for the Ramsar Convention to be seen to be rebuffing another convention's decisions, especially a convention with which Ramsar has a cooperative joint work plan.

43. The United States seconded Australia's opinion that it would be inappropriate to accept the Guiding Principles as a CBD document, since a dispute emerged during COP6 on the meaning of "consensus" (absence of stated objections vs. broad agreement), and a protest has been lodged. The USA agreed with Australia that a lot of good work is present in the document and benefit can be drawn from that for Ramsar. Canada suggested that the Guiding Principles not be formally adopted by Ramsar as a CBD document but rather included as "CBD material" in an information document.

44. Returning to the discussion the following day, with the benefit of a revised document showing Australia's proposed changes, Australia noted that the new version removed references to the CBD's document but sought to retain the 99% of good material. References are in the generic form of "material developed for the CBD".

45. Switzerland noted that it was one of the countries that actively promoted the adoption of the Guiding Principles and would want them to be endorsed by the Ramsar COP. Contested issues like the precautionary approach, risk assessment, and the burden of proof could be discussed within Ramsar and conclusions arrived at, but he argued that Ramsar cannot just ignore the fact that the CBD has adopted these Guiding Principles, especially given the close cooperation between the two conventions. Thus, Switzerland was compelled to object to Australia's approach.

46. The SG reiterated his strong concern that it is against Ramsar's interest to adopt a Resolution that can be seen to go contrary to another convention. Regardless of the manner in which it was done, as of now there is a decision that was adopted by the CBD, and it would be negative and dangerous to challenge it. He urged that, if the issue cannot be resolved here, a general DR should be forwarded to the COP with no reference to the work of the CBD. By the time of COP8, the situation may have changed. The USA echoed the SG's concerns and suggested dropping the matter until the situation has been clarified within the UN; since the groundwork has been done, it could be reactivated later, but it would be better to forward nothing to the COP than a more general DR. Canada suggested attaching the full CBD Guiding Principles as an Info Doc, without adoption, so that Parties would not be asked to endorse something they are uncomfortable with. Argentina seconded the SG's suggestion of a more general draft Resolution in order to keep the issue alive through the COP.

47. The SG summarized the two options so far: 1) a mild resolution or 2) no action at this time, noting that the deadline for submitting something from one of the Parties is 18 October. He urged amending the DR in paras 7, 13, and 14 so that it endorses the Ramsar Guidance but does not mention the CBD Guiding Principles. Switzerland drew attention to a third option, that of adopting the original DR, perhaps with square brackets around Australia's proposed amendments, in order to let COP8 discuss the issue in light of any change in the situation. The USA indicated that if the language on the precautionary principle were let stand in the Guiding Principles, his country would have to oppose adoption of the guidelines at COP8.

48. The Chair recalled the great importance of the issue of invasive species to the Parties, and appealed to the meeting to bring something helpful forward to the COP. Trinidad and Tobago and Canada observed that there is no point in bringing forward a document which will not be endorsed by the COP, and suggested that the best chance of success would be to incorporate as much of the CBD document as can be agreed upon. Canada proposed editing the draft Resolution and the Guiding Principles to remove all references to adoption by CBD's COP6.

49. The USA seconded the SG's suggestion of using the DR without reference to the Guiding Principles and excluding the Guiding Principles [or Ramsar Guidance?] as an annex at this time, with the hope of a solution to the matter before COP8 that Parties can support. Costa Rica and Uganda echoed this suggestion. Uganda asked whether the COP6 resolution requested anything from the Ramsar Convention, and the SG indicated that it does not request that Ramsar adopt the Guiding Principles, only that further collaborative work take place. Australia asked an opportunity to consider a new draft Resolution before withdrawing its proposed amended text, and the Chair requested the Bureau to prepare a new version of the DR.

50. Subsequently, the Secretary General tabled a second revision in which the Ramsar Guidance has been removed as an annex to an info document of "Tools", the Guiding Principles have been eliminated, and all references to them have been suppressed.

51. Australia noted that this approach differed from his understanding of the way forward, since the Ramsar Guidance still summarizes the CBD Guiding Principles along with all of the other guidance documents available. Australia proposed deleting paragraphs 36-75 concerning summaries of all of the other guidance documents as well; thus, the earlier parts could be preserved as an annex rather than as merely an info document.

52. Considerable discussion ensued about the best manner in which to preserve helpful guidance for the Parties on available resources on alien invasive species whilst at the same time accommodating the refusal of some Parties to admit any reference to the CBD Guiding Principles. The SG felt that an info document should inform the Parties of either all the available resources or none of them, rather than be selective in omitting that with which a few Parties had problems. Switzerland argued that is impossible for Ramsar simply to ignore material adopted by the CBD and mentioned that, if omitted here, his country would reintroduce it at COP8. Australia wished not to be selective and thus had proposed omitting all of the guidance on available resources. The SG observed that, whatever problems the CBD may have run into, it would be a shame to lose all of this carefully researched assistance to the Parties on available resources - Spain and Slovenia agreed on retaining the summary descriptions of all available guidance. Argentina supported Australia's amendments to the draft Resolution.

53. The USA echoed the need for guidance for the Parties and agreed with 99% of the CBD's material. He drew attention, however, to the very important principles involved in the manner by which the Guiding Principles were adopted by CBD's COP6, which endangers USA participation in all of the UN conventions that are based on consensus. Because of the importance of this principle, the USA will not compromise on these points. But rather than lose the valuable summaries of resources, the USA proposed deleting only paragraphs 37-42 summarizing the Guiding Principles and retaining the rest. By keeping the other IUCN guidelines summarized there, which anyway account for most of the Guiding Principles, one could provide a lot of help without prejudice to the disputed CBD decision.

54. The Chair sought to find language that could convey the essence of the CBD's work and point to its availability elsewhere, without reproducing it, since it doesn't seem realistic to ignore that work even if the manner of its adoption has been protested by some Parties. He urged that Ramsar Parties have a right to know about all the help that is available. The USA thanked the Chair for his efforts to find a compromise, but said that there is no way to characterize the Guiding Principles material that will be acceptable to the USA if it is put into an official Ramsar document. The information is out there and people can find it without having been directed to it by a Ramsar Resolution. Most of the CBD information is present in other guidance documents, and it would be unfair to ask two Parties to sacrifice an important procedural principle for the sake of a small amount of additional information. The USA felt that if the purpose were only to embarrass certain Parties, the disputed text could be bracketed by the Subgroup but would only have to be removed at COP8. The Chair appreciated some Parties' sensitivity on the manner of adoption and noted that Spain, as president of the EU, has entered a reservation on the manner of its approval.

55. Costa Rica and the Chair noted that the draft Resolution seems to be agreeable to all, with Australia's amendments, and that the problem is only with the STRP's annex/information paper summarizing available resources. The SG pointed out that if the Standing Committee wishes to send only the draft Resolution to COP8, without the guidance, it has a perfect right to do so. When the SG prepared the second revision he had not intended to go against any earlier consensus; he'd simply assumed that assisting the Parties through an info document would have been acceptable. Since consensus seems impossible, he urged that only the DR be sent to COP8, with none of the assistance. Argentina supported that suggestion.

Decision SG COP8-11: The Subgroup determined to endorse the draft Resolution on invasive species, as amended by Australia, for the consideration of COP8, with no associated annexes or information documents to assist the Parties.

Agenda item 15: Cultural values of wetlands

56. The DSG explained that the paper includes the draft Resolution and its annexed Guiding Principles, as well as an "Appendix" which is intended as an information document, and noted the tabled addendum concerning the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

57. Argentina noted several places where "traditional" could better read "sustainable", since traditional methods are not always sustainable, and these amendments were seconded by India, Spain, and Costa Rica. Argentina reported that, at the recent Neotropical regional meeting, in discussion of draft Strategic Plan 2003-2008, some Parties expressed concern about product labeling and Ramsar involvement in trade issues, whilst others thought that the question deserves further study, as a way of supporting the Parties.

58. Costa Rica offered a number of suggested additions to the information document. France urged that, to General Principle 3, "to establish adaptive management bodies which would implement projects" be added; that a reference to "respecting the capacity of the site" be added to Principle 13; and that in Principle 26 "carrying capacity" be replaced by "capacity to receive people in qualitative as well as quantitative terms".

Decision SG COP8-12: The Subgroup endorsed the draft Resolution and annex on Guiding Principles on cultural aspects, subject to the amendments from Argentina, Costa Rica, and France, with the additional text concerning WIPO, and requested that the associated document on "Cultural Aspects of Wetlands" be distributed to the COP as an information paper.

Agenda item 16: Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS)

59. The DSG described the proposed changes in the RIS and the rationales for them, and drew attention to the paragraph admitting impeccable additional data to the Ramsar Sites Database, in order to increase the management and research value of the RSD's data.

60. Argentina argued that additional information from other sources besides the Administrative Authorities (AAs) should have prior approval by the AAs of the Parties. France indicated that this issue of unofficial data should be studied more closely and a procedure should be created by which the Parties' AAs could be asked for validation or approval, or at least informed, of additional data. India noted that, in some countries, maps are sent after clearance from survey agencies and the defense agency, which involves costs, and as such are authentic. The same is true of information on data sheets, as it is done through management authorities in the concerned states, where universities, NGOs, and stakeholders are also involved in the process.

61. Ramsar's Regional Coordinator for Europe noted that the Bureau also receives official site data from the Authorities in addition to the RIS at the time of designation or update, in National Reports, Montreux Record questionnaires, SGF reports, Ramsar Advisory Mission reports, etc. The DSG explained that there are three categories of site data: 1) the RIS, 2) Other Official (NRs, RAMs, etc.), and 3) Unofficial, from academic and other sources. There should be no question of mixing these types of data.

62. Trinidad and Tobago stressed that it is important that the AAs should be given a chance to vet unofficial information, lest it be conflicting, unflattering, etc. Any information, from whatever source, found on the Ramsar Sites Database would carry a kind of seal of approval. Costa Rica added that the AAs may also be glad to learn of additional sources of useful information about their Ramsar sites, and might wish to adopt some of that as official.

63. Wetlands International reported that there is no technical barrier to keeping official and official site data entirely separate. WI plans a separate database for unofficial information, with sources clearly marked. All official Ramsar sites data can be used by others, as it is in the public domain, and can be associated by them with other knowledge. The DSG pointed out that the DR should then read that unofficial site information should be "linked to the Ramsar Sites Database" rather than "in the Ramsar Sites Database".

64. BirdLife welcomed the idea of giving AAs an opportunity to comment on the addition of unofficial information but resisted the notion of "prior approval", since the purpose of the DR is to be able to fill gaps in what information the Parties can provide.

65. The Chair urged that the disputed paragraph should be replaced by text which lays out the whole process of how Ramsar sites data is handled, how it is made public, etc., and invited the Bureau to redraft those paragraphs. Costa Rica suggested that Parties frequently have more information than has been provided on the RISs and this should be provided to the Database as well. The Subgroup requested that the Bureau prepare a revised draft Resolution for consideration the next day.

66. Subsequently, the DSG explained the revisions to the DR, now more clearly indicating how different classes of data would be handled, in such a way that unofficial data will not be merged with official site data from the Administrative Authorities and will be clearly marked as to origin.

67. Argentina objected that its earlier proposal, that all supplementary data should be approved by the Administrative Authorities before being added to the database, had not been included. The SG noted that that would not help to achieve the results sought - many AAs are efficient, but in many cases the process would be extraordinarily cumbersome and supplementary data might never be made available for use, with much staff time lost to trying to secure approval.

68. The Chair asked Argentina to note that the members of the Subgroup considered that a mechanism should be found to alert the Authorities to additional information, and they would then have the opportunity to object if they wish to by contacting the database manager. He urged that the DR be adopted as it stands and thanked to Argentina for her acceptance of the DR.

69. France noted that her earlier concerns have been met by the revised draft and she now urged adoption.

Decision SG COP8-13: The Subgroup adopted the revised draft Resolution on information for the Ramsar Sites Database for transmittal to COP8.

Agenda item 17: Mountain wetlands

70. The DSG proffered the correction that the draft Resolution was not submitted by France per se, but rather by French NGOs. After SC26 called for further work on the draft guidelines, the proponents decided to submit the proposed DR in order to show support for the International Year of Mountains rather than to delay that by further work on guidance.

71. France observed that the DR has the merit of drawing attention to mountain wetlands, but it does not answer the questions on mountain wetlands and their management raised by the SC's mandate. France would have preferred to have guidelines, and suggested that these be called for in advance of COP9.

72. Costa Rica and Argentina indicated a lively interest in their region on this issue and wished to be included in further work on it. Argentina also expressed doubts about providing additional guidelines for all types of wetland ecosystems, rather than, as a global convention, aiming only for broad principles.

73. France agreed to work further on the draft Resolution, in collaboration with other interested Contracting Parties, especially those from the Neotropics, to include the comments noted here and to add a paragraph on cooperation with the CBD, and to submit this as a Resolution from France.

Decision SG COP8-14: The Subgroup invited France and other interested Contracting Parties to redraft the proposed Resolution for consideration by the COP.

Agenda item 18: Wetlands and agriculture

74. Slovenia explained the revised version, developed by a contact group of Slovenia, Uganda, and the UK, incorporating comments from Switzerland and noting comments from Argentina and Australia in boxes. She recommended that the annex to the first version be forwarded to the COP as an information document only, and indicated that the guidelines to be requested from the STRP should focus on different regions and regional differences.

75. Argentina thanked Slovenia for noting her country's comments and explained them all again. Argentina would not wish the original annex to be included, only the DR itself. Costa Rica pointed out that the para 16 text urging Parties to remove perverse incentives calls for something usually under the control of other sectors of government, not those involved with the Ramsar Convention. Spain, recalling the great importance of the issue, opposed deletion of para 16 only because it requires consultation with other sectors, since what Ramsar adopts at its COP might be helpful in influencing those discussions. It was agreed to bracket para 16 until delegates have an opportunity to consult with other government bodies.

76. The USA voiced agreement with some of Argentina's proposed amendments and disagreement with others. He felt that para 10 highlights the European region, and whilst recognizing the importance of the EC's work, many Parties have problems with its approach in some areas; he suggested deleting or bracketing certain parts of the text. He indicated that though the DR is much improved, some sensitive areas remain.

77. Spain echoed the USA's caution about Argentina's references to subsidies to production in paras 4, 16, and 17 and called for further discussion before inclusion. The Netherlands supported the new draft and might offer to co-sponsor it, but shared the concern that paras 4, 16, and 17 introduced a new element of trade and subsidies, which are better left to other organizations to deal with. France supported that reservation about mixing economic and conservation matters without further discussion. She noted that Slovenia will present this draft Resolution at the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy meeting in Paris in June, providing a good opportunity to gain further comment.

78. Australia thanked Slovenia for these improvements but noted that his country was still not ready to support the DR at present. Argentina thanked Slovenia as well, but wished to have its amendments incorporated into the text instead of in boxes, in brackets if necessary.

79. The DSG summarized that the Subgroup wishes to take the issue forward but that some CPs see the need for further work. Slovenia voiced a preference that the draft Resolution be brought to COP8 by the Standing Committee, rather than submitted by a group of Parties, and agreed to pursue the revision further, with help from IUCN and others. It was agreed that there was no enthusiasm for presenting the annex as an info document. There does seem to be a value, however, in bringing an info document of examples, which IUCN will prepare.

Decision SG COP8-15: The Subgroup requested Slovenia to prepare a revised draft Resolution for circulation to the Subgroup by e-mail for their approval for consideration by COP8.

Agenda item 19: STRP links with other science networks

80. The DSG explained the great value in focusing on the strengthening of the STRP's work by coordinating it with that of other specialist groups associated with other organizations, and he summarized the conclusions of Wetlands International's study of the possibilities. The Subgroup on the STRP has endorsed that report and it has been presented to the Subgroup on Finance to consider its financial implications.

81. Armenia (Chair of the Subgroup on Finance) reported that the Subgroup agreed to add a budget line for "STRP support services" and that some eliminations and rearrangements in the proposed budget were planned in order to assist with that; two Parties still had positions that needed to be resolved and the Subgroup's work is still in progress.

82. Argentina agreed with the proposal, providing that certain conditions are met - the support services should not be financed from the core budget, only through voluntary contributions; there must be a clear contract with Wetlands International, to be monitored by the SC; and the Terms of Reference must be circulated to the Parties in time for consultations before COP8. Uganda noted that the new budget line for support services should be seen as a package, and not as just a new staff position, and the name should be changed from "STRP support" to "science support".

83. France agreed on the value of strengthening the STRP but retained some doubts about trusting this to one of the International Organization Partners (IOPs), rather than to any of the others, and was uneasy that the service would be external to the Convention. The DSG indicated that the mechanism would work in the same way as does the arrangement with Wetlands International for the operation of the Ramsar Sites Database, which has been very successful. There is a direct contractual relationship to provide that service, with close collaboration and supervision from the Bureau. Some Parties have expressed reluctance to permit any additional posts within the Bureau, and in any case costs would be lower in The Netherlands. It would be another way for the IOPs to marshal their science resources to support the Bureau. France felt reassured by this explanation but called for care in commenting upon the draft Terms of Reference.

Decision SG COP8-16: The Subgroup determined to endorse the proposal to develop the STRP support service and to invite Wetlands International to take on this role. It requested the Bureau to incorporate the conclusions of the Subgroups on Finance and on COP8 into the draft paper COP8 SG-19 as the basis for developing Terms of Reference also to be incorporated, and to amend the draft Resolution on the modus operandi of the STRP to reflect this decision.

Agenda item 20: CEPA workshop associated with COP8

84. The DSG reported that the Outreach Programme 1999-2002, which the Parties adopted by Resolution VII.9, commits them to a number of responses that many of them are finding difficult to accomplish. The Bureau has proposed holding a workshop just prior to COP8, both to provide guidance to the Parties in these tasks and to consider a draft Resolution, now in development by several Parties, that will extend the Outreach Programme into the next triennium. It now appears that this workshop will be part of the IUCN Global Biodiversity Forum, and advice is sought on how to secure funding to bring as many National CEPA Focal Points to the workshop as possible. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Outreach Programme will meet in Gland in mid-June in order to progress the draft Resolution.

85. IUCN observed that, though the GBF can make a small donation towards bringing in the workshop leaders, most of the workshop funding will have be found from other sources.

Agenda item 21: Discussion document on the role of cultural and socio-economic issues in the Convention, and relations with the CBD on this issue

86. The DSG recalled that SC26 called for a discussion paper on the possible use of cultural and socio-economic Criteria, which had been urged by several recent subregional meetings, and mentioned the CBD's approaches vis-à-vis harmonizing with Ramsar Criteria, which will be discussed by CBD's SBSTTA8 soon after COP8, with input from Ramsar and the World Resources Institute. The SBSTTA will consider forwarding to the CBD's COP7 (2004) a request to Ramsar to study harmonies and disharmonies in the criteria of both conventions. A discussion paper is presently being prepared for COP8's Technical Session 5. Australia requested that, if the discussion paper will contain any conclusions or recommendations, it should be circulated for comment to the Subgroup members in the normal timeframe, and this was agreed.

Agenda item 22: Progress in the preparation of a report on the lessons learnt in the implementation of the Strategic Framework for the Ramsar List (Resolution VII.11)

87. The DSG explained that, in order to facilitate COP8's review of the implementation of the Convention and the success of the Strategic Framework for the List, with a draft Resolution on future priorities, the Bureau would continue the practice of presenting an analysis of the National Reports. This will be prepared as soon as enough National Reports have been received, and it will be circulated to the Subgroup for comment before dispatching to the Parties with the COP8 documentation.

Agenda item 23: Any other business: Report on the 2nd Oceania regional meeting

88. Australia reported on the Ramsar regional meeting held 6-8 May at the training centre of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Apia, Samoa, hosted by SPREP and funded by Australia, the USA, and France. It was both a Ramsar regional meeting and an effort to encourage new Parties for the Convention, with some encouraging signs. A Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between SPREP and the Ramsar Bureau and a Joint Work Plan is now under development. A report of the meeting will be available soon, and the three Parties in the region, Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, will present a draft Resolution to COP8 summing up the lessons learnt.

89. The DSG welcomed this very positive meeting and noted that the Convention will benefit from the input from the Small Island Developing States to Ramsar debates. He expressed gratitude to Australia, the USA, and France for making the meeting possible, and recorded his special appreciation for the participation of the Convention's International Organization Partners, all four of which were present at the meeting; he drew attention to the IOPs' invaluable contributions, mostly at their own expense, to all of the Ramsar regional and subregional meetings, and for their other direct help to the Ramsar Parties.

90. WWF International wished to record its appreciation to Australia, the USA, and France for their efforts towards involving the South Pacific states in the work of the Convention.

Agenda item 23: Any other business: Proposal for additional guidance on temporary pools

91. France explained that the document is the first version of a draft Resolution on temporary wetlands, a wetland type too often neglected. The paper has a draft Resolution and guidelines, and comments are requested from Parties, especially from those beyond the Mediterranean region. The DR will be submitted to COP8 by France and Algeria. It was noted that the advice of the STRP has also been solicited.

Agenda item 23: Any other business: Principles and guidelines for wetland restoration

92. The DSG observed that SC26 approved an earlier version of the document, but that subsequent comments permitted improvements in the text, especially with regard to harmonization with previous Ramsar decisions (notably the annex to Resolution VII.17). Canada reported that the content of this draft Resolution will be part of a Global Biodiversity Forum workshop sponsored by Canada, the USA, and others. Costa Rica called for demonstration pilot projects, and it was felt that para 18's call for case studies for addition to the Ramsar Web site's restoration mini-site meets that need.

Decision SG COP8-17: The Subgroup agreed to forward the draft Resolution and annex on Principles and guidelines for wetlands restoration to the COP for consideration.

Agenda item 23: Any other business: UNEP guidelines on compliance with MEAs

93. The SG noted that the UNEP Governing Council, and its ministerial forum in February, adopted assistance to the Parties of all conventions on how to meet their obligations under those instruments, and the Bureau prepared a draft Resolution acknowledging those Guidelines in the expectation that the Parties to the Ramsar Convention, most of which have already agreed to the document through the UNEP process, would wish to associate themselves with them.

94. Japan opposed forwarding the DR to COP8 since this agenda item is completely new for the Subgroup and, consequently, the Subgroup does not have the mandate to adopt a draft resolution on this issue. He noted that the UNEP document is a framework document for countries to take into account voluntarily, and its scope covers all kinds of environmental conventions. He observed that it would be inappropriate for the COP to "invite Ramsar Parties to apply" these Guidelines, as the implications of applying these Guidelines to the Ramsar Convention have not been discussed at all. He also observed that it would be inappropriate for the Ramsar COP to request the Executive Director of UNEP to "ensure" something, since the Executive Director is responsible to the Governing Council of the UNEP only.

95. The SG suggested that amended wording might accommodate Japan's objections, and saw no problem with asking the Executive Director to assist Ramsar authorities, since Ramsar and UNEP are already cooperating in many ways.

96. The USA echoed many of Japan's concerns but felt that some may have been caused by the drafting. The UNEP guidelines are not meant to be prescriptive, in the sense that many Ramsar guidelines are, and so these were not meant to be used in the same way, only "to assist" Parties if they sought assistance - there is a legal distinction between these two. She noted a difference in the competence of bodies to "invite" or to "request" things, and felt that Ramsar does not have standing to request UNEP's Executive Director to ensure that Ramsar authorities benefit fully. The USA offered to work with Japan at revising the wording to find an acceptable form for the Resolution.

97. Subsequently, the USA explained the purpose of its proposed new wording of the draft Resolution. Japan expressed its sincere gratitude to the USA for its work and expressed the view that the content of the DR is much improved. Though Japan would not block transmitting the revised DR to the COP, there remain procedural problems. Japan observed that no organ of the Convention requested the Ramsar Bureau to draft a Resolution on this issue, and this draft Resolution was a result of the Bureau's initiative only. The distribution of documents was very late. This raises general questions of procedure.

Decision SG COP8-18: The Subgroup endorsed the draft Resolution acknowledging the UNEP guidelines on compliance in multilaterial environmental agreements, as revised, for transmittal to COP8.

Close of the main part of the meeting

98. The Chair thanked all of the participants for their work and expressed gratitude to the interpreters. He noted that, on the following day, the Subgroup on COP8 would meet in closed session as the jury for the Ramsar Conservation Awards. It was noted that the draft report of the meeting's first day had been distributed earlier and that corrections have been noted by the rapporteur; the Chair of the Subgroup was empowered to approve the final report incorporating the second day.

[photos of the meetings and reception]

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