3rd Pan-European Regional Meeting, Riga, Latvia, June 1998 -- conclusions and recommendations

16/06/1998

Third Pan-European Regional Meeting
of the Convention on Wetlands
(Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

Riga, Latvia, June 1998

Conclusions and Recommendations


Plenary Session A :

OVERVIEW

Conclusions

1. Closer working relations between the European Commission and the Ramsar Convention are needed.

2. In particular, more attention needs to be given to the emerging Framework Directive on Water. This should be the subject of consultations at senior level between the Commission and the Ramsar Bureau, but also between the relevant focal points within countries which are both Ramsar Contracting Parties and European Union Member States.

3. The relationship between the ‘Natura 2000’ network of sites designated under the ‘Birds’ and ‘Habitats’ Directives and under the Ramsar Convention should be a subject of special attention in these countries.

4. There are many networks of internationally and regionally important sites in Europe; amongst these are Ramsar sites, Natura 2000 sites (Birds & Habitats Directives of EU), Emerald Network of the Bern Convention, European Diploma Sites of the Council of Europe, Biogenetic Reserves, World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves, Important Bird Areas and others. Improved coordination at international and national level is needed.

5. Encouraging progress has been made with the establishment of National Wetland Policies and National Ramsar/Wetland Committees in Europe, but such structures exist for fewer than half of the European Contracting Parties and must remain a high priority for these countries.

6. Application of the Ramsar ‘Fish criteria’ and implementation of the COP6 decisions relating to the designation of more sites which are predominantly peatlands, coral reefs, mangroves and sea-grass beds (the latter 3 habitat types mainly in relation to Western European CPs with Dependent Territories in tropical regions) has been generally poor.

7. Although significant progress has been made since COP6, a substantial minority of designated Ramsar sites still lack adequate Ramsar Information Sheets or boundary maps.

8. The Convention should give high priority to cooperation with regional Conventions and agreements, including the UNECE Convention on Transboundary Impact Assessment, the UNECE Convention on Transboundary Lakes and Water Courses, HELCOM, and international processes such as those dealing with the Rhine and Danube basins (refer to the Conclusions and Recommendations from Technical Session I on Transboundary cooperation in particular paragraphs 29-31).

9. There is an urgent need for materials concerning wise use to be available in the national languages of Central and Eastern Europe. Effective communication with stakeholders requires ‘listening’, as well as ‘telling’.

10. Especially in Central & Eastern European, there is a need to enhance tools and opportunities for implementation through an integrated, cross-sectoral approach. However, the regional diversity of approaches to wetland and biodiversity conservation should not be lost in the processes of transition and EU accession.

 Recommendations:

11. Administrative Authorities of EU Ramsar Parties and the Bureau are urged to seek closer working arrangements with the appropriate Directives of the EU, and in particular the emerging Framework Directive on Water.

12. Parties are encouraged to review their situation with respect to the various site networks and to seek to harmonise the processes which are responsible for identifying, designating, monitoring and reporting on sites under these networks, with special attention in the case of EU countries being directed at achieving synergy in the processes relating to Ramsar sites and Natura 2000 sites.

13. Parties which do not have, or have not begun to develop National Wetland Policies and National Ramsar Committees are urged to give this high priority.

14. European Contracting Parties are urged to give high priority to providing to the Bureau the appropriate site descriptions and boundary maps in time for the publication of the new Ramsar Sites Directory to be produced for COP7. (Deadline for receiving these is 1 September 1998).

15. In accordance with COP6 decisions and the Strategic Plan, Parties are also urged to consider listing, in time for COP7, Ramsar sites which meet the fish criteria, or are peatlands (including mires), coral reefs, mangroves or seagrass beds.

16. The Bureau is requested to seek opportunities for providing and disseminating information on wise use to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in their national languages.


 Technical Session 1:

TRANSBOUNDARY COOPERATION

Conclusions

17. Transboundary Cooperation (TC) is a fundamental part of the Ramsar Convention; it has been expressed through the Convention text (Article 5 especially), COP Resolutions and Recommendations, the Strategic Plan, and will be a feature of two Technical Sessions at COP7.

18. For the European Region TC on wetlands and river basin management is essential if the long term sustainability of these systems is to be guaranteed. It is in a country's own self interest to participate in such cooperation. TC should be forward looking, clearly define responsibilities and employ existing legal and administrative structures as far as possible.

19. TC makes it possible to set up cooperative networks. This breeds solidarity, which lowers inherent administrative barriers.

20. Partnership is at the heart of TC. Cross-sectoral considerations are of key importance. All partners must be fully involved. TC involves a shared vision, an overall management framework and the harnessing of political will.

21. TC helps institute management structures; large-scale TC programmes require a coordinating body to facilitate, and give status to cooperation programmes. Coordinating bodies can also assist in monitoring implementation of TC.

22. Existing or potential models (e.g. MedWet) can help stimulate TC in other areas and there is significant existing experience of TC related to specific regions or themes (e.g. HELCOM, Green Danube Programme or Evian Project).

23. TC not only leads to the generation of information, but also, crucially, to opportunities for mutually beneficial sharing of information (often via new technologies).

24. TC is an additional tool to enlist support for wetland conservation. The awareness-raising aspects of TC can build additional support for wetland conservation and wise use.

25. Generation and convergence of international funding is aided significantly by TC.

26. TC in wetland management should be seen in terms of the longevity of a process rather than tied to the short life of a particular project.

27. Goals/objectives need to be clearly defined, yet remain flexible enough to be shaped or refined as new information becomes available or new/additional priorities become apparent.

28. Training and public education and awareness-raising initiatives are pre-requisites for most forms of TC and needs to be considered at all stages and levels of implementation of TC initiatives.

Recommendations:

29. The Administrative Authorities of the Ramsar Convention, are encouraged to work as appropriate with existing TC arrangements to contribute the perspective of wetland conservation and wise use. The Ramsar Bureau should also consider establishing closer working relations with key TC arrangements in Europe for the same purpose (see also paragraph 8 of the Conclusions and Recommendations of Plenary Session A).

30. For COP7 the Ramsar Convention Bureau should, as part of the guidelines for implementation of Article 5 relating to international cooperation, provide an assessment of the global and regional legal instruments which currently exist for promoting transboundary cooperation related to shared wetlands, other water systems and dependent species, and recommend to Parties the most appropriate mechanisms for Parties to apply in implementing and further promoting this fundamental obligation of the Ramsar Convention.

31. The Third Pan-European meeting further recommends that in developing this guidance to the Parties the Bureau takes into consideration the above conclusions of this Technical Session and explore the legal and other implications of the Ramsar Convention developing a Protocol on Transboundary Cooperation.


Technical Session 2:

NATIONAL AND REGIONAL WETLAND POLICIES

Conclusions

32. There is a need for the Ramsar Convention to work with the other water sectors in the future development of criteria for sustainable development which balance human-ecological and ecological factors.

33. The Ramsar Convention Bureau and Administrative Authorities need to continue, or begin dialogue with other sectors, such as those dealing with irrigation, drainage, water supply, sanitation and hydropower to encourage a suitably balanced approach to integrated water resource management which takes an ecosystem approach.

34. The Ramsar Convention needs to give clearer recognition to the importance of groundwater in the management of whole water systems and the potential impacts which groundwater pollution and over consumption of groundwater reserves can have on wetlands.

35. Case studies demonstrated the lessons which have been learnt in the processes of developing and implementing National Wetland Policies. Many of these same lessons apply to implementing catchment scale water management. Some of the key elements were:

  • education and awareness raising
  • monitoring to guide management
  • need to include economic valuation in assessments
  • need for ongoing research to inform decision making
  • inter-Ministerial consultation is essential
  • integration with other related policies and strategies (biodiversity, water etc.) is highly desirable
  • the Ramsar Strategic Plan is a helpful starting point or model for policy development which can also assist with National Reporting to the COPs.
  • local financial incentives or loans schemes are helpful, or sometime essential to gain local stakeholder participation and support.

36. Planning and management at the catchment scale is ideal and should not ignore the coastal zone where land-based runoff can have major impacts. In the management of inland water and coastal zone ecosystems, taking a whole system, integrated approach should be promoted by the Convention.

37. The Convention should work to provide Parties with better guidance on the designation and management of very small Ramsar sites. Improved guidance is also needed in relation to the designation and management of mire and karst systems.

Recommendations:

38. See paragraph 13 (Plenary Session A) relating to the development of National Wetland Policies.

39. In the development of National Wetland Policies Parties are urged to take into consideration the importance of the elements set out in paragraph 35 above.

40. Parties are also urged to adopt integrated planning and management approaches at the catchment scale to ensure the conservation and wise use of wetlands. In the coastal zone, integrated approaches are also essential and these should ideally be linked to catchment management practices.

41. In the implementation of the integrated approaches advocated in paragraph 40. above, Parties are urged to carefully consider their groundwater resources (and those they share with other Parties), and in particular, to give special attention to addressing pollution and over consumption of these resources. In addition it is recommended that at COP7 there be clear recognition of the need to manage groundwater resources in accordance with the wise use principles, especially where these supply or can impact directly on wetlands.

42. Parties are urged to give priority to the designation of small sites for the Ramsar List, especially where they include karst and peatland/mire wetlands, and in so doing to determine boundaries which include the essential functional units at the landscape scale, and possibly buffer zones which can assist with managing these sites to retain their ecological character. In the drafting of the new Guidelines for the application of the Criteria for selecting Ramsar sites the Bureau is requested to liaise with the appropriate Parties to ensure suitable guidance is included relating to boundary definition of small sites.


Technical Session 3:

MANAGING EUROPEAN WETLANDS - THE ROLE OF RESTORATION & REHABILITATION

Conclusions

43. Restoration and rehabilitation of wetlands is vital for recovering their lost functions and values, and has been promoted through COP Resolutions and Recommendations and in the Strategic Plan. It has become a high priority in major regions of the world.

44. Restoration and rehabilitation can enhance the full range of functions, values and resources provided by wetlands, including significant economic benefits. While schemes may be costly, they may nevertheless be a prudent investment for future economic gain.

45. However, where it is possible to anticipate approaches to and needs for restoration or rehabilitation, it is far wiser and more cost-effective to take immediate action to prevent wetland degradation and avoid the need for costly and uncertain repair of damage later.

46. Priorities for restoration and rehabilitation efforts should be decided at an appropriate strategic level, (in many cases this will be at the national level, but for example in the case of shared wetland systems, established transboundary cooperation frameworks should address the issue).

47. The aims and objectives of restoration or rehabilitation initiatives must be clear, and should specify the intended target state for the wetland concerned. The aim generally should be to produce results which approach a state within which the wetland’s functioning is as near-natural as possible, to the extent that suitable ecological conditions persist and a measure of feasibility is assured. Other objectives may be appropriate, but they must be backed by a clear rationale.

48. All restoration and rehabilitation schemes must have a monitoring plan, with decisions made at the outset about what constitutes success, and over what time-scale results may be expected.

49. Restoration and rehabilitation should feature where appropriate in management planning, national policy frameworks and development assistance programmes.

50. The details of the approach taken in each case will be specific to the individual wetland concerned: while exchange of experience between countries is important, care must be exercised in generalising about techniques and solutions from one example to another, but in general approaches should seek to use natural processes to promote recovery.

51. Closer working relationships could be built between the communities of scientists and practitioners who have expertise to offer to wetland restoration and rehabilitation.

52. Experimental approaches help to demonstrate the effectiveness of restoration and rehabilitation measures in ways which can be used to gain knowledge, support and confidence. In some small or vulnerable areas however the scope for "trial and error" will be limited.

Recommendations

53. Parties should include wetland restoration and rehabilitation objectives and priorities in their national plans, policies and programmes on wetlands. Where appropriate, relevant objectives should be integrated into wetland management plans.

54. Interested Parties should contribute to the work of the STRP and Bureau in drafting a Decision and Annex on wetland restoration and rehabilitation for COP7. In its planning and preparations for COP7, the Bureau is urged to ensure that issues relating to restoration and rehabilitation are given prominence, especially in Technical Sessions I, II & III. Consideration should also be given to a Special Intervention on these issues.

55. Interested Parties should also consider leading further discussion and exchange of experience at the pre-Conference Global Biodiversity Forum and/or associated events during COP7.


Technical Session 4:

BUILDING FINANCIAL AND TECHNICAL CAPACITY FOR WETLAND CONSERVATION AND WISE USE

Conclusions

56. Active partnership with the "sister" Conventions of Ramsar, through mechanisms such as the Joint Work Plan with the CBD, can have substantial benefits for the conservation and wise use of wetlands through encouraging more integrated approaches. In particular it can help to provide opportunities for countries to seek support for capacity building activities.

57. The debt-for-environment swap approach provides a way through which national debt can be converted for environment protection and conservation activities within the country. Such arrangements can also provide an opportunity for partnerships to be forged between governments, local authorities, the private sector, NGOs, and funding agencies.

58. Multilateral and bilateral cooperation programmes continue to provide an important source of funds for wetlands projects and can assist countries in economic transition to meet their Ramsar obligations. These projects are generally highly cost-effective and can provide long term benefits through capacity building.

59. "Hands on" style training programmes for wetland managers and decision makers are very important capacity building tools and if the participants are drawn from different regions can help to expand more global networks of wetland practitioners and expose participants to a range of management challenges and cultural contexts.

60. There is a need for wetland practitioners to gain training in the planning and implementation of integrated river basin and coastal zone management, and for specialists from related management sectors (such as financial, legal, ecotourism etc) to gain training in how to assess the functions, values and benefits of wetlands.

61. Efforts should be intensified to increase the participation of women in training activities.

62. Training at the international, regional and national scales would benefit from the establishment of an appropriate mechanism for enhancing networking, information sharing and coordination.

63. MedWet has a strong training component which should continue to be supported as a priority to institutionalize training in these 23 countries and to lead to the establishment of national training programmes.

Recommendations:

64. All Parties are urged to note the Joint Work Plan and the various Decisions from CBDs COP4 which relate to the partnership between CBD and the Ramsar Convention. Eligible Parties are encouraged to develop suitable projects for consideration for funding support by the GEF in accordance with the specific text in the above referred to Decisions.

65. Ramsar Administrative Authorities are further urged to review their working relationships with the focal points of the CBD and other appropriate international conventions to ensure that at the national scale there is coordinated effort directed at conservation and sustainable development.

66. Parties which are considering, or developing, debt-for-environment swap agreements are encouraged to include wetland conservation and wise use projects as part of the portfolio of national activities which will be supported.

67. Multi-lateral and bilateral donors are urged to continue providing support to countries with economies in transition in Europe and especially for projects which will assist these countries to build their capacities to meet their obligations under the Ramsar Convention.

68. Parties are urged to include training components in all relevant aspects of their implementation of the Ramsar Convention including the development of National Wetland Policies, the implementation of wise use practices through to site-based activities, and, where appropriate to include training elements in projects being submitted to funding bodies.

69. Parties, the Bureau, the Partner Organizations, other NGOs and donor agencies are encouraged to escalate their efforts to implement Operational Objective 4.2 of the Ramsar Convention Strategic Plan 1997-2002 relating to training, and in particular those actions which will promote integrated catchment/river basin management. The participation of women in all such training should be a priority.

70. The Third Pan-European Ramsar Regional meeting endorses consideration of establishing a mechanism for improved networking, information-sharing and coordination, at the global scale, in relation to wetland management training. Interested Parties, the Bureau, the Partner Organizations, Tour du Valat (for MedWet), and other NGOs are requested to work together to develop a proposal for such a mechanism for consideration by possible donor organizations.


Plenary Session B:

7TH CONFERENCE OF PARTIES, COSTA RICA, MAY 1999

Conclusions

71. The structure for National Reports (including a table of Listed sites in the country concerned) was distributed to all Contracting Parties under cover of Diplomatic Notification in January 1998. Diskettes containing the structure in several different electronic formats are also being distributed by the Bureau. The structure follows that of the Ramsar Strategic Plan to enable national, regional and global evaluation of the Strategic Plan at COP7. A Regional Overview will be compiled by each Regional Coordinator for presentation during COP7 Plenary Sessions. The reports will, as public documents, also be posted on the Convention’s World Wide Web Site.

72. The technical programme for COP7 will consist of 5 Technical Session Themes (each with related sub-themes) and a series of Special Interventions to Plenary. The Technical Session discussions will be based mainly on regional groupings, following introductory presentations in the plenary hall.

73. In relation to the information paper on regionalisation prepared by the Bureau for the Standing Committee Subgroup on this issue, it was concluded that the Subgroup should further study the options for possible redefinition of the Convention’s regional structure at COP7. The third option presented in the tabled information paper was not widely supported.

74. The selection of Standing Committee representatives for the 2000-2002 trennium will depend on the outcome of the debate at COP7 on the regionalisation issue.

75. The nomination of new STRP members cannot be delayed by discussion of the Convention’s regionalisation. The call for nominations (with indications of areas of expertise likely to be needed) was sent out under Diplomatic Notification on 19 March 1998, with a deadline of 14 August 1998.

76. The meeting noted the Secretary General’s report of the currently healthy situation of the Convention’s core budget and his intention to seek an ‘cost-of-living only’ increase at COP7. The meeting also noted the Secretary General’s request that consideration nevertheless be given to including funds for recruitment of a Development Assistance Officer, meeting the Bureau’s costs for organisation of future COPs, and to putting the Small Grants Fund onto a more stable financial footing.

77. The meeting noted the Bureau’s request that draft decisions, or proposals for draft COP7 decisions, be submitted as soon as possible, ahead of the formal 60-day deadline.

78. In conformity with COP6 and Standing Committee decisions, the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award has been established. The meeting noted that, for presentation at COP7, 3 donations of USD 10,000 have been made available by the Danone Group as part of the Evian Project to complement the Ramsar Award. Nominations, using the specially-prepared form, should be submitted to the Bureau by 31 July 1998.

Recommendations

79. Contracting Parties should submit their National Reports, in printed and electronic copies, to the Bureau by 1 September 1998. The reports should be submitted officially, preferably under cover of a letter signed by the appropriate Minister.

80. In completing their National Reports, Contracting Parties should apply the principle that an excess of detail is preferable to little or no detail. A single, consolidated report should be submitted by Contracting Parties which have a federal structure.

81. The meeting endorsed the proposal that Technical Session discussions at COP7 be held on the basis of a single, Pan-European regional grouping. Efforts should be made to include the issue of restoration and rehabilitation as a Technical Session sub-theme, and/or as a Special Intervention, in the programme of COP7.

82. Contracting Parties are urged to liaise with members of the Standing Committee Subgroup on Regional Categorization (Canada, Hungary -Chair, Islamic Republic of Iran, Papua New Guinea, Senegal and Uruguay) prior to the 21st Meeting of the Standing Committee (October 1998) if they wish to contribute to the debate on this issue.

83. Contracting Parties are urged to respect the relevant deadlines with regard to nominations for the Ramsar Award (31 July 1998), STRP (14 August 1998) or submission of draft COP7 decisions (as soon as possible, but no later than 10 March 1999).

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