Ramsar's keynote paper for the Wetlands International Board of Members meeting, Dakar, November 1998
The mainstreaming of wetland conservation and sustainable (wise) use
The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971): a tool for mainstreaming
Keynote paper for the
Wetlands International Board of Members meeting
by Dr Bill Phillips, Deputy Secretary General
STATEMENT TO BOARD OF MEMBERS MEETING OF WETLANDS INTERNATIONAL
by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General
I feel honored that the Convention Secretariat has been invited to deliver the keynote address at the First Meeting of the Board of Members of Wetlands International. I sincerely regret not being able to be with you on this occasion, but I am very happy that my colleague, Deputy Secretary General of the Convention, Dr. Bill Phillips, has taken up the challenge to prepare and deliver the keynote address.
In this short statement, I just want to reiterate how much we value our close and effective partnership with Wetlands International and its wide network, and at the same time to reaffirm what I consider to be most important issue raised in the paper by Dr Phillips.
In my view, the central and most significant challenge for us all is to mainstream wetland concerns in the societies all over the world. To do so, we need to have people and governments understand and accept that wetlands are an important component of each societys natural endowment, or, if you prefer, the natural capital, the natural infrastructure, on which the development and well being of that society is built. People all over the world are very practically minded, seeking first of all their security (in the broad sense of the word), and their survival, in the best possible conditions, for them and their children. Thus, we have to make an effort to present wetlands to them in that light, so that these precious ecosystems can be valued and recognized for the services that they provide to our planet and to the people on this planet.
If that is the challenge, all our tools and our strategies have to be shaped accordingly, so that we can effectively respond to it. And in doing so, we will not be abandoning or neglecting the issues and approaches that might have been at the origin of many peoples concerns in devoting their lives to wetlands: to the contrary, we would have embraced those concerns and responded appropriately.
I wish you a very productive Board meeting. We, at the Convention on Wetlands, look forward to the inspiration that I know will come from your deliberations in Dakar.
The mainstreaming of wetland conservation and sustainable (wise) use
The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971): a tool for mainstreaming
1. Universal membership of the Ramsar Convention
1.1 A priority is to fill the gaps in global membership which exist. These are the remaining non-Contracting Parties of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Small Island Developing States
2. Wise use of wetlands
2.1 It is important that wetland policies or strategies, in whatever form, have endorsement by the whole of Government, thus committing all Ministries to their implementation. Wetland policy or strategy development should lead to a process of legislative review within the country.
2.2 It is critical to engage all Ministries in the development of national wetland policies, and also the focal points for other international environment conventions within the country.
2.3 Wetlands must join the mainstream of integrated water resources management through the integration of wetlands into broader water management programmes, especially at the river basin or catchment scale.
2.4 The wetland community has to accept that part of mainstreaming is to put dollar values and social cost estimates on development proposals so that economic imperatives are placed in full context.
2.5 Promote grass roots action and the involvement of local communities and indigenous people in the management of wetlands.
2.6 Partnerships with the business community which can help to demonstrate wise use in action should be pursued so that the private sector becomes more actively engaged in supporting the goals of the Ramsar Convention through providing resources and tangible actions.
3. Education, public awareness and communication
3.1 The proposed Outreach Programme of the Ramsar Convention will see the Bureau working as partners under a coalition with the Global River Environmental Education Network (GREEN), Project WET, and Water Planet as well as the Convention' traditional Partner Organisations. The Wetlands Link International Programme is to form a central element of this partnership and serve as part of the delivery mechanism for wetlands-related education, awareness raising and communication work.
4. Capacity building and training
4.1 Many of the actions promoted by the Convention are designed to result in greater recognition of the Ramsar Convention at the national level, and therefore greater commitment from governments to seeing the various elements of the Convention implemented fully. Increased recognition of wetland issues provided by the development of National Wetland Policies and the establishment of National Ramsar Committees should increase the chances of major wetland-related projects gaining priority from the governments concerned in their project lists submitted to donor agencies.
The other main components of institutional capacity building are communications and training. Training itself remains a major challenge for the wetlands community. It is not that training expertise does not exist, the challenge is getting the training delivered to the people that want it, in the ways that will result in it being the most effective.
5. Management of Wetlands of International Importance
5.1 The major gaps in current management planning are a failure to include monitoring, a lack of long term resources for implementation of management plans, and the need for training in the preparation, implementation, and review of management plans.
Ramsar sites have always been, and will continue to be a "flagship" of the Ramsar Convention, and as such their condition reflects either well or badly on the Convention depending upon the state of individual sites. As the List of Ramsar sites grows, so too does the frequency of site management problems, and the Convention has to be prepared to address these in a serious, as well an efficient and effective way.
Management planning is designed to have the appropriate management regime in place, and if it includes a suitable monitoring framework, then early warning of problems should result. It is at this time that management authorities need to have direct and rapid access to the right type of expertise.
6. Designation of Ramsar sites
6.1 In most countries there has not been a concerted effort to take a systematic approach to Ramsar site listing, so as to ensure that at the national level the "estate" includes suitable representatives of all wetland types, and those sites of greatest importance for conserving global biodiversity and key ecological processes. There is an urgent need to define the priorities for wetland inventory.
7. International cooperation
7.1 One of the greatest challenges for national authorities is to ensure that at all levels their implementation of international environment conventions is coordinated. It is important that the national administrative authorities and focal points are integrating their delivery of these conventions wherever it is appropriate, and also ensuring that the conventions at the global level are not duplicating effort or working at crossed purposes.
7.2 A priority in the developed countries is to have closer working links developed being the bilateral donor programmes and the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities within their countries. In developing and transition countries, the question of access to funds from bilateral and multilateral donors is critical to advancing the implementation of the Ramsar Convention.
7.3 The proposed Ramsar Convention Guidelines on International Cooperation will cover everything from transboundary wetlands and watersheds, migratory wetland-dependent species, sharing of knowledge, trade in wetland-derived products, and foreign investment impacts on wetlands. The Convention also needs to become more active in the management of transboundary wetlands and river basins. In the past, Ramsar has not been used as a tool to bring countries together to form multilateral management arrangements.
8. Institutions of the Convention
8.1 The Ramsar Convention wont have arrived as a mainstream international convention until the delegations to its COPs include higher level government officials and political appointees; that is, more of the decision-makers taking a direct, hands-on interest in the business of the Convention.
8.2 The Ramsar Convention has an annual budget which is approximately one-seventh that of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), one quarter that of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), and half that of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Until we see the budget of the Ramsar Convention approaching the levels of these other international environment conventions, it cannot be said that wetlands are a mainstream issue.
In many countries, Ramsar Convention business is handled by relatively junior Ministries, or small divisions within Ministries that are specialised for protected area management. This is a reflection of the persistent, but inaccurate, view that the Ramsar Convention is only about designating and managing Wetlands of International Importance.
The SGF is one of the Ramsars Conventions most important instruments for promoting on-ground action and capacity building. If wetlands are to be a mainstream issue, then the SGF must be guaranteed an annual allocation of at least US$1.0m.
8.3 There remains scope for improving cooperation and partnership between the Ramsar Convention and its Partner Organisations such as Wetlands International. This needs to happen not only at the global scale as it has in the past, but also at the regional and national scales.
One of the keys to seeing wetlands become truly mainstream lies with the support which the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities have from their governments and Ministers. For mainstreaming to occur, we have to use the many tools described above (and others) to put these issues firmly on national agendas. The Ramsar Convention can do that, but will rely upon the continuing energetic support and expertise of organisations like Wetlands International.
There is a growing sense and talk among practitioners that wetlands are becoming a mainstream issue which will give them higher priority for action and mobilise resources to support these actions. Is this true ?
While it is certainly true that wetland issues are more visible today than they were 20 or even 10 years ago, can we say that wetlands as an issue have the prominence today of other topical environment issues such as global warming, desertification, biodiversity conservation in general, or of ecosystems such as tropical rainforests and coral reefs?
This paper uses the Strategic Plan 1997-2002 of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971), and more specifically its 8 General Objectives, to review the progress in mainstreaming wetlands as an issue. It also suggests those areas where we may still have a way to go before wetlands are considered part of the "core business" of most governments around the world.
The Ramsar Convention is unique among the international conventions in that it is the only one with a comprehensive Strategic Plan to guide its actions. This Plan, adopted in 1996 for the period 1997-2002, describes some 125 actions under the 8 General Objectives used in this paper. The Strategic Plan is also used to determine the format of the National Reports submitted by the Contracting Parties in advance of each Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP), and it provides, in large part, the priorities of the Standing Committee, the Scientific and Technical Review Panel, and the secretariat (the Bureau) of the Convention. The Strategic Plan is in many ways a reflection of the maturity of the Ramsar Convention, which since 1971 has established a clear niche and set of themes for action. Yet, despite this maturity and clear vision of the Convention, it seems that very few countries have yet to witness a full mainstreaming of wetlands as an issue.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 1
To progress towards universal membership of the Convention
1.1 Filling the gaps in global membership
At the time of preparing this paper there were 113 Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention. The Bureau of the Convention is aware of at least 15 others that are well advanced in the process of becoming Contracting Parties. The Strategic Plan rightly recognises that one part of mainstreaming wetland issues is to increase the membership and geographic coverage of the Convention. The priority for the Convention has to be to fill the gaps in global membership which still exist. These are the remaining non-Contracting Parties of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Small Island Developing States.
The Strategic Plan sets a target of 120 Contracting Parties by the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP) in the year 2002. It seems likely that this target will be achieved well before then, possibly at Ramsars 7th COP in Costa Rica in 1999. If so, the target should be reset to 150 Contracting Parties by 2002. This will only be achieved with strong support and targeted action from Ramsars Partner NGOs, including Wetlands International, through its regional offices and programmes.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 2
To achieve the wise use of wetlands by implementing and further developing the Ramsar Wise Use Guidelines.
2.1 National Wetland Policies/Strategies/Action Plans - Legislation
One of the clear signals that wetland issues are becoming part of the mainstream of government business in a country is a willingness to prepare, and then implement, some form of national policy or strategy which reflects the obligations of the country under the Ramsar Convention. Such documents can take many forms, at times being an integrated element of biodiversity or water management policies or alternatively being stand-alone documents with appropriate coordinating mechanisms to other such instruments. It is critical that wetland policies or strategies, in whatever form, have endorsement by the whole of Government, thus committing all Ministries to their implementation. If this is not the case, then the chances are high that the wetland policy will be ignored by other Ministries, some of which may be supporting activities directly counter to the purpose and intent of the policy paper.
The lesson that has been learned is to engage all Ministries in the development of national wetland policies, and also the focal points for other international environment conventions within the country, if they are not the same as for the Ramsar Convention. It goes without saying that consultation with stakeholders from the non-government sector is also important in order to build support and understanding. All of these elements will lead to the adoption of a national platform for wetland conservation and wise use which did not exist previously, and which will contribute to the mainstreaming process.
Another important lesson that has been learned in this area is to use the Ramsar Convention Strategic Plan to help shape the development of national wetland policies or strategies. It provides an ideal checklist of areas which should be addressed, noting that since the adoption of the Strategic Plan the Convention has now recognised additional issues such as invasive species, pollution management, and integrated water resources management as areas of high priority as well.
Another important aspect of wetland policy or strategy development is to ensure that they activate a process of legislative review within the country so that all operational law and associated administrative practices are working to support the implementation of the policies, or at least not acting counter to that purpose.
While it is clear that about half of the current Ramsar Contracting Parties have wetland policies in place or under development, few it seems have followed this through with legislative reviews. Guidance in this regard, and for how to develop wetland policy instruments, will be adopted at Ramsars COP7, and continuing to promote policy and legislative reforms to serve the needs of wetland conservation and wise use must remain a very high priority.
2.2 National Wetlands Committees - Integrated delivery of Conventions
See sections 2.1, 4.1, and 7.1.
2.3 Integrated land/water and coastal zone planning and management processes
Over the past decade it has been realised that wetlands cannot be managed in isolation from their landscapes or water sources. While still acknowledging that for individual sites some elements of management are also needed at the local level (buffer zones, for example), the Ramsar Convention has encouraged the integration of wetlands into broader water management programmes, especially at the river basin or catchment scale. In some countries there are well established practices for developing integrated management approaches for water systems, and these need to be transferred and adapted to the circumstances in other countries only now beginning to move in this direction.
At COP7, the Ramsar Convention will have before it, for consideration and adoption, guidelines promoting the conservation and wise use of wetlands as an integrated component of river basin management. With this tool in place, the challenge will be to offer resources and support to have wetlands (literally) join the mainstream of integrated water resources management.
2.4 Assessment techniques
Ramsars Strategic Plan promotes further development of economic valuation methodologies and environmental impact assessment techniques as a way to ensure that the true values and benefits of wetlands are considered in development decisions. At COP7 these two issues will be considered as an integrated whole along with strategic environmental assessment and social impact assessment. For wetlands to become mainstream it is essential that high level decision-makers understand fully that wetland conversion has significant social as well environmental costs. The wetland community has to accept that part of mainstreaming is to put dollar values and social cost estimates on development proposals so that economic imperatives are placed in full context.
2.5 Encouraging active and informed participation of local communities
See section 3.1.
2.6 Involvement of the private sector in the conservation and wise use of wetlands
Another element of mainstreaming wetlands as an issue is to more actively engage the private sector, and especially the business sector, in supporting the goals of the Ramsar Convention through tangible resources and actions.
In early 1998 the Ramsar Bureau entered into a partnership with the Danone Group and other French-based organisations, in the so-called Evian Project, which over the next three years will see nearly US$1 million directed to six action themes ranging from training, to communication, high-level roundtables for decision-makers, to site twinning networks in Africa and Europe. The benefits of this partnership with the private sector are obvious and similar arrangements are to be pursued to further the capacity of the Convention to deliver resources where they are needed.
At the national level also, partnerships with the business community which can help to demonstrate wise use in action should be pursued. Apart from the direct benefits, there are considerable spin-off benefits to be gained, such as recognition among influential private and government sector representatives that the Ramsar Convention truly is an instrument designed to promote wise use, not just a forum for talking about it!
It should also be recognised that in the Conventions proposed Outreach Programme (see section 3.1), the business community is a priority target group. If the Convention is to be successful, it has to work with those sectors of the business world that are undertaking activities which are impacting negatively on wetlands, in order to change these behaviours through increased awareness and the provision of technical expertise and training. Criticising these activities that we know are destroying wetlands is the simple response, but not the one needed for the long-term sustainability of wetlands.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 3
To raise awareness of wetland values and functions throughout the world and at all levels
3.1 Encouraging active and informed participation of local communities
The sad reality remains that in most countries, education, public awareness raising, and communication activities remain those actions undertaken only if and when resources allow. Few countries can boast of having well-planned and carefully targeted programmes directed at promoting informed action by local people in the management of wetlands. There are of course exceptions to this, where wetlands feature as elements of such campaigns for biodiversity conservation more broadly. It matters not how these messages are conveyed, and there are some advantages to seeing wetlands considered as an integrated element of broader natural resource management programmes.
At its COP7 the Ramsar Convention will consider guidelines for promoting the involvement of local communities and indigenous people in the management of wetlands. It will also have before it a draft Outreach Programme directed at Contracting Parties, the Ramsar Bureau, and the Conventions Partners. Importantly, this Programme will seek to create links between the existing work being done by these Partners and those programmes that are dedicated to community empowerment through learning and hands-on experience. The programmes that the Convention will initially seek to establish operational links with are the Global River Environmental Education Network (GREEN), Project WET, and Water Planet. The Outreach Programme document referred to above aims to see these programmes working as partners with the Bureau and the Conventions Partner Organisations. An important aspect of this is to see the Wetlands Link International Programme forming a central element of this partnership and serving as part of the delivery mechanism for wetlands-related education, awareness raising and communication work.
Another aspect of the draft Ramsar Convention Outreach Programme is the proposal to have each Contracting Party identify expert government and non-government focal points for education, awareness raising, and communication activities. These people (or organisations) will provide an instant global network for information and promoting cooperation. It is hoped that Ramsars Partners can work with them in supporting and assisting appropriate activities.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 4
To reinforce the capacity of institutions in each Contracting Party to achieve conservation and wise use of wetlands
4.1 Reinforcing institutional capacity and training
The issue of reinforcing institutional capacity is a complex one which has links to several others aspects of this paper. In terms of mainstreaming wetlands as an issue, the institutions which are the Ramsar Administrative Authorities are among the highest priorities for gaining increased resources and expertise for implementation of the Convention.
Looking first at the resources issues, there are many actions promoted by the Convention which are designed to result in greater recognition of the Ramsar Convention at the national level, and therefore greater commitment from governments to seeing the various elements of the Convention implemented fully. For example, where Contracting Parties develop National Wetland Policies which are adopted by the whole of Government, thus committing all Ministries to their implementation, this act in itself usually gives the Ramsar Administrative Authority greater status within Government administration. Likewise, the establishment of cross-sectoral National Ramsar Committees which are expected to provide direct advice to Government on wetland-related issues can also result in increased profile and status for the Administrative Authority of the Convention. Apart from the obvious other merits of having National Wetland Policies and National Ramsar Committees, increasing the capacity of the focal point Ministry can be an important supplementary outcome from these actions, and should therefore be a priority for support.
In the case of developing countries and those in transition, it can also be the case that through the increased recognition of wetland issues provided by the development of National Wetland Policies and the establishment of National Ramsar Committees, the chances are greater that major wetland-related projects will gain priority from the governments concerned in their project lists submitted to donor agencies. Where the Ramsar Administrative Authority does not have such policy backing, it seems rare that major wetland projects are recommended unless they are also promoted by the focal points for one of the other international environment conventions within that country, such as the Conventions on Biological Diversity, Climate Change, or Desertification.
Two of the other main components of institutional capacity building are communications and training. Especially in the developing world, and also in some developed countries, there is a need to support the establishment of Internet access and e-mail communications for the Ramsar Administrative Authorities. It is noticeable that for parts of the developing world where Internet access is more common (e.g., Latin America) the flow of information about wetlands activities is that much greater. Where the infrastructure and resources are less available, as in Africa, the transfer of information and expertise is that much slower and needs to be addressed as a priority. The Ramsar Bureau is presently providing funds to10 developing and transition Contracting Parties, through its private sector partnership with the Danone Group (the Evian Project) - see section 2.5 - to try to assist in this area, but much more is needed.
Training itself remains a major challenge for the wetlands community. It is not that training expertise does not exist, the challenge is getting the training delivered to the people who want it, in ways that will result in it being the most effective. The Ramsar Bureau began to assemble in early 1998 a Directory of Wetland Management Training Opportunities. In just a few months, without a serious campaign to gather information, this Directory contains nearly 70 such training opportunities in different parts of the world. It is clear that once this project gains full momentum, it will have several hundred training programmes documented. However, this is only a minor part of the challenge - knowing about programmes is one thing, getting people to these programmes or the programmes to the people remains the issue.
It would seem there is a niche here for an organisation like Wetlands International that can work with donors and countries to ensure that every opportunity for appropriate training is taken and factored into funding proposals. In the developed world, it is clear that training should continue to be, or be an even higher priority than it is now. It is critical that such training be directed at a wide range of target groups, from high-level decision-makers to site managers and those people seeking to promote informed community action.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 5
To ensure the conservation of all sites included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance
5.1 Management planning - monitoring - threatened sites
Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention are expected to maintain the "ecological character" of their designated Wetlands of International Importance. As such they are encouraged to prepare management plans for their Ramsar sites, and there are clear signs that many are doing so. A review of the management planning practices completed recently by the Ramsar Conventions Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) reveals that the major gaps in current management planning are a failure to include monitoring, a lack of long-term resources for implementation of management plans, and the need for training in the preparation, implementation and review of management plans.
Also, through the STRP, the Convention has provided a model framework for monitoring of wetland sites, and COP7 will have presented to it a Wetland Risk Assessment Framework as well. With these tools Contracting Parties will be well placed to ensure that future management plans have appropriate monitoring regimes included. However, the reality will remain that for many countries there will continue to be serious resource constraints for the development and implementation of such plans. Similarly, the need for training to use the tools provided by the Convention in this area will remain a priority.
Under the Convention there also exists an avenue through which Contracting Parties can voluntarily include their Listed sites in a register of sites undergoing or threatened with change in ecological character. This, the so-called Montreux Record, is designed to identify Ramsar sites where priority remedial actions will be taken to retain or re-establish the ecological character. When requested, the Ramsar Bureau will organise an expert advisory mission to the site to provide guidance to the country on how to address the causal factors.
Ramsar sites have always been, and will continue to be, "flagships" of the Ramsar Convention, and as such the condition of these sites reflects either well or badly on the Convention, depending upon the state of individual sites. As the List of Ramsar sites grows, so too does the frequency of site management problems, and the Convention has to be prepared to address these in a serious, as well an efficient and effective way. Inclusion on the Montreux Record, with follow-up expert missions, is one tool the Convention has, but it is clear that more is needed than this approach, which is more reactive than proactive.
Management planning is designed to put the appropriate management regime in place, and if it includes a suitable monitoring framework, then early warning of problems should result. It is at this time that management authorities need to have direct and rapid access to the right type of expertise. The Ramsar Bureau can provide this, and so can the Conventions Partners with their regional and national offices and expert specialist groups networks. The challenge is to make this expertise more readily available.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 6
To designate for the Ramsar List those wetlands which meet the Conventions criteria, especially wetland types still under-represented in the List and trans-frontier wetlands
6.1 Taking a more strategic approach globally and nationally
At the time of preparing this paper, there were 957 Wetlands of International Importance globally with a total area of just greater than 70 million hectares. While this represents a considerable "estate" for the Convention, the fact remains that in most countries there has not been a concerted effort to take a systematic approach to Ramsar site listing, so as to ensure that at the national level the "estate" includes representatives of all wetland types, and those sites of greatest importance for conserving global biodiversity and key ecological processes. There are a number of reasons for this;
- a number of countries have designated just one site, as required in order to ratify the Convention, but no more;
- few countries have complete national inventories to allow them to know the full range of wetland types and the relative importance of sites for conserving biodiversity and ecological processes;
- designation tends to favour sites which are already under some form of protective management; that is, sites where the process of gaining government approval for designation is simpler;
- in some countries it seems there remains a focus on wetlands of importance for waterbirds, which, while a priority, is sometimes at the cost of taking a broader view of the Criteria.
In order to address some of these perceived shortcomings in the site designation process, the Convention is developing for consideration at its COP7 next May a Vision and Objectives statement for the Criteria for listing sites. At the same time guidelines are being prepared for taking a more strategic approach to identifying priority sites for designation. If this is adopted and taken seriously by the Contracting Parties, then it should result in some of the imbalances (under-represented wetland types, etc.) in the current Ramsar List being rectified over time. It will also ensure that the List of Wetlands of International Importance gains greater recognition for its contribution to the global conservation of biological diversity and key ecological processes.
The Global Review of Wetland Resources project being undertaken at present by Wetlands International, for the Ramsar Bureau, forms another element of the response to this issue of taking a more strategic approach to Ramsar listing. It will provide the best estimate of the worlds wetland resources, identify the data holdings, and present priorities for wetland inventory in the future. This project will be reported in Technical Session IV at Ramsars COP7 and is pivotal to Contracting Parties taking a more strategic approach to site designation, and more broadly in terms of wetland management.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 7
To mobilise international cooperation and financial assistance for wetland conservation and wise use in collaboration with other conventions and agencies, both governmental and non-governmental
7.1 Cooperation between the Conventions globally and nationally
One of the greatest challenges for national authorities is to ensure that at all levels their implementation of international and regional environment conventions is coordinated. This particularly applies for small countries where human resources are usually limited in the area of natural resource management. Ironically, it is in those countries with smaller bureaucracies that coordinated implementation of these treaties seems to be occurring more regularly. The larger the government administration, the greater the problem of internal coordination would seem to be.
Of course, this is a simplistic viewpoint of what is a complex problem area. However, if wetlands are to become mainstream business of governments, then it is vital that at the level of focal points and administrative authorities there is close cooperation between the people responsible for implementing the international Conventions on Biological Diversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Migratory Species, World Heritage, CITES, and Wetlands, where they apply, and the relevant regional treaties. Whether this is achieved through formal structures such as intergovernmental committees, national biodiversity committees, or by co-location of staff or whatever means, is less important. What is important is that these national authorities and focal points are integrating their delivery of these Conventions wherever it is appropriate, and also ensuring that the Conventions at the global level are not duplicating effort or working at crossed purposes.
At the global scale the Ramsar Bureau has and continues to actively pursue partnership approaches with the other environment Conventions. A Memorandum of Understanding is in place with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) and associated Joint Work Plan with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). An MoC with the Convention to Combat Desertification has also been prepared and should be signed at their COP2 in Senegal in December 1998. The Joint Work Plan with CBD recognises the Ramsar Convention as the lead partner on wetland-related activities in both inland and coastal wetland ecosystems. It will also see cooperation on a range of generic topics such as impact assessment, invasive species and information management.
7.2 Bilateral and multilateral donors
The national reports submitted by Contracting Parties for COP7 thus far have revealed a major gap in the government administration of most developed countries in the area of development assistance. That is, that only a handful of the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities claim to have an established mechanism or process for dialogue and cooperation with their bilateral development assistance agency. This seems incongruous given the repeated consideration of this issue by Ramsar COPs. However, it seems that in most developed countries, the development assistance agencies operate under different Ministries to the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities, and this seems to preclude close collaboration in many cases.
Bilateral development assistance agencies traditionally rely on the potential recipient countries to generate projects for consideration, and while this is an important aspect of self determination for these countries, there would seem to be a role for the Ramsar Administrative Authorities to provide technical advice on projects proposed and also to assist their development assistance agencies with priority setting for the development assistance programme. As one way to encourage this cooperation, the Convention has urged Contracting Parties to include representatives of their development assistance agencies on their official delegations to Ramsar COPs. To date few have done so.
If wetland issues are to be mainstreamed in this area, it would seem a priority to have closer working links developed between the bilateral donor programmes and the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities within their countries.
In developing and transition countries, the question of access to funds from bilateral and multilateral donors is critical to advancing the implementation of the Ramsar Convention. Supporting the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities to access these funds is therefore a priority. At present, the Ramsar Convention Partner NGOs play a key role in facilitating this process, acting as advisors for project development, negotiators to agree Terms of Reference, and in some cases as project managers for work funded in these countries. Hopefully this role will continue and increase even further. The Ramsar Bureau is also beginning to take a more active role in providing advice to the donor community for project development and implementation.
It is especially notable that at its 4th COP the Convention on Biological Diversity, through Decision IV/4 on the status and trends of the biological diversity of inland water ecosystems, urged Contracting Parties to request support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to prepare and implement integrated watershed, catchment and river basin management plans where they contain Wetlands of International Importance. This is an opportunity for many countries that are Contracting Parties to both Conventions to seek GEF resources for major wetland projects.
7.3 Shared wetland and water resources
Article V of the Ramsar Convention urges Contracting Parties to work together for the conservation and wise use of shared wetlands and their resources. At COP7 the Convention will consider the adoption of guidelines to assist with such cooperation which will cover everything from transboundary wetlands and watersheds, migratory wetland-dependent species, sharing of knowledge, trade in wetland-derived products, and foreign investment impacts on wetlands. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and CITES are logical partners of the Ramsar Convention in terms of migratory species and trade in wetland-derived products, respectively, and this will be developed further in the next triennium.
The area where the Convention also needs to become more active is in terms of the management of transboundary wetlands and river basins. Contracting Parties have a clear obligation to work cooperatively for the management of these so-called international wetlands and international river basins, but in the past the Convention has not been utilised as a tool to bring countries together to form multilateral management arrangements. The establishment of multilateral river basin commissions, such as OKACOM for the Okavango River Basin involving Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, is clearly within the mandate of the Ramsar Convention and should be promoted more strongly by both those Contracting Parties which share wetlands and river basins and the Bureau acting on behalf of the Convention. Support from Ramsars Partners will also aid in resolving the many emerging transboundary water management conflicts, using the Convention as a framework for cooperation.
Ramsar Strategic Plan - General Objective 8
To provide the Convention with the required institutional mechanisms and resources
8.1 Conferences of the Contracting Parties
The Ramsar Conventions COPs are considered among the most focused and productive of all such large intergovernmental meetings. The COPs have always contained a strong technical programme and this sets them apart from some of the other COPs which are preoccupied with the more political aspects of implementation.
While the highly focused COPs of Ramsar are a major asset of the Convention, this in itself is indicative of the composition of the typical delegation; that is, in accordance with Article 7.1 of the Convention, they contain people with expertise in wetland management. It has been suggested that the Ramsar Convention will not have arrived as a major international convention until the delegations to its COPs contain higher level government officials and political appointees; that is, more of the decision- makers taking a direct, hands-on interest in the Convention. Others argue that the trade-off for higher level representation, namely more political meetings, is not worth it if we lose the values of the COPs. Whichever side you take, there is no doubt that mainstreaming wetland issues will result in higher level delegations at COPs, and we must welcome it for what it represents, but we must also be prepared for it, in order to that ensure the highly productive nature of Ramsar COPs is retained.
8.2 Contributions to the Convention Budget, Operations of the Bureau, Operations of the Small Grants Fund
These three issues are considered together here because, at the most fundamental level, they all relate to the Convention budget as approved at each Conference of the Contracting Parties. The contributions to the budget by the Contracting Parties are set for the three-year periods following each COP and are determined in accordance with the UN Scale of Assessments, as is the case for all other international environment conventions. However, this is where the comparisons differ considerably, as reflected in the overall budgets of the other Conventions as shown in Table 1 below for the calendar year 1999.
These figures show that the Ramsar Convention has an annual budget which is approximately one-seventh that of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), one quarter that of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), and half that of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In terms of staffing within the secretariats, which is a partial reflection of these overall budgets, the Ramsar Convention has half the staffing level of CITES and between one quarter and one fifth of the human resources of CBD, CCD, and FCCC.
What conclusions can we draw from these figures, remembering that in large part the same governments are signatories to these same five Conventions? If a developed country is prepared to contribute seven times as much to CBD, or four times as much to FCCC, does that mean that the Ramsar Convention is considered that much less important? If so, then the mainstreaming of wetlands has a long way to go.
Table 1. The Ramsar Convention budget compared to other international environment conventions
|Convention||1999 Budget (US$)||X greater than Ramsar||1999 Staffing level||X greater than Ramsar|
Another interpretation of these figures (and the sizes of the secretariats they determine) is that they reflect the fact that the focal points or Administrative Authorities of these other Conventions are more prominent and influential within their governments (and therefore have access to larger budgets which can be directed to the Conventions they are responsible for implementing) than are the Ramsar Convention equivalents. There is some evidence to support this view, as in many countries Ramsar Convention business is handled by relatively junior Ministries, or small divisions within Ministries that are specialised for protected area management. This is a reflection of the persistent view that the Ramsar Convention is only about designating and managing Wetlands of International Importance. Regrettably, as the Convention has become a stronger instrument for promoting its Wise Use concept, few countries have reviewed their Administrative Authorities (as urged by Action 8.1.10 of the Conventions Strategic Plan) to establish if they continue to be the most appropriate for the modern Ramsar Convention.
A further implication of the relatively small Ramsar Convention budget is that the innovative and highly successful Small Grants Fund is restricted in its capacity to support the small-scale catalytic projects which it aims to foster. A review of the SGF over its eight years of activity shows that a total of 112 projects have been supported in developing countries and those in transition, using just over Swiss Francs 3.8m. In this same period, a further 123 suitable projects could not be funded due to the limited funds available. The 1996 Ramsar Convention COP approved an annual allocation of Swiss Francs 70,000 to the SGF for the period 1996-1999, and the balance has come from generous donors. The SGF is one of the Ramsar Convention's most important instruments for promoting on-ground action and capacity building. If wetlands are to become a mainstream issue, then the SGF must be guaranteed an annual allocation of at least US$ 1.0m.
Overall, it is apparent that for most countries wetlands remain a lower priority than the issues of biodiversity conservation, climate change, desertification and trade in endangered species. Until we see the budget of the Ramsar Convention (including its SGF) approaching the levels of these other international environment conventions, it cannot be said that wetlands are a mainstream issue.
8.3 Liaison mechanisms with partner organisations, strengthening of joint planning and co-operation
The Ramsar Convention is also unique because it has four official global non-government organisations as its "Partners". These are BirdLife International, IUCN - the World Conservation Union, WWF - the Worldwide Fund for Nature, and Wetlands International. The NGO Partners have historically been and continue to be one of the greatest strengths of the Ramsar Convention. The expertise of these organisations, their regional structures, and their abilities to mobilise donor resources for on-ground projects makes for an ideal partnership. However, there is always scope for improving such cooperation and partnership, and the view of the Ramsar Bureau is that joint strategic planning needs to happen not only at the global level as it has in the past, but also at the regional and national levels. There is no doubt that this will assist greatly in mobilising further resources and ensuring that actions proposed are consistent with national and regional priorities.
The national reports being submitted by Contracting Parties in preparation for COP7 indicate very clearly that wetlands are becoming a mainstream issue in many countries. Yet despite these encouraging signs there are also many countries, both developed and developing, where this is not the case. There is no simple formula which can be applied to change this, although it is pleasing to see that where mainstreaming is occurring it seems that the Convention on Wetlands is helping to provide the framework for action.
It should also be noted that some of the donor community have now recognised wetlands as core business, and once this is recognised by those countries eligible for their support, we should witness projects of the scale and type needed for serious on-ground action.
A final observation is that a key to seeing wetlands become truly mainstream lies with the support which the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities have from their governments and Ministers. We are fooling ourselves if we think that by continuing to do "business as usual" wetlands conservation and wise use will become mainstream. No, for this to occur we have to use the many tools described above (and others) to put these issues firmly on national agendas. The Ramsar Convention can do that, but will rely on the continuing energetic support and expertise of organisations like Wetlands International.