Ramsar's address to the Wetlands International 3rd Board of Members meeting, November 2001


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Statement to the 3rd Board of Members Meeting of Wetlands International

(Wageningen, The Netherlands, 29 November – 2 December 2001)

by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

29 November 2001

It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to address this 3rd Meeting of the Board of Members of Wetlands International, and to share with you some thoughts about the future of Wetlands International and its institutional and working relations with the Convention on Wetlands. I should make clear that while I can not fully detach myself from my role as Secretary General of the Convention, the views that I will express here today should not be taken as an official position of the Convention, but only as a series of reflections of somebody who over the past six years has been observing the evolution of Wetlands International, and how the organization relates to the global intergovernmental treaty on wetlands.

Let me start by saying without ambiguity that the Convention on Wetlands needs to be able to count upon a strong and effective Wetlands International organization. It is my earnest hope that this meeting of your Board will put the organization on a path that will ensure that.

While Wetlands International has continued to deliver good products in many forms in different parts of the world, we have been observing with concern the upheavals that the organization has been going through in the recent past, in part, in my view, because the changes introduced in structure and modus operandi in 1995 did not work. No blames here. All those who were involved in this process have acted, I am sure, with the best intentions, but the system did not work. Thus, I welcome the proposed changes in the structure of Wetlands International, as summarized in your papers with the following words: "Wetlands International requires a structure that gives individuals responsibility and enables management, and ultimately the Board, to hold people to account. It requires a loose-tight organisation, with global strategy, planning, standard setting and management practices closely controlled by the centre and other matters firmly delegated to the regions and subregions." I am of the opinion that the proposed new structure will ensure this.

The Ramsar Convention needs a strong and effective Wetlands International because, after all, as also expressed in the paper prepared for your meeting entitled "Wetlands International Re-Organization", Wetlands International "is the only international organization working solely for the conservation of wetlands; because the conservation of wetlands must be managed at international, national and local levels; because effective management demands thorough scientific research; because information must be made available to all concerned; because Wetlands International can often fulfil functions that international and local governmental agencies cannot; because Wetlands International brings together all the wetlands stakeholders." I fully subscribe to this statement.

Thus, because you are the only international non-governmental institution solely devoted to wetlands, and the Ramsar Convention is the only intergovernmental treaty also solely devoted to wetlands, while there is a difference in our institutional character, there is a total commonality of purpose that in my view should be more clearly reflected in the institutional arrangements that link us together.

I am advocating here for the consideration of your Board first, and then by our Standing Committee and eventually by our Conference of the Parties, if your Board wishes to bring this up through the Contracting Parties to Ramsar that are also members of Wetlands International, that a new and reinforced partnership should be established between Wetlands International and the Convention. A sort of "most-favored-nation trade status". We have the same mission (though it is worded in a different manner, something that I will come back to later) and to a large extent we share an overlapping membership and network. We both have comparative advantages that are complementary. Thus, I think that we both have to consider how we can combine our two pieces of music into one harmonious symphony. It should be clear that I am not talking about a take-over: I am inviting you to consider the necessary institutional arrangements between Wetlands International and the Convention that would help to deliver more wetland conservation and wise use on the ground, with more efficient exploit of the limited resources now at our disposal, and the possibility of, together, drastically increasing those resources.

A few examples: we have a Scientific and Technical Review Panel and you have your Specialist Groups. IUCN’s Species Survival Commission also have specialist groups in fresh water and marine species. Do we need both mechanisms? If yes, how we can establish a system to make them reinforce each other, a system that will go beyond the good will of the individual actors at a given time? You have a regional presence in several parts of the world. The Convention should be looking, in its next phase of development, also to establish regional presences, as we have just done in the Mediterranean. Should we continue to develop these regional presences in parallel?

But in order to move in the direction of a more synergistic relationship, Wetlands International should try to follow more closely the developments of the Convention. For example, in the documentation for this meeting I have not seen any references to the wise use concept that nowadays constitutes one of the three pillars of the Convention. Perhaps you consider that it is implied in your approach, but if so, in my view, it should be made explicit. Neither do I see any reference to expanding your work to the hydrological aspects of wetlands in terms of water quantity and quality to ensure the health of these ecosystems, and to their hydrological functions for human well-being. In this regard, I very much welcome the opening statement by the Director of Nature Management of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management, and Fisheries urging Wetlands International to place wetlands within the wider context of socio-economic development and water management as a whole.

The Convention, as an intergovernmental treaty, needs that its NGO partners play the role of encouraging, or even pressuring, governments to take ever more holistic approaches to wetland issues, fully embracing all aspects of wetland functions and values. It should not be the other way around. In this sense, I urge you to consider your Draft Strategy 2002-2005 in the light of the draft Ramsar Strategic Plan 2003-2008 to ensure that: a) your strategy will help deliver the Ramsar Strategic Plan in some crucial areas; and b) that your strategy will help to further advance the aspects of the Convention that are still in their infancy or poorly developed, but that may be crucial for the future of wetlands on this planet, such as inventory and assessment; restoration and rehabilitation; invasive alien species; adaptation to climate change; management of shared water resources, wetlands and wetland species; economic valuation of wetlands; incentives; and training. I also urge you to revisit your mission statement, to ensure that is fully compatible with that of the Convention.

I regret that I will not be able to stay with you for the rest of the meeting, since I have to fly to Montreal this afternoon to attend the 4th meeting of the UNEP-led process on International Environmental Governance, where an important document on "Implementing the clustering strategy for multilateral environmental agreements: a framework" will be under discussion.

I most sincerely wish you a very productive meeting, hoping that the collective wisdom of all of you will deliver the strong and effective Wetlands International that we need. 

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