Report of the West and Central Asian Subregional Meeting, February 2002

12/03/2002

Ramsar West and Central Asian Subregional Meeting
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 3-5 February 2002

Photos of the meeting

Summary of outcomes

Opening and welcome

1. After recitation of the Holy Koran and the National Anthem, a welcome address was given by H.E. Dr Masoumeh Ebtekar, Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of the Department of the Environment. Opening statements were made by the Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, India as Regional Representative on the Ramsar Standing Committee, and BirdLife International on behalf of Ramsar's four International Organisation Partners.

2. The statements stressed the importance of the Subregional meeting in bringing together Parties to the Convention, countries preparing for accession, NGO and representatives of international organisation to review progress in wetland conservation wise use, and to identify common issues for future priority in preparation for consideration of issues at COP8. The important role of NGOs in working with governments to assist in their delivery of commitments to the Convention was also highlighted.

Country reports on implementation

3. The Ramsar Bureau reminded Parties that the Deadline for submitting National Report is 28 February 2002, and urged all Parties to submit comprehensive Reports since these provide the essential basis for assessing progress in implementation at COP8, identifying constraints to implementation and so identifying future priorities for national, regional and global action. After receipt of National Reports the Bureau will prepare analyses for global, regional and thematic reports for consideration by COP8.

Country reports - Contracting Parties

Azerbaijan

4. Azerbaijan has recently acceded to the Convention and reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· Its wetlands, of particular importance for migrant and wintering waterbirds, are threatened by increasing instability of water resources;
· Expanding irrigation systems are threatening some sites including the Kora and Aras wetlands;
· Oil pollution is a major problem, and a challenge is to encourage improved payment for environmental safeguards from the oil industry, both private and government sectors;
· As a new Party, there is a priority to develop a national wetlands strategy and action plan, which would contribute to a regional plan for the Caspian Region;
· Further wetlands of international importance have been identified for designation.

Bangladesh

5. Bangladesh reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· A legislative review has been made, and amendments made, including a new law prohibiting any development change in open water bodies, national parks and other open areas;
· A National Wetlands Policy has been drafted;
· A management plan for Tanguor Haor Ramsar site has been prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest;
· Under SGF funding the Forest Department has trained 23 officials from various disciplines;
· Work in enhancing local community participation in wetland management is under way, notably in developing a management plan for the Sundarbans (funded by the Asian Development Bank);
· An Haor (wetland) Development Board has been created, with outreach offices established in different areas;
· The high value of visits to the country/wetlands by senior Bureau staff was highlighted in raising the profile of the Convention and wetland issues although wetland issues are becoming more widely recognised;
· Willingness to assist neighbouring countries (Myanmar, Bhutan and the Maldives) to join the Convention.

India

6. India reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· There are over 200 national/state laws on the conservation of wetlands;
· Has established a wetland Committee; a National Conservation Policy, [National Forest Policy and National wetland Programme];
· A Management Action Plan for wetlands has been established and priority areas for conservation identified (including 30 mangrove and 4 coral reef sites)
· For lakes there is a National Lakes Conservation Plan, and work is in progress on transboundary action plans for rivers;
· 2 new Ramsar sites have been designated with 11 more awaiting listing by the Bureau: working towards the target of 25 new sites by COP8;
· Further wetlands mapping and inventory is planned;
· Much work has been undertaken to resolve complex management problems at Chilika Lake, and a recent Ramsar Advisory Mission has reviewed the removal of the site from the Montreux Record;
· At Harike Lake, Punjab state, major threats are invasive species (water hyacinth) and water pollution, which are being tackled.

Islamic Republic of Iran

7. Iran reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· A Ramsar sub-committee was established in 2000, as a sub-committee of the National Committee on Sustainable Development, with 15 representatives from different ministries and NGOs;
· A national Wetlands database is in the early stages of establishment;
· A study on establishing a wetlands Regional Training Research Centre in the city of Ramsar is being made;
· Preparations are being made for development of management plans for 7 Ramsar sites, including through a UNDP-GEF project for 4 sites, and the encouragement of participation by local communities in the conservation of wetlands;
· Translations into Persian Language of the Ramsar Manual and some parts of the Convention's 'toolkit' is being done as a way of encouraging local understanding of Ramsar and furthering wetland conservation and wise use;
· A UNEP-GEF Siberian Crane project has been approved, which includes management actions on three wetlands in Iran;
· Iran has been suffering severely from drought during last three years and this is causing major impacts on all wetlands, including Ramsar sites.

Nepal

8. Nepal reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· IUCN, working with the government is providing major assistance for wetland conservation;
· Major activities include rapid reconnaissance surveys and inventory of the Terai region, drafting of a wetlands section of the national Biodiversity Action Plan, drafting a National Wetland Policy, and developing site management plans and demonstration projects;
· Awareness is being raised of the problem of invasive species in wetlands, and an inventory of invasives in wetlands being made;
· Designation is planned of 3 more Ramsar sites;
· A UNDP-GEF PDF-B is underway, developing project briefs for 4 sites;
· A major problem with the first Ramsar site designated is that it is a shifting river system, and the main wetland interest is now outside the designated site;
· Potential for a transboundary Ramsar site with India has been identified.

Pakistan

9. Pakistan reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· The country has many wetlands in 4 different ecoregions (53 sites were identified in the Directory of Asian Wetlands;
· It also has on of the largest human-made irrigation systems in the world (1.6 M km2);
· 16 Ramsar sites have been designated (8 since COP7) and work is underway to designate others, but management plans have yet to be developed for all sites;
· Under the UNDP/GEF Block B Pakistan Wetlands project, management plans are being developed for four target sites;
· There are national and provincial wetland committees, and a number of strategies and plans including for coastal zone management;
· Work is underway on local community projects and on the economic valuation of wetlands;
· Legislation is in place for EIA for all projects and this is particularly important concerning the increased pressure on conversion of land for agriculture, and legislation for safeguarding wetlands has been amended with increased severity of the punishments and fines;
· An integrated management approach for the Indus water system is being developed;
· Major issues adversely affecting wetlands are the drought for the last 5-6 years, increases in human population and agricultural expansion, financial constraints and limitations in technical capacity.

Tajikistan

10. Tajikistan reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· Tajikistan is a new Party, signing the Convention in early 2001;
· It has many wetlands: rivers and floodplains, 1300 lakes and 8 reservoirs - a substantial part of the Central Asian water resources;
· A special Presidential Order has established a Ramsar Working Group (consisting of 10 scientists and specialists) and has approved wetlands for special attention: the Working Group would greatly benefit from a visit by a Bureau expert to help guide the progress;
· A complete inventory of all wetlands is underway in 2002, to assess their importance and to prepare detailed descriptions for each wetland;
· Ramsar Information Sheets are being prepared for further site designation;
· An action plan (national programme) for all wetlands has been initiated.

Uzbekistan

11. Uzbekistan reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· Uzbekistan is a new Party, with the Convention entering into force on 8 February 2002;
· The country has, however, a long history of nature conservation and has the necessary legislative basis for wetland conservation;
· Lake Denzikul is the first Ramsar site, providing habitat for 250 migratory bird species;
· A 1998/99 Ramsar SGF project helped develop a wetland conservation plan and prepare L. Denzikul for designation;
· Intensive water abstraction for irrigation and recent drought has led to severe damage to any wetlands and the loss of some: in the last 30 years 33 new reservoirs and 35 new canals have been constructed;
· The loss of natural wetlands and the creation of many new artificial lakes has led to waterbirds now concentrating on the artificial wetlands;
· A further 8 wetlands are planned for designation as Ramsar sites.

Country reports - non-Contracting Parties

Kyrgystan

12. Kyrgyzstan reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· A parliamentary decision in December 2001/January 2002 has considered accession and this is nearing completion;
· Nature conservation activity has been underway for over 50 years, and the legislative basis exists for wetlands conservation and threatened species, and a government department to develop public participation has been created;
· The country is of major importance for migratory waterbirds, with [Hymalia and Ghargho mountains]and Isshkul Lake (at 1600 m altitude) supporting 50 to 90 species;
· Over the last five years there has been extensive summer and autumn waterbird monitoring, and a programme is underway to restore threatened Bar-headed Goose populations, with the assistance of German biologists;
· There is now a need to development of a national wetlands policy and action plan, and to establish a monitoring programme.

Maldives

13. The Maldives reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· The Maldives is aware of the need to join the Convention;
· There is an increased recognition that the population-related pollution and the tourist industry is impacting on the quality of coral reefs, seagrass beds and small-scale marshes

Turkmenistan

14. Turkmenistan reported the following issues and initiatives concerning their wetlands:

· The country is rich in wetlands, with 92 wetlands of which 30% are on Caspian Sea coast and the others inland, covering less than 1% of all territory, the wetlands being of major importance for migratory waterbirds for which there is a monitoring programme;
· There is major interest in finalising accession to the Convention, and restoring the three sites (two on the Caspian Sea coast, the other being [Kiliv Lakes] in the east) designated by the former Soviet Union to the Ramsar List.

15. Discussion of major issues and opportunities for improving wetland conservation and wise use in the region focussed on international cooperation and transboundary systems.

16. Iran expressed its willingness to cooperate with Turkmenistan and Pakistan to enhance the conservation of their shared wetlands. The Ramsar Centre Japan drew attention to the call from the 1st International Environment Meeting for the Middle East and North Africa, held recently in Doha for a legal regime for transborder parks including wetlands, with joint management developed through bilateral agreements. The African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds Agreement (AEWA) secretariat reported on the joint development with Ramsar of projects on waterbird flyways, including the UNEP -GEF-AEWA waterbird flyway project, the UNEP-GEF Siberian Crane Project and the recent workshop on the Central Asian-Indian flyway organised by Wetlands International and urged continuation of such collaboration.

17. The Regional Organisation for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME) urged that further multinational attention be given to shared waters and the key role of convention secretariats in encouraging this, drawing attention to the destruction of the Mesopotamian wetlands, stressing the need to improve joint action to address such issues.

18. WWF International drew attention to the workshop on high altitude wetlands, planned to be held in China in July 2002, noting that there are unique mountain wetlands in the region and that their conservation will be considered further at COP8.

Feedback on the COP8 National Report Format

19. Although the National Report Format was designed to act as a National Planning Tool from which the National Report would be derived at the appropriate time, so far Parties were using it only to prepare the COP8 National Report, which has increased the challenge of completing the Report. There is a need to treat reporting much more as part of an ongoing planning and implementation process, with the Report acting as a 'progress check'. The approach for COP8 of requesting Parties to propose national targets and actions, including priorities, for the 2003-2005 triennium may make such a format easier to use for subsequent reporting, as might encouraging Parties to report annually on targets and achievements, so that they had already prepared much of the information needed to make the National Report.

20. Parties who have already established national action plans or the equivalent noted, however, that difficulties would be faced in transferring such plans with different structures into the standard National Planning Tool/Report Format.

21. Several Parties noted that the Report was very comprehensive with questions that were difficult to answer. Suggestions were made for a simpler structure, one option being to have a summary version, with provision for more detail to be provided as appropriate in a more detailed second section. It was suggested that a simpler format could be used for a standard question style, perhaps for most topics just two questions: what is the implementation status? and, what are the constraints to implementation?

22. The style of questions was considered difficult to respond to and it was felt that they implied criticism, particularly in responding "No" to a Yes/No question. It was felt that it was often misleading to have only the options of answering Yes or No since in may cases the true answer was somewhere between these to extremes. An alternative could be to have three sections to each answer, covering progress, achievements and challenges for the future.

23. Repetition of information requested between different parts of the report was also noted, and this was an unnecessary complication.

24. It was noted that the National Report Format as currently structured provided only a snapshot in time, and that what was missing is information on what positive progress has been made from one triennium to the next, including achievements against targets and COP decisions. Inclusion of such information would both give a more positive sense to the Report, and permit clearer analysis of overall progress in implementing the Convention. To achieve this would need some continuity of questions, and the Bureau noted that with the adoption of the 2nd Strategic Plan at COP8 there would need to be some changes in the questions in the report format.

25. The Convention has never gained a systematic view of national wetland action plans. The approach of national target setting against the actions in the Strategic Plan/Convention Work Plan could make this possible. This in turn could be then linked more closely to the wetland parts of CBD National Biodiversity Action Plans.

26. Parties were finding that it takes considerable time and resources to fully complete the Report, noting that for the equivalent CBD reporting, funds were available through the CBD's financial mechanism.

27. The National Report format was proving helpful in some countries in bringing together all relevant organisations to contribute to its completion.

28. There is a need to improve the format for reporting to COP9 to help Parties take stock of what they have achieved. Participants requested that the Standing Committee consider ways of improving and simplifying the format, and that the opportunities for harmonising reports between Conventions be pursued. The Bureau advised that such harmonisation was the subject of current UNEP-led pilot studies, the results of which would be taken into account in designing the next Ramsar planning and report format.

Ramsar's Strategic Plan 2003-2008

29. The Bureau reported on the process and progress in the development of the Strategic Plan 2003-2008, reminding participants that a 3rd draft of the Plan had been circulated widely to all Parties and other organisations in March 2001, but noted that the numbers commenting had been small. This was disappointing since the Plan is a most important part of the Convention process since it establishes the medium term overall direction and priorities for the Convention and the objectives and actions to achieve this. The Standing Committee is currently reviewing a 5th draft of the Plan, which would then be prepared in an 'attractive format' for wide circulation to Parties and others in March 2002 so as to permit them to undertake wide within-country consultation in preparation for COP8. This version would be that included in the COP8 papers. The 5th draft differed from the earlier consultation draft largely in that the first Section had been substantively shortened and simplified. The structure and content of Section II (the Implementation Plan) was subject to lesser changes and additions.

30. The Bureau reported that the Standing Committee had agreed that at the same time as the circulation of the Strategic Plan to Parties in March 2002, a form would be circulated requesting Parties to provide their provisional national targets to the Bureau by August 2002. These would then be compiled by the Bureau to provide the basis for proposed global targets for the Convention's Work Plan 2003-2005 to be considered by COP8. It was important for Parties to contribute to this process so as to ensure that realistic global targets were established for the implementation of the Convention.

31. It was noted that this process would also help Parties in using the Strategic Plan as the basis for their national planning for the next triennium, and that Parties would be requested to indicate their level of priority for the implementation of each action. The approach of identifying priorities for national implementation was regarded as useful, since Parties generally had such priorities established but there was no mechanism for reporting these.

32. Comments were made concerning whether any shift in the direction of the Convention was sufficiently clear. The Bureau pointed out that many Operational Objectives and Actions continued from the previous Strategic Plan since much of the fundamental work of the Convention would continue, but that there was increased emphasis proposed for certain areas including the fully incorporation of wetlands and their values and functions into the wider sustainable development issues such as climate change and water resource management and impacts of agriculture. The final version of the Strategic Plan would also need to take fully into account the issues identified in COP8 Resolutions including the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

33. It was recommended that the 'Challenges for the Future' section included International Cooperation since this was important in a transboundary and regional cooperation context and placed a heavy burden on governments, particularly since although the 1992 Rio conference agreed that donors should meet a target of 0.7% of GDP this had not been reached, affecting the delivery capacity of developing countries.

34. The limitations to the size and capacity of the Bureau were noted and concern expressed that it would face increasing difficulty in meeting increasing Contracting Parties expectations.

35. Further Bureau assistance was needed by Parties in the development of large projects, and there was a need for further examination of financing mechanisms for the Convention. The Bureau noted its Senior Advisor for Environment and Development Cooperation had been appointed in recognition of this need to assist Parties in securing donor project and other funds.

36. Concerning synergies with other conventions, was there any mechanism for resolving contradictions in the requirements of different conventions, and in any such case which would take precedence. The Bureau responded that although this had not yet been examined, experience suggested that it was more a case of duplication than contradiction and that this was being addressed through the development of joint work plans and other collaborations. The example of several conventions addressing the issue of invasive species was cited as particularly in need of better collaboration.

37. It was considered that the current use of square brackets in the Plan needed better explanation and clarity, since they were now being used for several different purposes, including to indicate new text introduced in the latest revision, matters that await confirmation from other convention processes (e.g CBD COP6 decisions) and matters that will need to be decided by COP8 either because of lack of agreement or because they are dependent on COP8 Resolutions. The Bureau confirmed that new text in brackets particularly concerned agriculture, and human well being, and that contentious issues included actions on trade, and the inclusion of financial matters.

38. The benefit of assigning responsibility for who carries out actions was recognised and it was suggested that this approach should also be used in national targets and actions. It was also suggested that 'champions' or 'target chasers' might be identified with responsibility for delivery of groups of actions.

39. The Bureau clarified that stakeholders such as NGOs which support the work of the Convention contribute fully to the development and review of the Strategic Plan and urged that Parties similarly consult with their national NGOs and other stakeholders.

40. There would be considerable benefit gained by Parties translating the Strategic Plan into national languages to assist in within-country consultations, and it was suggested that countries sharing a common language might wish to collaborate in making such translations.

41. The Bureau and Standing Committee were thanked for valuable work in preparing a clear and comprehensive Plan.

COP8 agenda and Technical Sessions and the work of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP)

42. The Bureau outlined the mechanisms for the preparation of major scientific and technical documents requested by Parties for COP8 consideration. A substantial work load had been taken on by the STRP and this was reflected in the number of substantive guidance documents to be considered during the COP8 Technical Sessions. In undertaking its work the STRP had recognised a number of major constraints to its efficient operation, notably lack of clarity of role and of resourcing to ensure that the best global expertise could be called on to help prepare its technical guidance documents. This has led to a review of the STRP and proposals to COP8 for changes to its modus operandi. Responsibility for the preparation of other substantive materials (e.g. the Strategic Plan) lies with the Standing Committee.

43. At its December 2001 meeting the Standing Committee had approved a number of Draft Resolutions and technical guidance documents for finalisation for COP8 and its Subgroup on COP8 would meet in May 2002 to approve further COP8 papers. COP8 papers would be circulated to Parties by mid-August.

44. The Standing Committee had determined that the duration and process of COP8 would follow that of COP7 including five Technical Sessions that will consider the major new guidance's prepared by the STRP.

45. In response to a request for clarification the Bureau pointed out that the COP8 Agenda can only by amended prior to the COP by the Standing Committee.

46. Concerning the introduction to the COP of other issues of concern to Parties but not covered in the topics for consideration through the Technical Sessions, specifically the issue of drought (which might be linked to discussion of climate change issues), the Bureau confirmed that an Party may submit a draft Resolution for consideration up to 60 days before the start of the COP. Any such Resolutions will receive full consideration during the plenary sessions of the COP. Parties at this Subregional meeting had identified drought as a major issue for their delivery of the Convention, and the Bureau recommended that they might consider, as a conclusion of the meeting, the preparation of such a Resolution and that in drafting a Resolution urged consultation with countries in other regions also affected by drought so as to achieve a broad consensus in the terms of a Resolution.

COP8 Technical Sessions

Technical session 1: Major challenges and emerging opportunities for wetlands, water, and sustainability

47. The Bureau summarised the topics, draft Resolutions and guidelines and background reports for the Technical Session, noting that the session concerns guidance on incorporating wetlands into the wider processes of sustainable management.

48. Dr Taej Mundkur (Wetlands International) introduced the STRP guidelines on water allocation and management, and on climate change and wetlands. He identified that very high on many country's agenda are the issues of water, drought and lack of water, and that for the Convention this is both an old topic and a new one. COP7 adopted guidelines on integrating wetlands into river basin management and that this had led to the joint development by Ramsar and the CBD of the River Basin Initiative. This is designed to assist all those working on the sustainable use of wetlands and biodiversity to access expertise on ensuring these issues are fully taken into account in resource management at the basin scale and he urged all participants to join the Initiative. The COP8 guidelines follow on from the overall issue of sustainable basin-scale management to focus on the key issue of the allocation and management of water for maintaining ecosystem functions - functions that include they vital role in the hydrological cycle.

49. Concerning climate change, Dr Mundkur explained that COP7 had requested the STRP prepare a 'comprehensive review of the impacts of climate change on wetlands and the role of wetlands in mitigating the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. The COP8 documents are a draft Resolution with a set of nine key questions for decision-makers, which include the identification of the roles of wetlands including in carbon sequestration and the identification of key gaps in current knowledge. This will accompanied by a substantial report that has been prepared jointly with members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and which draws on the findings of its Third Assessment Report (TAR) but noted that the Ramsar review goes further than the TAR in including improved information on some wetland-related topics including migratory waterbirds.

50. Dr C.L. Trisal (Wetland International) introduced the guidelines being prepared by STRP on integrating wetlands into Integrated Coastal Zone Management. Their objective is to ensure that there is improved recognition of the vital role of wetlands in the coastal zone, since Ramsar's definition of wetlands covers the whole coastal and near shore marine zone. The guidance will be in the form of broad principles for addressing the issue.

51. Dr Trisal recommended that there is also a need for good practice examples of integrated management of coastal zone wetlands, and cited the successful example of Chilika Lake, India where the approach to resolving complex management issues has been a package of measures including river basin management, biodiversity management, local participation, preventative measures, reinstatement of indigenous knowledge, research, monitoring and assessment.

52. The Bureau summarised the Convention's involvement in enhancing synergies between environmental conventions and agreements, stressing the importance of improved synergy in clarifying common interests, avoiding duplication of effort at global, regional and country levels, and ensuring consistent approaches to common topics through the different conventions.

53. The Bureau highlighted the success of increasing collaboration with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) through Joint Work Plans and described the 3rd CBD-Ramsar Joint Work Plan 2002-2006, currently being finalised for consideration at CBD COP6, which will include the joint development of guidance for both Conventions and joint review CBD's inland waters programme of work.

54. Collaboration is being developed also under Memoranda of Cooperation with CMS, The World Heritage Convention and UNCCD, with a CBD/AEWA joint work plan nearing finalisation and an agreed programme of joint work the man and the Biosphere Programme. Common issues with UNFCCC are under review on the basis of the STRP's review of wetlands and climate change. Joint work is also underway with regional conventions and agreements, including regional seas conventions.

55. In addition, a broader UNEP-led review of International Environmental Governance (IEG) is underway which is considering inter alia clustering of conventions and joint working subsidiary bodies.

56. Dr Abdu Al Assri (SRAP/UNCCD) described the work of UNCCD in the region. The pressures of desertification in the region are great, with volumes of abstracted water (70% of which is used for irrigation) far exceeding natural discharge rates, 1.1 million km2 affected by wind erosion, 3.1 million km2 desertified with a further more than 600,000 km2 threatened. He described the relationship between Regional, Sub-regional and National Action Programmes under the Convention and highlighted that the Sub-regional Action Programme (SRAP) has two main themes of great relevance to Ramsar: water resources and land and vegetation cover.

57. Concerning synergies with other conventions and agreements, participants highlighted the following points:

· The increasing cooperation with CBD was recognised as important and the Convention should continue its efforts to develop similar practical synergies with other conventions as a priority;
· Improving links with UNFCCC is of high importance since its decisions and activities affect many Ramsar interests, and a focus on drought issues should be linked also with UNCCD - addressing drought needs an integrated approach and should be developed through joint actions by all relevant conventions;
· STRP should establish a close working relationship with IPCC to follow-up on Ramsar's climate change work, since governments and the science community are sensitised to IPCC's findings;
· The Bureau should continue to fully participate in the WSSD process and meetings and national participants should help raise Ramsar's profile in the process;
· Ramsar should strengthen its links with regional bodies in the region, including the development of a MoC with ROPME;
· Continuing collaboration with UNCCD in the region is important, to support the conventions' joint intent to harmonise their work;
· Synergies with all conventions sharing common issues will assist country implementation more than many bilateral agreements;
· Increased collaboration with GEF would assist streamlining the accessing of further GEF funds to that for projects already under way or being implemented by Parties;
· Parties should seek opportunities at national level for transferring the synergies into country-level collaboration, for example with UNCCD's National Action Programmes and CBD's Biodiversity Action Plans.

Technical session 2: Baselines for sustainable [wise] use: wetland inventory and assessment

58. The Bureau summarised the topics, draft Resolutions and guidance concerning inventory and assessment of wetlands and their ecological character for consideration in the Technical Session, noting that the guidelines on impact assessment are a good example of the collaboration with CBD, since these have been prepared by CBD SBSTTA with input from STRP, with the addition of interpretation of their application by Ramsar Parties.

59. The Bureau, highlighting COP7's recognition that baseline inventory is lacking in many countries and its request to Parties to afford inventory the highest priority, introduced the STRP's Framework for Wetland Inventory. The Framework provides a 13-step guide to determining the most appropriate inventory methodology for a Party's particular purpose and capacity but whilst providing examples of proven methods and wetland classifications it stresses that it is inappropriate to recommend a single common standard as suitable methods vary according to circumstances. The framework also provides guidance on choosing appropriate remote-sensed dataset for use in wetland inventory and recommends a common standard core dataset for all inventories, and a standard metadata record for reporting the inventory.

60. The Bureau reported that a major European Space Agency project (TESEO) is underway that will provide further guidance and methods for use of remote sensing in wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring.

61. The Bureau clarified that although the Framework is chiefly concerned with the collection of baseline data on the ecological and hydrological features of wetlands, assessment data on the status of wetlands is often needed and collected as part of an inventory, and the recommended core dataset makes provision for this.

62. Mr Hassan Partow (UNEP) demonstrated the use and value of remote sensing in wetland assessment in reported on UNEP's remote sensing study of the Mesopotamian Marshland of the Tigris-Euphrates Delta.

63. The whole river basin has undergone catastrophic degradation over the last 40 years. The upper catchment has had 33 large dams constructed, with a total capacity much larger than the annual river flows, and major irrigation projects developed. This has led to elimination of flood pulses severely affecting downstream wetlands and much reduced river flows into the lower marshes and Persian Gulf with decline in coastal fisheries.

64. The lower marshes have been long recognised as one of the world's greatest wetlands of vital importance to biodiversity including endemic birds and migratory waterbirds and supporting for many centuries the Marsh Arabs. Through canal construction and drainage schemes, by 2000 almost the entire wetland had been destroyed with many areas becoming salt encrusted and with little agricultural development. Between 1973-2000 85.5% of the marshland was lost, with the remainder being fragmented and under continuing threat.

65. To attempt recovery of the situation would require a basin-scale approach with agreements on sharing international waters, mitigation of dam impacts and restoration of minimum environmental flows, investigation of restoration opportunities, hydrographic modelling and safeguard of the remaining marsh area.

66. Concerning wetland inventory and assessment, participants highlighted the following points:

· The value of remote sensing to assess change in ecological character, particularly in areas otherwise inaccessible (e.g. the Mesopotamian Marshes)
· The Framework for Wetland Inventory will provide a useful tool for Parties planning and undertaking wetland inventory
· Several Parties (including Azerbaijan, Iran and Tajikistan) are planning or undertaking major wetland inventory and mapping in the region, some including the use of remote sensing;
· There is a need for improving technology and knowledge transfer of the use of remote sensing to developing countries;
· The Asian Wetland Inventory, developed by Wetlands International, provides a multi-scalar inventory methodology applicable throughout the region, and those planning or undertaking inventory are encouraged to see how this methodology may be of assistance.

Technical Session 3: Global biological diversity and sustenance of human life: the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance

67. The Bureau summarised the topics, draft Resolutions and guidance that will be presented in this Technical Session. These concern the application of the COP7-adopted Strategic Framework and Vision for the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar List) including additional guidance for designating peatland, wet grassland. Coral reef and mangrove wetlands, similar guidance for mountain wetlands, and the database developments by Wetlands International and the Centre for International Earth Science Information Centre (CIESIN) designed to improve the management and public accessibility of information on Ramsar sites.

68. David Pritchard (BirdLife International) outlined the elements of the Strategic Framework, noting that its adoption represented a significant step forwards for the Convention since it introduced for the first time a systematic approach to Ramsar site designation. He noted that there are numerous values of designation including that it establishes systematic international standards, advertises the sites importance, fixes a policy commitment, provides the basis for management planning and monitoring including the establishment of flagship indicators, promotes the values and benefits of the site and provides a focus for securing donor funding through, for example, GEF and the Ramsar Small Grants Fund.

69. Lessons learned so far from applying the Strategic Framework include that more guidance is needed for designating some wetland types, that COP7 had identified some types were under-represented in the List although the basis for this identification was not clear and that there was a need to establish what represents adequate representation, that there was difficulty in applying biogeographic regionalisation for selection of sites under Criterion 1, and that there was a need to review the current classification and criteria so as to seek ways of harmonising with CBD inland waters criteria. It was anticipated that COP8 may determine to request the STRP to keep the criteria under review and to undertake further work on under-represented wetland types.

70. The Vision for the List is to establish an international network of wetlands for the conservation of biodiversity and the sustenance of human life through maintaining ecological and hydrological functions. To achieve this requires Parties to establish national site networks that fully represent each country's wetland diversity. Such networks also need to be transnational and the Framework provides the basis for international cooperation.

71. COP8 would consider a paper reviewing the application of the Strategic Framework since COP7, derived from COP8 National Reports and information from the Ramsar sites database managed by Wetlands International. A COP8 draft Resolution would include future priorities for implementation, noting that the current rate of designations in Asia, as in other regions, was behind the achievement of the short-term global target of 2000 Ramsar sites by 2005, and propose some changes to the Ramsar Information Sheet and improvements to the guidance notes that accompany it.

72. Concerning criteria for designation, CBD has requested that Ramsar review current criteria to improve harmonisation with CBD indicative criteria for biodiversity importance, particularly in respect of genetic, socio-economic and cultural issues. Other Subregional Ramsar meetings had also raised the issue of cultural designation criteria, although there are some difficulties in establishing such criteria under the terms of Article 2.2, and the Standing Committee had determined that this matter would be considered in Technical Session 5.

73. Concerning experiences in applying the Strategic Framework including establishing targets for national site networks, participants highlighted the following points:

· National wetland inventory was recognised as a invaluable basis for identifying sites for designation and should remain a high priority in the region.
· Concern was expressed that the approach to Ramsar site designation under the Convention does not fully match UN protected area definitions, notably that these refer only to natural systems and Ramsar's classification also covers human-made sites. It was clarified that Ramsar site designation does not directly confer a national protected area legal status, but it can be a first step towards such legal status under national legislation.
· There is a dilemma concerning the achievement of an accelerated rate of designations as to whether it it better to give priority to 'quantity' or 'quality': for many countries it is a complex process to achieve a designation which requires the engagement and agreement of all those with ownership or responsibilities for the site. This is a time-consuming process but has the advantage that there is agreement and support for site management by the time of designation.
· Designation alone may not secure the future maintenance of the ecological character of a site, and that a priority should be to have in place a management planning process for all sites being designated, although capacity and resources to achieve this are severely limited in many countries in the region.
· Donor funding to assist in preparations for designation and management planning for new Ramsar sites can greatly assist .
· National site network targets are beneficial and should be encouraged although they had yet to be established in the region, and international cooperation on site networks was also very limited although countries do have a priority for designation of transboundary wetlands, and regional cooperation on designation of mangrove wetlands was identified as a priority.
· National strategies that address both quality and quantity can be of benefit, such that the designation of a suite of sites provides a statement of intent which can be accompanied by a prioritised strategy for further action on each site, and National Ramsar (or wetland) Committees should be encouraged to lead in the development of strategic national targets for designation.
· A number of analyses and initiatives are available to assist countries in establishing network targets, including the site networks established through the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy. BirdLife's analysis of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in relation to Ramsar designation criteria and Ramsar sites, prepared for the European Ramsar regional meeting, was noted as a valuable approach that could be applied also to Asia.

Technical Session 4: Managing wetlands for sustainable use and human well-being

74. The Bureau outlined the topics and substantial guidance's that will be addressed in the COP8 Technical Session, noting that the STRP has prepared major new guidance that covers the management planning process, proposals for a "San José Record" of well-managed Ramsar sites that would form the basis of exchange of experience and capacity building in good practice site management. In recognition of the global importance of peatlands as wetlands with high values and functions that are under widespread threat of continuing loss and degradation, Guidelines for Global Action on Peatlands will be considered. On invasive species, STRP had worked with CBD SBSTTA in their development of Guiding Principles [Guidelines] and have recommended that these be considered for adoption also by Ramsar Parties, with the addition of guidance on their application by wetland managers.

75. In discussion on the challenges and priorities for implementing wetland management planning, participants highlighted the following points:

· Success stories and case studies of successful management planning are needed, and it was noted that this is the purpose of the proposed "San José Record".
· The importance of full participation by local communities at all stages of the management planning process was widely recognised as essential for success.
· There is a need to establish regional training centres and workshops to improve exchange of views and experiences in achieving successful management planning, including sharing of experience of major (e.g. GEF) projects tackling similar issues in different countries, and the Ramsar Training Service being developed by Wetlands International for the Convention will be able to support some of these needs.
· It is important not to just follow a standard planning process since local and national circumstances need to be taken into account, and that an iterative process is essential so as to respond to changing circumstances including changing attitudes and responses of local communities.
· Economic valuation is an important tool in management planning since it can be used to encourage governments to apply incentives to prevent unsustainable use.
· A strong legislative and institution framework is vital for implementing effective management, but too often wetland legislation is subsumed within other sectors (e.g. fisheries) and their institutions.
· The draft new Ramsar management planning guidance provides a good tool for assessing the root cause of site management problems, focussing on the management planning process and how to use the management plan as a tool, but there it is also important to look more broadly at the site in relation to basin scale management.
· An increasing limitation to the capacity to monitor and manage sites is the declining number of scientists trained in taxonomy and survey methods, including hydrology and pollution.

76. Dr C.L. Trisal (Wetlands International) summarised the approach and contents of the draft COP8 new guidelines for management planning for Ramsar sites and other wetlands, highlighting the ways in which they differ from the previously-adopted guidelines. This is notably in stressing that management planning is an iterative process and not just preparing a management plan, that local participation throughout the process is essential, that a fundamental basis for management planning is to define clearly the ecological character features of the site and the factors affecting it as a basis for monitoring, and that management plans must be clear and simple. He stressed that the new guidelines provide the approach and process to follow, which will then need to be applied flexibly according to the situation and priority management issues for each site.

77. The Bureau confirmed that additional text for inclusion in the new guidelines is being drafted to cover the issue of the wider basin-scale context for site management planning.

78. Dr C.L. Trisal summarised the approach approved by the Standing Committee for the provision of guidance on invasive species for COP8 consideration, that the STRP had contributed to the preparation of the CBD's Guiding Principles [Guidelines] on the subject, which are to be recommended to COP8 for adoption with the addition of guidance on their application by wetland managers. This would be accompanied by guidance for Ramsar Parties on the availability and use of the wide range of guidelines and strategies on invasive species and their relevance to wetland invasives.

Technical Session 5: Cultural aspects of wetlands as a tool for their conservation and sustainable use

79. The Bureau outlined that guiding principles for incorporating cultural aspects into wetland wise use were being prepared for COP8, focussing on raising the profile and understanding of the wide variety of cultural aspects of wetlands and how these could be best incorporated in wetland sustainable management. It was planned that the Technical Session would introduce these guiding principles and include presentations on different cultural aspects of wetlands from different parts of the world. The Standing Committee had also determined that the question of widening the current Ramsar site designation criteria to cover cultural and socio-economic features would be the subject of COP8 debate in this Technical Session.

80. Mr Biksham Gujja (WWF International) introduced the draft contents of the guiding principles. He stressed the significance of wetlands and water in peoples' culture, highlighting examples of traditional cultural and belief-based conservation with water having a great significance in many religions, and that half the world's languages are under immediate threat of disappearance and all of these are in regions of high biodiversity value. There is a need to support ownership and self-esteem of local communities in their culture and the benefits this can bring to sustainable management, including the lessons for future sustainable agriculture from traditional agricultural practices. There is a need to raise the level of understanding of the vital role of culture in wetlands management, including the palaeontological and archaeological record in wetlands, through exhibitions, books and other media opportunities, since once lost such cultural and traditional knowledge is hard to regain.

81. Discussion focussed on how full incorporation of cultural issues and features can enhance wetland management, whether declaring Ramsar sites on cultural grounds would be beneficial (noting that this potential had been raised by participants in other Subregional meetings), and how a focus on cultural issues could enhance regional cooperation, with participants highlighting the following points:

· There is an urgent need to raise awareness of cultural values of wetlands to all sectors of civil society, and good examples of such cultural values and uses of wetlands are needed to bring this alive.
· Although local communities are the custodians of the environment in many places, their lifestyles are often now changing rapidly with spiritual values being abandoned and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources increasing in the pursuit of improved income and lifestyles, particularly in less isolated communities.
· It is important to recognise that culture is not static and only historical: it is continually changing to respond to new situations: current and future cultural beliefs are as important as past cultural features.
· In encouraging ecotourism related to cultural features of wetlands it is important to ensure that such tourism does not place further pressure on local peoples' traditional beliefs and lifestyles.
· Cultural assessment should be fully undertaken in impact assessments of factors and developments affecting wetlands.
· The priority should be to fully incorporate cultural issues into the management and wise use of wetlands and the issue of designating Ramsar sites specifically for their cultural values was considered of less concern, although it was noted that such designations might assist in raising the profile with governments of the importance of cultural issues on wetlands.

82. Mr. Minoru Shirai (Third Water Forum Secretariat) briefed participants on the progress in preparing for the Forum in Japan in 2003, noting that wetlands and water will be a major issue for debate. In preparing for the debates a Virtual Water Forum has been established which now includes 60 discussion sessions. These include a Forum on wetlands, biodiversity and river basin management established as part of the Ramsar-CBD River Basin Initiative. All participants were encouraged to actively join in the debate on this Forum, and to participate in the Water Voice Programme component of the WWF3 preparations.

Key issues for the work of the Convention in West and Central Asia

Implementation of Articles 3.2 (ecological character), 2.5 and 4.2 (urgent national interest and compensation) of the Convention

83. Mr. David Pritchard (BirdLife International) introduced the issues and materials that will be considered by COP8 concerning Articles 3.2, 2.5 and 4.2 of the Convention text, pointing out that these are key issues for the Convention and that although the Convention has now adopted a wealth of guidance for implementing global wetland conservation and wise use there is still some basic work needed on how Parties should implement these Articles.

84. Article 3.2 provides that Parties shall arrange to be informed at the earliest possible time if the ecological character of a listed (i.e. Ramsar) site has changed, is changing or is likely to change, and that information on such changes be passed to the Ramsar Bureau without delay. To assist with this, definitions of ecological character and change in ecological character, a risk assessment framework and a framework for designing monitoring programmes have been adopted. Other tools including the management planning guidelines, the Montreux Record and Ramsar Advisory Mission, and impact assessment recommendations provide assistance.

85. The Montreux Record was created to provide a mechanism for reporting and addressing ecological character change but it has only been used in a minority of cases where change in ecological character is occurring, and in practice the reporting expected under Article 3.2 seldom happens so most Parties are in technical breach of this part of the treaty.

86. If Article 3.2 operates as intended, it could generate a list of all Ramsar sites subject to actual or likely ecological change and this in turn would deliver Objective 4.1 of the Strategic Framework and Vision for the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Resolution VII.11) which is: "To use Ramsar sites as baseline and reference areas for national, supranational/regional and international environmental monitoring to detect trends in the loss of biological diversity, climate change and the processes of desertification."

87. Although Article 3.2 makes a precise requirement for reporting ecological change no guidance is provided about how Parties should address such change, although Article 3.1 makes the general requirement to formulate and implement planning so as to promote the conservation of listed sites. Further guidance on the link between ecological character and responses to it could therefore be helpful.

88. The Standing Committee discussed these matters in December 2001 and have requested a discussion paper including elements of a possible COP8 Resolution be prepared by the Bureau for the meeting of its COP8 Subgroup in May 2002.

89. In discussion on implementing Article 3.2, participants highlighted the following points:

· Article 3.2 refers to ecological character change only as a consequence of human interference (although Recommendation 4.8, which established the Montreux Record does not make this distinction), and it was emphasised that the issues and discussion of monitoring and reporting on ecological character change should be extended to cover all changes, including those that are naturally induced, and the need to develop monitoring and assessment of such changes (see also the 'Tehran Communiqué' annexed to this report).
· This is in recognition also that it is often difficult to distinguish between human-influenced and natural changes, for example the impacts of the current drought in the region on wetlands, and that many changes in ecological character may be at least in part a consequence of ex situ human interference that is not necessarily apparent from monitoring an affected site.
· Since wetland ecosystems and their dependent species are constantly undergoing change and it was recognised that identifying and reporting all changes in ecological character, no matter how trivial, would be an overwhelming task for Parties, further guidance will be necessary as to how to recognise significant changes that should be reported: the Bureau noted that a starting point should be a clear statement of the key ecological character features of the site, set out in the Ramsar Information Sheet, and through the management planning process, for which a monitoring regime should be established.
· The benefits of Montreux Record listing should be promoted, in particular that such listing can be a positive message to the international community indicating a priority for assistance including from the donor community to provide resources to resolve the management problems identified.

90. Concerning Article 2.5, Mr Pritchard noted that in the early days of the Convention it was logical for Parties to focus on establishing a list of Ramsar sites, but that increasingly attention is focussing of their management and making choices and resolving impacts affecting the listed sites. Parties can face challenges in reconciling national and international interest in safeguarding sites and national interests of other kinds that could lead to deletion of a site or restricting its boundaries. Such situations are covered by Article 2.5 of the Convention, for which a number of questions of interpretation have become apparent.

91. COP7 (Resolution VII.23) requested the Standing Committee to develop guidance for COP8 consideration on the interpretation of Article 2.5, and in its discussions two key issues have emerged: agreeing criteria for urgency and national scale, and agreeing what proof to expect in a given case that these criteria have been met. The Standing Committee has prepared a draft COP8 Resolution on interpreting "urgent national interest" under Article 2.5.

92. There may also be reasons for at times restricting a site boundary for reasons other than "urgent national interest" for example when the boundary was accidentally mapped in the wrong location. Technically the text of the Convention makes no provision for this (only indicating new designations or extension of existing site boundaries). Although it will be valuable to make provision for such changes, there is a need to test that such boundary restrictions are for genuine reasons - otherwise the "urgent national interest" provision would be invalidated.

93. The Standing Committee discussed this matter in December 2001 and a contact group is preparing two further draft COP8 Resolutions: on amendments to site boundaries, and on response to an irreversible loss of the interest at a site.

94. If a listed site boundary is restricted or a site deleted from the List, Article 4.2 requires the Party to compensate, where possible, for any loss of wetland resources. Mr Pritchard outlined the work of the Standing Committee on this matter, that a section of the draft COP8 Resolution on "urgent national interest" provides guidance on compensation, and that experience to date worldwide shows that compensation if generally very complex, difficult and expensive to achieve - in other words "prevention is better than cure" and real cure is elusive. He suggested that the first response to a loss or threatened loss of interest should be to attempt rehabilitation and only if this fails or is not feasible should a boundary change or site deletion be considered.

95. In discussion of issues of site deletion, boundary restriction and compensation for lost wetlands, participants noted the following points:

· It was agreed that compensation was very difficult to achieve, and is seem as an action of last resort in many multilateral environmental agreements.
· Concern was expressed that provision for deleting sites was included in the Convention - it was clarified that Parties retain the sovereign right to make decisions concerning the management of their wetlands and that their other interests may exceptionally over-ride their strong commitments to wetland wise use, in which case the provisions of Articles 2.5 and 4.2 come into play.
· It was noted that no instance of the application of Articles 2.5 and 4.2 have arisen in the Subregion and that, conversely, extensions to existing sites were being made in a number of places.
· The difficulty was highlighted of addressing changes in the location of features for which a Ramsar site was designated such that the key wetland features are now outside the defined boundary whereas within the original boundary little interest remained.

Ramsar's 'toolkit' of Wise Use Handbooks and how to make best use of the Ramsar guidelines

96. Ms Ma Jia (Ramsar Bureau) described the purpose and contents of the eight Wise Use Handbooks, which bring together under thematic topics various guidelines and other materials adopted by the Conferences of the Parties (COPs), so as to make them more accessible to Parties, and noted that substantial further guidance will be considered by COP8 and which will need adding to the 'toolkit'. She described the examples of following the guidance on applying the Criteria for the identification and designation of Ramsar sites, and noted that the Bureau was finding from Ramsar Information Sheets submitted by Parties that the guidelines and application of the Criteria are not always well understood or correctly used.

97. In discussion it was suggested that a short and simple 'guide to the toolkit' might help Parties, new government staff and other users find their way more easily to the different parts of the substantial toolkit. The Bureau noted that parts of the Ramsar Convention Manual, which is now out of date, that describe the procedures and modus operandi of the Convention are not covered in the 'toolkit' and that an update was being considered. Revisions to the guidance notes on how to complete the Ramsar Information Sheet are being prepared for COP8 consideration.

Ramsar's Outreach Programme: priorities and next steps

98. Mr Najam Khurshid (Ramsar Bureau) outlined the Programme adopted by COP7 and described the work of the Bureau in implementation, which includes the establishment of an Outreach Web-site (www.ramsar.org/outreach_index.html) with discussion groups, preparation of further guidance on undertaking education and public awareness needs analyses and preparing a National Outreach Plan, and the designation by Parties of National Education and Public Awareness Focal Points. He stressed that communication, education and public awareness is essential to the successful implementation of the Convention and urged Parties in the Subregion who have yet to designate such focal points to do so as a matter of urgency so as fully to benefit from, and contribute to, the Outreach Programme.

99. In discussion, participants noted the following points:

· Translation of the Ramsar 'Toolkit' and other Ramsar materials into local languages was a valuable step in making the guidance more accessible to those needing most to use them within countries, and this was being done already by some countries.
· Training in how to use the 'Toolkit', with help from the Bureau, would be valuable.
· Distribution of Ramsar materials as wide as possible would be of benefit, and it was clarified that Parties should supply names to the Bureau for inclusion in mailing lists although it was noted that although Ramsar materials are made available free of charge there are at times limits to how many copies can be made available since for all such publications the Bureau is dependent on additional voluntary funding from donor Parties.
· It was suggested that a monochrome print-out of Ramsar materials could be supplied to each Party so that they could cheaply produce additional copies for within-country use, and the Bureau clarified that work was underway to make the 'Toolkit' available in .pdf format.
· The Ramsar Outreach Web-site was recognised as a valuable assistance to Parties in developing their outreach programmes, but concern was expressed about the reliance on the Ramsar Web-site for Outreach communication given that some countries and relevant staff lack good internet access and it was suggested that this part of the Web-site might be made available also on CD-ROM.
· An "Asian Ramsar Week" with the theme of "Children and Wetlands" is being planned for 2-9 February 2003 by the NGO Ramsar Centre Japan and the participation of all Parties in the region was encouraged.

Financial resources for the implementation of the Convention: the proposed triennial budget for 2003-2005, proposal for establishing a Ramsar Trust Fund, and access to funding through the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

100. The Bureau reported on the discussions of the Standing Committee in December 2001 concerning the proposed triennial Budget 2003-2005 to be considered by COP8. After substantial debate, particularly concerning some countries instructions to oppose any increase that a budget proposal is being developed showing an increase each year of 2 per cent for inflation and 3 per cent growth. The 3 per cent would be used to meet some of the critical additional Convention needs, notably towards the real costs of maintaining the Ramsar Sites Database (managed by Wetlands International for the Convention), support for regional initiatives, support to the work of STRP working groups, and contribution to the Bureau's costs related to the meetings of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. The issue will be discussed further by the Standing Committee Subgroup on Finance in May 2002 and the Standing Committee then should adopt a firm proposal for consideration by COP8.

101. At the request of the Standing Committee the Bureau has prepared a paper comparing the Ramsar budget with those of other MEAs. Concerning this, the Bureau noted that the workload under the Convention has considerably expanded over the years, for example including supporting the needs of a 41% increase in Contracting Parties since 1996, and a 44% increase in Ramsar sites. Despite this, only one new Bureau staff post had been created during this period. Bureau staffing levels are small in comparison with other MEAs: 12.5 core budget staff positions (compared with 40 in CBD and 28 in CITES), as is the overall budget:: in 2001 USD 1.8 million (compared with USD 8.6 million in CBD and USD 5 million in CITES).

102. Concerning the Ramsar Small Grants Fund (SGF) the Bureau noted that this instrument was seen as a very important tool in assisting Parties in their implementation of the Convention, but it was becoming increasingly hard to secure annually sufficient voluntary contributions to maintain the fund at an appropriate level to provide funding to high quality project proposals from Parties, and that it was increasingly unlikely that the SGF could continue to operate successfully on this basis. The Bureau has reached the conclusion that the creation of a Ramsar Trust Fund provides the most promising alternative to resourcing the SGF at the level foreseen by Parties (USD 1 million available each year). To achieve this requires donations to create the modest capital sum of some USD 10 million. A discussion text on the proposed Ramsar Trust Fund was discussed by the Standing Committee in December 2001 and will be further considered in May 2002.

103. Ramsar Parties are increasingly seeking GEF funds for implementing their major wetlands projects, with a number are being developed currently in this Subregion, and the important role of wetlands in poverty alleviation and food and water security are being increasingly recognised by donors, although the Convention does not have direct access to the GEF as a financial instrument other than a linkage through implementation of the CBD's programme of work on inland waters. The Bureau has been seeking a closer working relationship with the GEF Secretariat so as to advise strategically on the value and priorities for resourcing wetland projects, and the Bureau was encouraged to continue to support the further development of this dialogue.

104. The Bureau stressed that the Convention does not have substantial funds available to directly co-finance GEF and other major wetland sustainable use projects. Through the appointment of the Senior Advisor on Environment and Development Cooperation, the role of the Bureau is to work with and encourage donors to co-finance such major projects and, as staff resources permit, to assist Parties in the preparation of such projects. To do so, it is essential that the Bureau has available to it clear project briefs and detailed budget proposals.

105. Mr Seraj Zadeh (Department of the Environment, I.R. of Iran) described progress with the development the UNDP-GEF Iranian Wetlands Conservation project, for which a full project brief is being finalised by the DoE and UNDP with assistance from the Ramsar Bureau. Its objective is to conserve globally significant wetland biodiversity on wetlands in the Ramsar List through a focus of actions to improve sustainable management for local community benefit on four wetlands facing major land-use pressures, and the transfer of this experience to national-scale action including the strengthening of institutional capacity. The project will work through increasing local community awareness and participation, identification and implementation of training needs, incorporation of basin-scale resource management and increasing inter-ministerial coordination. Identification of sufficient co-financing is recognised as a major challenge, on which the Bureau is assisting through identification of potential donor organisations.

106. Mr. Sadeghi Zadegan (Department of the Environment, I.R. of Iran) outlined the Siberian Crane UNEP-GEF project which is being prepared for implementation. It will focus on two crane flyways and using the Siberian Crane as a flagship species seek to identify and manage an international network of key wetlands supporting migratory waterbirds in West and Central Asia and East Asia. Activities will be undertaken at local and regional level including capacity building and transfer of education and awareness tools and materials. The project focuses on a network of Ramsar sites, including seeking to assist designation of further sites, and links closely with the delivery of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy 2001-2005 and its North East Asian Crane Site Network and the CMS African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement. It is due to start in late 2002.

107. In discussion on the financial resources for implementing the Convention, the following points were made by participants:

· The approach being considered by the Standing Committee of a 3 per cent annual growth in budget was supported, and the uses to which this will be put recognised as appropriate, and in particular the need to further resource development of regional initiatives was stressed.
· Central Asian Parties raised the difficulties they face in working in any of the three official languages of the Convention and urged that costs of translation of key papers and materials into Russian be considered for the core budget.
· The work of the Bureau in seeking ways of strengthening the SGF was applauded, and participants stressed the importance of the SGF as a key mechanism for assisting Parties in their Convention work.
· Parties strongly supported the further development of the Ramsar Trust Fund so as to secure the future financing of the SGF and urged that their views be strongly expressed to donors and donor countries before and during COP8.
· The importance of the GEF as a funding mechanism for wetland-based project work was stressed, and the flyway and wetland site network projects being prepared through the GEF process recognised as important demonstrations of regional collaboration in developing implementation of the Convention.

International Cooperation for wetland conservation in the subregion

108. Mr Zbig Karpowicz (Fauna & Flora International) described the lessons being learnt from the development of transboundary cooperation for the Caspian Sea Region, and the importance of the facilitation of cooperation on shared resources and ecosystems, and the effectiveness of stakeholder consultation and participatory processes for bringing together government and local community interests, and the value of the preparation of national and regional biodiversity action plans as a focus for such cooperation. He outlined transboundary collaboration for the Danube Delta, the Black Sea/Azov Sea ecological network linking protected areas for migratory birds, and the Caspian Sea Basin where countries share common cultures, ecosystems and marine and coastal resource use. The Caspian Sea system is facing a number of threats and pressures including river flow regulation and pollution, illegal overfishing, rapid changes in sea level, invasive species and coastal land degradation, and joint actions are being developed to address these.

109. Dr Taej Mundkur (Wetlands International) outlined the ways in which the implementation of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 2001-2005 has achieved regional trans-national cooperation and exchange of experiences to build capacity, highlighting the value of working together between multiple sectors and the awareness benefits gained through establishing international site networks, using migratory waterbirds as the flagships for developing sustainable wetland management, and their demonstration of action to jointly deliver requirements of environmental conventions, notably here Ramsar, CMS and CBD.

110. Dr Mundkur stressed the importance and priority of training and capacity building and explained the development by Wetlands International for the Ramsar Convention of the Ramsar Wetlands Training Service which will include a helpdesk to assist those needing it to find appropriate training opportunities and in its first phase pilot national training needs assessments.

111. Mr. Mahboob Elahi (South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme - SACEP) described the role of SACEP as a broad-based regional environmental programme for cooperation in South Asia, which serves as the secretariat for the South Asia Seas Programme. SACEP supports linkages between environmental conventions in the region and prepares a state of the environment report for all South Asian countries. He encouraged all Ramsar Parties to make use of SACEP and urged exploration of how SACEP could best assist Ramsar implementation in all countries in the region.

112. Mr Javan Amin-Mansour (I.R. of Iran) described the adverse impacts of the persistent drought that is affecting the wetlands in Iran and the region, reporting that 2001 was the third consecutive year of extreme drought in Iran and that, whilst in the past, some wetlands have recovered from droughts, this time the persistence of the drought combined with increasing population pressures may lead to permanent environmental damage. The total damage from the drought so far has been estimated at USD 2.6 billion and at least 14 wetlands have already completely dried out, with many others seriously affected. Almost 8 million hectares of irrigated farms, rain-fed agriculture and orchards have been affected. Efforts are being made to mitigate the effects of the drought on people and biodiversity.

113. Mr Amin-Mansour urged that the issue of persistent drought be afforded full attention at COP8 and applauded the Standing Committee's request that a discussion paper be prepared on Article 3.2 and reporting of ecological change, noting the value of the Montreux Record in this regard, and he stressed that discussion of the issue should cover both human- and naturally-caused changes. He reminded participants of the emphasis made by H.E. Dr Ebtekar in the opening ceremony of the meeting on the need for establishing a Ramsar regional training and research centre in Ramsar City and suggested that addressing adverse effects of natural disasters, including drought, on changes in the ecological character of wetlands be considered as a theme for such a centre.

114. Dr. Hassan Mohammadi (Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment - ROPME) described the work of ROPME in the development of agreements and protocols in the broader Persian Gulf region, and recognised the key role that Ramsar could play in the region and the assistance that ROPME can provide on matters of common interest, and ROPME will assist in encouraging countries in the region to accede to the Ramsar Convention. Major concerns in the region are the increased discharge of industrial wastewaters that are threatening sensitive ecosystems and ballast water discharge and invasive species. ROPME initiatives include developing integrated coastal area management guidance including pilot projects for mangroves and coral reefs and a regional action plan for coral reefs. ROPME is also developing a protocol on biological diversity and protected areas in the region. Dr Mohammadi proposed the development of a Memorandum of Cooperation with Ramsar.

How can the Ramsar Convention improve its services to Contracting Parties in the region?

115. In discussion, participants highlighted the following issues and opportunities:

· Ramsar's experience and expertise in on-the-ground sustainable use delivery, especially in relation to site specific biodiversity conservation should be made more widely available, for example in support of CBD implementation as being applicable to non-wetland as well as wetland ecosystems.
· National training, by or facilitated by the Bureau and the proposed Ramsar Training Service, for focal points and others working to implement the Convention on the ground would be of considerable benefit and should cover inter alia the processes of the Convention, the application and use of Ramsar guidelines ('toolkit') including especially site management planning, and how to better access funds including from GEF and Ramsar SGF.
· The proposed Ramsar Trust Fund was recognised as a potentially crucial facility to assist implementation of the Convention within the Subregion.
· More detailed guidance on how to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of legislation, institutional arrangements for site management and the sharing of experiences in effective wetland management would be of assistance - noting that the proposed San Jose Record is designed to provide assistance on good practice site management.
· Regular communication from the Bureau to Parties is important to ensure Administrative Authorities are kept abreast of the work they need to undertake, but the limited capacity of the Bureau under its current staffing levels was recognised.
· Publications and other materials produced by one country but more widely relevant should be made increasingly widely accessible e.g. through the Ramsar Web-site.
· Pro-formas, e.g. the National Planning Tool and Report Format, should be made as simple and clear as possible.
· Communication and collaboration between Parties (and non-Parties) within the region is important in enhancing cooperation and benefiting from experiences and approaches to common issues.
· The problems of communication for and with Central Asian countries who do not work in English, French or Spanish needs to be addressed.
· Better stability of staffing within Administrative Authorities is essential, as is informing the Bureau when staff have changed as otherwise the Bureau loses contact with its focal points and cannot help them with implementation.
· Briefing materials on the Convention should be sent by the Bureau to new staff/focal points in Administrative Authorities, when the Party advises of such changes.
· Parties should make commitments to ensure improved continuity of Administrative Authority staff with responsibility for Ramsar implementation, since current rapid turnover of such staff is an impediment to effective delivery of the Convention.
· Opportunities should be explored for regional representatives of Ramsar (e.g. the Standing Committee members) taking on some agreed responsibilities for communication work within their (sub) region, and in this context it is important to strengthen the understanding within governments that such roles as regional representation on the Standing Committee are not just 'prestige posts' and they to undertake the role fully requires time, resources and institutional support.
· Holding Subregional Ramsar meetings rather than meetings for whole Ramsar regions was strongly supported and the involvement of regional/international organisations had brought considerable benefit and depth to the discussions in this meeting, to the mutual benefit of both these organisations and participating countries. The meeting had been important in creating a very open dialogue between Parties, non-Parties, international organisations and NGOs and through this had identified a wealth of opportunities for collaboration at the subregional level.

Conclusions and recommendations: key issues for West and Central Asia

114. Long-term drought events, including the current persistent drought, are a significant cause of widespread impacts and degradation of wetlands in the region. In terms of the Convention this should not become focussed on debate about whether the causes are natural or human-made since the convention provides mechanisms for attention to all such issues. Attention should be drawn to the issue of drought and its effects on wetland values and functions at COP8.

115. Transboundary and regional/subregional cooperation and collaboration is a high priority in the region. Such cooperation includes assistance from Parties to neighbouring non-Parties who are considering joining the Convention, transboundary Ramsar site designation and the management of transboundary rivers are priority activities.

116. The link between wetland degradation and loss and humanitarian crises, such as the drainage of the Tigris/Euphrates/Mesopotamian Marshes and the displacement of Marsh Arab tribes, reflects a threat to major wetlands in the region, and is exacerbated by drought and water abstraction reducing river flows.

117. Use of the Strategic Framework for Ramsar site designation and the concepts of national site networks for future designation of sites are relatively undeveloped in the region. For those sites which have been designated, thinking and action for their management and response to issues of ecological character, using the tools and mechanisms of the Convention, are well advanced in some countries.

118. The Montreux Record is seen as playing a positive role in resolving Ramsar site sustainable management issues, and especially its positive role in focussing potential donor assistance for addressing issues of change in ecological character at Ramsar wetlands.

119. Parties in the region have a focus on capacity-building and the involvement of local communities and civil society in management - especially in relation to clarifying the apportionment of rights and responsibilities in their implementation of Ramsar tools and guidance frameworks.

120. There is a need also for capacity building in Administrative Authorities and with focal points and Parties should seek to ensure that continuity of staff responsible for Ramsar implementation.

121. The role of the GEF, bilateral donors and Ramsar's mechanisms, including the SGF, are highly important to progressing wetland sustainable use in the region, but issues of eligibility arise in many cases for Parties priority activities particularly where there is a need to address the most long-term, difficult problems.

122. Every opportunity should be sought to translate and disseminate key Ramsar documents into local languages so as to maximise their outreach and utility to all those involved in wetland conservation and wise use in the region.

123. The approach of holding a Subregional, rather than a full Regional, preparatory meeting for COP8 was seen as a valuable and helpful approach as it permitted focussed discussion on the substantive common ground amongst Parties in the Subregion.

Acknowledgments

The participants and the Ramsar Bureau express their sincere thanks to the Department of Environment and Biodiversity and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of I.R. Iran for hosting the West & Central Asian Sub-regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention. Particular gratitude was expressed to Mr. Anoushirvan Najafi, Mr. Asghar Mohammadi Fazel, Mr. Sadegh Sadeghi Zadegan, Mr. Javad Amin Mansour and Mr. Peiman Sadat, for the preparation of the meeting and its logistics.

Thanks to the financial support provided by the Government of Japan through their voluntary Contribution for Asian Projects and the Government of Belgium, through the Ministère de la Région Wallonne.

The present report is based on the notes of the sessions and meeting rapporteur Mr. Jafar Barmaki (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I.R. of Iran), supported by Mr. Dave Pritchard (BirdLife International), Dr. Taej Mundkur (Wetlands International) and Dr. Nick Davidson (Ramsar Bureau)- thanks to them for their excellent work.

Thanks are finally expressed to Mr. Asghar Mohammadi Fazel and Mr. A.M. Gokhale for their excellent guidance as chair and to all participants who gave an oral presentation during the meeting.


ANNEX

TEHRAN COMMUNIQUE
ON THE OCCASION OF WORLD WETLANDS DAY, 2002

We, the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971 ) from Central and Western Asia, and other participants, meeting in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, at a ceremony to celebrate World Wetlands Day, 2002, extend our warm appreciation to the Government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran for convening the ceremony, as well as hosting the Western and Central Asian Sub-Regional Meeting of the Ramsar Convention, from 3 to 5 February 2002.

Mindful of the Convention's objectives and mission on the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means to achieve sustainable development throughout the world, the Parties reconfirm and other participants support the commitment made to the implementation of the provisions of the Ramsar Convention.

Recognizing the vital role of wetland ecosystems for biodiversity conservation and for the well-being of human communities; and welcoming the theme for World Wetlands Day, 2002, and the 8th meeting of the Conference of the Parties ( COP8 ), on "Wetlands: Water, Life, and Culture" which explores the cultural values of wetlands as a tool for their conservation, and emphasizes the importance of people's engagement in conservation efforts, we undertake to explore cultural issues in our national and local contexts and seek to make our public more aware of the cultural, as well as the natural, values of wetlands.

Recalling Article 3.2 of the Convention and the assistance to be gained from applying the Montreux Record, and aware of the devastating impact of drought on considerable number of major wetlands in the region, we affirm the importance of confronting all the underlying causes of wetlands degradation, including natural causes. To this end, and in order to increase the effectiveness and utility of the Montreux Record, we emphasize the necessity to address, in addition to human induced changes, naturally induced changes in the ecological character of wetlands, and the need to develop monitoring and assessment of such changes. In this regard we welcome Decision SC26-12 of the Ramsar Standing Committee, that requests the Ramsar Bureau and the STRP to prepare a discussion paper, incorporating elements of a possible draft Resolution, on Article 3.2 and the reporting of changes in ecological character, both human- and naturally-caused changes, for the Subgroup on COP8's meeting in May 2002, and we urge that this matter is fully discussed at COP8.

Reaffirming the importance of enhancing the existing capacities in developing countries to fulfil their commitments under the Ramsar Convention, and while emphasizing the need for a predictable and reliable increase in financial resources for Ramsar Small Grants Fund ( SGF ), we urge increasing international cooperation, both bilateral and multilateral, in support of wetland projects. In this regard, we encourage the conclusion of Memoranda of Cooperation ( MOCs ) and joint work plans with other Multilateral Environmental Agreements ( MEAs ), and specifically, representation of the Ramsar Bureau in GEF Council meetings. We also recognize that, while their human resources are limited, appropriate involvement of Ramsar Bureau on the steering committee of major wetland projects, is both desirable and helpful to the cause of conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Noting that the World Summit on Sustainable Development ( WSSD ) in 2002, will review the progress since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, ( Rio, 1992 ), and that this will provide a key opportunity to outline Ramsar achievements and priorities in the pursuit of sustainable development, we urge that Ramsar issues must continue to be given a high profile in WSSD preparatory processes and during the WSSD itself, both by the Bureau and by national delegations, and further urge that an analysis of WSSD outcomes and its implications for Ramsar Convention be prepared for consideration by COP8.

TEHRAN, ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
3 FEBRUARY 2002 

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