29th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee -- Opening statements

29th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee
Gland, Switzerland, 26-28 February 2003


29th Meeting of the Standing Committee


by Achim Steiner, Director General of IUCN

(delivered by J-Y. Pirot, Wetlands and Water Resources Programme, on 26 February 2003)

Madame Chair,
Mr Secretary General,
National Delegates,
Colleagues and Friends,

Since today's Opening unfortunately conflicts with another meeting in South Africa, I have the honour of representing the Director General of IUCN, Achim Steiner, who sends his apologies and greetings. On his behalf, I am pleased to extend these words of welcome to the Members of the Standing Committee, and to the Observers present in this room today.

The statement from our Director General now reads as follows:

Dear Delegates and Dear Colleagues,

Many of you were elected to this Governing Body during the last Ramsar Conference of Parties. So let me begin these welcoming remarks by saying that I hope that you, like your predecessors, will feel very much at home in our World Headquarters in Gland which we share with our colleagues from the Ramsar Bureau.

IUCN has a very special relationship with the Convention on Wetlands. The Convention is one of the most effective environment treaties and an important component of world wide action to conserve biodiversity. We recognise Ramsar for its Vision, as well as for addressing important technical challenges for which IUCN and its members are themselves trying to find new ways forward, working in parallel but more often in support of the Convention.

The Ramsar COP8 in Valencia was one of the most lively and fruitful ever. By expanding its scope to include subjects such as water allocation, dams, climate change, restoration, invasive species, agriculture and participatory management, the Convention has broadened both its mandate and audience. At COP8, we experienced highly politicised discussions for the first time, with diplomats and the traditional Ramsar constituency sitting side by side. For example, you have opened a debate on agriculture and dams, and as former Secretary General of the World Commission on Dams, I commend your efforts to address such a complex issue. The acceptance of these resolutions allows Ramsar to engage proactively with basin-wide developments alongside major international partners, scientific networks, professional associations, grass root institutions, and the private sector.

Indeed, we have come a long way since the quiet days when Ramsar was focused solely on wintering ducks and geese. Not that they do not continue to matter, but Ramsar's scope and reach have broadened considerably.

The adoption of these resolutions and guidelines gives the Convention a consistent set of management tools, in fact the most comprehensive set of tools ever associated with a single type of protected area network.

However, WSSD and related processes have recently generated a daunting number of targets which challenge the international conservation community, and Ramsar, in the coming years. However, most striking to me is the gap which now seems to exist between an impressive body of policies and guidelines and the use of this material for practical ecosystem and natural resources management in the field. The fact that we seem to have difficulty in communicating the lessons learned over the past 20 years on the social, economic and environmental benefits of conservation is also worrying.

Future progress, therefore, will mainly depend on our capacity to implement and communicate, for example to make sure that tools are understood and applied daily, to build the implementation capacity at national and regional levels, and to strategically communicate the usefulness of our work for enhancing livelihoods and food security.

The centre-piece of this Convention is the List of Wetlands of International Importance, and very rightly so. As many institutions try to influence the wider processes that affect ecosystems, it is essential that these top priority wetland sites are well managed on a day-to-day basis, as an indication of the effectiveness of Ramsar as a conservation tool. I am convinced that Ramsar's unique comparative advantage lies there, among stakeholders involved in making these wetlands true conservation jewels.

In close collaboration with your Chair and several Delegates, I have actively participated in the interviews for the selection of the new Secretary General. I am confident that the recommendations of our panel will lead you to the right choice, and to an appointment that will fulfil the expectations of all the Parties, of the different institutional elements of the Convention, and of your Ramsar Partners and their networks.

The new incumbent faces a daunting challenge, part of which is to match - at the very least - the strong track record of the outgoing Secretary General Delmar Blasco.

Delmar Blasco, through three Conferences of Parties, has consistently fostered new perspectives on issues vital to the wise use of wetlands. One of his main achievements is perhaps the establishment of participatory management and social issues as fundamental pillars of this Convention's approach to wetlands conservation. In 1995, the Convention had only 85 Contracting Parties and 719 Ramsar sites covering 50 million hectares. Delmar and his dynamic team have convinced 50 more countries to join the Convention and doubled the size of the Ramsar network which now covers 107 million hectares. This is no small achievement in international cooperation at a time when some other Multilateral Environment Agreements have not progressed as anticipated.

Madame Chair, Secretary General and Delegates,

I pledge IUCN's support to you, the Parties, and in the years to come I will endeavour to foster a harmonious relationship between the institutions of Ramsar (Standing Committee, STRP, Bureau) and the Council, Commissions and Secretariat of IUCN.

A foretaste of this is the new Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ramsar Bureau and IUCN, which is now almost ready for signature. Its format follows the recommendations of the Bureau and provides clear examples of IUCN's substantive input to Ramsar, on subjects such as water allocation, invasive species, wetland restoration or more practically, and more generally on IUCN's support to making the Joint Work Plan between Ramsar and CBD a more visible reality in the field. This cooperation agreement awaits the decisions on urgent priorities that will be approved by this Committee, and the next STRP meeting in April, before finalisation and ratification in May of this year.

In addition, not only does IUCN wish to see Ramsar expand worldwide, but also within these premises. Indeed, with our Host Government, we have initiated the process to increase the facilities available to us within two or three years, resulting in better and higher profile accommodation for the Bureau.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your dedication and I wish you every success in the coming days.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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