Venice workshop on practical implications of international conventions on wetland management


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Practical Implications of International Conventions on Wetland Management

What Difference do International Designations Make?

21-23 November 2005, Venice, Italy



The Province of Venice and the UNESCO Office in Venice organized an international workshop, in cooperation with the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, to investigate the role of designation of sites under international conventions on the management of wetlands at local level.

Through their water supply, high productivity and biological diversity, wetlands have always supported human needs by providing areas for agriculture, grazing, fisheries, transport, etc. In many places, wetland areas were cradles of human social organization and cultural development. Over the last thirty years, several international conventions and programmes established specific legal, administrative and management frameworks for wetland areas. These tools focused originally on wetland biodiversity, but are increasingly incorporating social, economic and cultural aspects of wetlands.

The city and lagoon of Venice present a prime example of this intertwining of natural, cultural and economic interests. The workshop used the case of Venice and its lagoon, further illustrated by comparable wetland areas in the Mediterranean and Europe, to investigate how international designations - notably under the Ramsar and World Heritage Conventions, the Man and Biosphere Programme, EU Directives and others - can be applied at national, regional and local level to develop integrated planning and management mechanisms for sustainable use and conservation.

The workshop brought together about sixty participants from a number of major wetland areas in the Mediterranean and Europe (Venice lagoon, deltas of Po and Danube, lakes Ichkeul and Neusiedl/Fertö, floodplains of Doñana and Kopacki Rit), from regional and local administrations and specific research, conservation and technical bodies. They used a dynamic working-group approach to identify mechanisms for harmonizing existing international mechanisms of integrated governance for local territorial management. Splitting up in three working groups allowed the participants to address the following themes.

The territorial planning process

Discussions on the topic how international designations affect planning at national, regional and local scale identified a number of areas of concern:

The territorial planning process needs to take into account traditional knowledge and should develop mechanisms to ensure territorial planning is underpinned by science, including the transfer of traditional knowledge to planners and managers. Scientific research should also play a key role in the implementation of international designations.

Stakeholders must be clearly identified and effectively involved from the beginning of the planning process. Their commitment to the process, for instance through the identification of economic mechanisms for local development, needs to be obtained in order to establish a shared vision for the planning process. General values and functions of a given site need to be highlighted to the public in order to increase public awareness.

International designations should become part of the territorial planning process, rather than remaining an isolated one-off activity. On their own, management mechanisms provided through international designation are not sufficient for proper territorial planning.

National legal frameworks in support of different international designations must be better harmonized.

Management plans for individual wetland sites

Discussions on the topic how to address different management concerns of different sectors and administrative levels agreed on three fundamental principles:

For large wetland areas, the development of a single integrated management plan, with contributions from all stakeholders and interested groups and individuals, is essential.

A single management authority (rather than several sectoral authorities) with adequate legal power and funding is essential for the effective implementation of an integrated management plan. The management authority responsibilities must include: the establishment of a framework for action involving different sectoral authorities and stakeholders, the harmonization of different activities affecting the site, and the coordination of specific management tasks.

It is essential to establish a mechanism to monitor progress with the implementation of the integrated management plan. The current status of integrated management plans at wetland sites differs substantially. For some sites, an integrated management plan exists and a single management authority has been established. In other areas no integrated management plan has yet been developed, and different sectoral authorities intervene, sometimes in contradictory ways. An integrated management plan and a single management authority are prerequisites for proper implementation. However, they alone do not guarantee effective implementation. In particular, an integrated management plan should include:

- clear and practical points relating to human activities that illustrate economic benefits and measure the sustainability of particular resource uses,
- clear indications on who is responsible for implementing each point, and
- provisions for maximum involvement of stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of management plans.

An integrated management plan has to be site-specific. But it has also to take into account planning aspects in the surroundings, especially the water catchment basin. In Europe, the catchment basin approach is also required by the EU Water Framework Directive.

The responsibility for drawing up and implementing integrated management plans lies primarily with national authorities. International designations can assist the authorities in their tasks, in the following fields:

- International designations draw public attention to specific wetland attributes and the importance of integrated management planning. The political commitment demonstrated through an international designation helps to attract funding support for site-specific projects.
- In several cases, international designations have protected wetland sites which would otherwise have been degraded or extinguished.
- International designations can significantly support eco-tourism activities and new sustainable forms of local economic benefits.
- Internationally designated sites with specific problems can be included in the list of "World Heritage sites in Danger" or the "Montreux Record" of Ramsar sites undergoing ecological change. This increases international awareness of local problems. It provides a procedure to draw expert attention to clarify and solve the problems, e.g. through specific expert missions.

The effectiveness of the integrated management planning process can be improved in a number of ways:

- The secretariats of international designation bodies should take a more pro active role in encouraging and assisting national authorities to formulate and implement integrated management plans ("handbooks and manuals are not enough").
- National focal points for international designations should take an active role, working through national committees and consulting with stakeholders for the formulation and implementation of integrated management plans.
- International designation bodies should insist on the development of integrated management plans within given time periods.
- The content and implementation of integrated management plans should be evaluated by the secretariats of international bodies and associated experts.
- An analysis of how many internationally designated sites have an integrated management plan would provide useful information and an incentive to develop such plans.
- Greater publicity should be given to the benefits derived from international designations at local level. To this end, specific communication and media staff should be on the staff of international secretariats.

The dynamic effects of international designations

Discussions on the topic if designated sites provide a model for territorial planning and management at other sites focused on what international designation of specific sites meant in terms of imposing specific obligations, improvement of the planning process, bringing about local advantages and added values, and supporting trans-scale and cross-sectoral governance.

Providing an international designation to a specific site means submitting this area to specific rules and constraints. An international designation should be seen as a process and not only focus on the particular moment in time when the international recognition is obtained. The process includes the following steps:

- identification of the problems faced and of the objectives to be attained for a given site,
- identification of the major players in the process to clarify the ownership of the process itself,
- agreement by all stakeholders on a specific set of consolidated rules, obligations, standards and procedures and of ways of their implementation,
- selection of the most appropriate tools to achieve the specific objectives,
- provide multiple international designations (e.g. World Heritage, Ramsar, Biosphere Reserve, etc.) for one site only if they help in achieving complementary rather than overlapping goals.

Raising public awareness, communication, sharing of information and training are crucial aspects all along the designation process. They have to include all stakeholders. The designation process should also lead to identification of those who will take responsibility for the governance of the designated area. They may need specific training. The definition of the most appropriate governance scheme for a given site needs to be based on a clear identification of the management objectives, the management procedures to be followed and the process of implementation. The governance form may vary between direct management interventions to soft coordination or flexible cooperation processes, depending on the nature of the site.

Do the advantages of international designation outweigh its costs?

Sometimes, individual stakeholders are negatively affected by the constraints imposed by an international designation, or at least they believe so. However, in general the international designation process is based on a public consent that the values and functions of the particular site merit the application of particular rules and constraints obtained through its international designation. The political process is based on the agreement that international designation will be beneficial for the sustainable management of the area representing a common heritage. International designation provides extra protection and awareness for areas of particular importance. Internationally recognized areas are better positioned to receive political support and external funding to solve remaining problems. Socio-economic benefits of international designations are expected to support labour markets, structural changes and the reduction of environmental restoration costs. Advantages are likely also to affect individual stakeholders, at least in the longer term.

Benefiting from an international designation also means participating in an international network of designated areas. The perception of these benefits varies among different stakeholders and administrative levels:

- Site managers and administrators do not only look for prestige, they also benefit from the opportunities for exchange of experience and know-how, international training and increased motivation.
- Local actors are looking for direct benefits to their daily life and business.
- External users look for guaranteed quality of the benefits and services provided by the site and its visitor infrastructures for which they are willing to pay.
- It is important to establish mechanism to ensure adequate balances of benefits and obligations at the different levels.

Sometimes internationally designated areas are of transboundary nature, i.e. shared between several countries or administrative regions. This may involve different management approaches on either side of the border separating the common wetland area. In these cases, international designation provides the opportunity to harmonize legal regimes, ease access to information, and encourage coordinated management efforts. This may lead to positive competition and mutual learning on each side of the dividing line.

To be effective, transboundary cooperation and coordination needs to be driven by local communities and staff. These local efforts have to be supported by national authorities through the obligations deriving from the international designation,

Several major wetland sites profit from multiple international designations. This is generally beneficial as long as the respective designation criteria are used to create synergy and complementarity. If not properly used, multiple designations tend to become administrative burdens, implying more obligations rather than management opportunities.

It is therefore recommended to improve coordination between international conventions and organizations, particularly concerning the nomination procedures. The secretariats of the World Heritage and Ramsar Conventions, the Man and the Biosphere Programme and others should use membership of the Biodiversity Liaison Group, among others, to develop these opportunities. A clearing house mechanism would be very useful and should be explored. Improved coordination between ministries and focal points in individual countries is crucial, especially in view of harmonizing the boundary delineations of sites listed under several instruments.

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