Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ramsar Convention and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS)


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Memorandum of Cooperation


The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

and the

Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS)


Since its inception in 1971, the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) has provided the single most important intergovernmental forum on wetland conservation issues. According to the Convention's mission statement, the Contracting Parties agree to "the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world".

The Convention is founded on three pillars:

1. Promoting wise use of wetlands,
2. Developing international cooperation, and
3. Developing a network of Wetland sites of International Importance.

The conservation and wise management of wetlands through the designation of wetlands for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, especially the obligation to maintain the ecological character of designated sites, deserves special recognition. This obligation recognizes the importance of wetlands for the maintenance of healthy and productive inland freshwater and coastal systems. In the context of water and wetlands, the Convention on Wetlands thus addresses issues which guide its Contracting Parties on ways to achieve sustainable development.

Within the general obligations set out by the treaty, Contracting Parties, meeting as the Conference of Parties (COP), identify priorities for action through a Strategic Plan. Implementation of this Memorandum of Cooperation shall be through joint actions within the framework of the Strategic Plan, detailed in the attached annex.

The Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) has been established by four United Nations bodies (FAO, UNEP, UNESCO and WMO) in 1996 in response to the need for specific, reliable international data on global and regional environmental change as highlighted by the outcomes of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002) and by the requirements of Environment-Related International Conventions.

The mission of the GTOS Programme is to facilitate access to information on terrestrial ecosystems so that researchers and policy makers can detect and manage global and regional environmental change. Its structure - comprising Technical Panels, Initiatives, and Co-Sponsoring Organisations - allows for covering issues of global concern (e.g. land cover/use change / land degradation, climate change, loss of biodiversity and water resources management) by taking into account the needs of the GTOS users' community. In this respect, GTOS is increasingly focusing on products and services in support of International Conventions and their Contracting State Parties, through a harmonised approach in line with the WSSD Plan of Implementation.

With regard to wetlands and water resources management, the GTOS Programme, and in particular its Coastal-GTOS Initiative, aims at facilitating the detection, assessment and prediction of global and large-scale regional changes associated with land-based and freshwater ecosystems, with particular focus on coastal areas.

The Convention on Wetlands and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) recognize the fundamental role played by wetlands in regulating and providing water, in supporting maintenance of cultural and biological diversity, in ensuring high ecosystem productivity, and in providing services and benefits for people and the planet.

The Convention on Wetlands and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) share similar conservation goals and the positive cooperation between the two institutions to date has been expressed through a range of conjoint activities. In the future, it would be ideal to establish specific mechanisms for enhancing synergies and partnerships to achieve common goals, whilst avoiding duplication of effort, especially through implementation of the Ramsar Convention Strategic Plan.

Therefore, the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands and the Secretariat of and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) agree the following:

Article 1. Mechanisms for Programme Cooperation

A - The Secretariats of the Convention on Wetlands and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) will inform their focal points at regional and national levels of their cooperative activities. For general matters, the focal points for the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) are respectively the Secretary General and the Director of the Research, Extension and Training Division (SDR) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), or their assigned delegates.

B - The focal points, or their assigned delegates, may meet from time to time to assess the implementation of this Memorandum, exchange documents and review ongoing activities. 

Article 2. Joint Activities

A - Common areas for joint activities, as identified in the annex to this Memorandum of Cooperation, relate clearly to the Ramsar Strategic Plan currently in force and will be reviewed annually or at the request of either party.

B - The Secretariat of the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) and the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands will communicate agreement on common areas with their respective networks, and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) will endeavour to mobilise the expertise available on wetlands and water resources within its organisation in support of these activities.

C - The Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands and The Secretariat of the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) will provide each other with details of their annual work programmes to ensure harmonisation of activities at global, regional and country levels.

D - The extent to which the collaborative programme and the joint conservation activities are implemented will be subject to the availability of resources and the engagement of the appropriate panels of GTOS and experts of Ramsar.

Article 3. Obligation, Review and Termination

A - This Memorandum of Cooperation constitutes an expression of a shared objective and vision. However, each party's actions will be considered to be that party's sole and separate action, for all purposes, and neither party shall claim to be acting on behalf of, or as agent for the other party to this Memorandum of Cooperation.

B - The term for this Memorandum of Cooperation is six years. The agreement may be reviewed at the request of either party (usually annually) and may be terminated by either party subject to six months notice in writing.

Peter Bridgewater
Secretary General
Convention on Wetlands
(Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
Alexander Müller
Research, Extension and Training Division, FAO, on behalf of
Global Terrestrial Observing System (

Done at: Rome, Italy

Date: 13 June 2006


Joint activities in the framework of the operational objectives of the Strategic Plan:

The Global Terrestrial Observing System's Support to the
Ramsar Strategic Plan 2003-2008

In accordance with its mission, the Global Terrestrial Observing System will target its support to the following general objectives of the Plan:

1. The wise use of wetlands
2. Wetlands of International Importance
3. International cooperation
4. Implementation capacity.

In particular, it will focus on the following issues:

General Objective 1. The wise use of wetlands

The GTOS Programme will:

  • Build capacity in the assessment and monitoring of the condition of wetlands areas (at the global, regional and national levels) with respect to Convention requirements, including reporting needs;

  • Promote research and monitoring activities into the role of water supply, coastal protection, land dynamics, climate change through the GTOS Technical Panels and Initiatives (i.e. GOFC-GOLD, C-GTOS, B-GTOS, TCO);

  • Identify variables, and provision of related in situ and remote sensing data, required for both monitoring activities of the Ramsar Convention and international observing initiatives (e.g. UNFCCC implementation of Essential Climate Variables) in order to promote collaborative efforts to address global issues such as the role in mitigation and adaptation to climate change;

  • Facilitate communication and information exchange for programs of monitoring and change assessment specific to the ecological character of wetlands, amongst international conventions and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs);

  • Promote the dissemination of standardized methodologies for the observations and assessment of changes associated with land-based wetland and freshwater ecosystems;

  • Provide support to the storage and dissemination of data and information, including metadata, of national wetlands inventories through the use of existing data management systems such as the web-based Terrestrial Ecosystem Monitoring Sites (TEMS) database;

  • Develop and implement wise use projects relevant to the management of wetlands which are of special significance for their cultural and socio-economic values, with particular focus on coastal wetlands;

  • Develop pilot projects to further methodologies for rapid assessment of wetland condition and biodiversity, through the GTOS Biodiversity and Coastal Initiatives, focusing initially on water quality and land cover matrices;

  • Advance the ongoing project "Vulnerability of Ecosystem Services in Deltaic Systems" through the development of a wetland component providing information on land cover, ecosystems and vulnerability mapping for Ramsar sites and surrounding areas for sustainable development and integrated coastal and catchment management.

General Objective 2. Wetlands of International Importance:

The GTOS Programme will:

  • Assist the Contracting Parties to further identify under-represented wetland types and existing monitoring initiatives for these ecosystems through the various GTOS panel and programme activities. This will commence with a survey of networks and sites (and their related monitoring activities) registered in the Terrestrial Ecosystem Monitoring Sites (TEMS) database;

  • Further develop the Coastal, Hydrology and Biodiversity modules of TEMS (i.e. Networks of cooperating Terrestrial Sites with similar research interests) specific to wetland ecosystems, so as to identify gaps in geographic coverage in monitoring of key variables, by collaborating with the Directory of Wetlands of International Importance, towards improved monitoring at theses sites. This will include updating current metadata linkages with NASA's Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) and the Global Observing Systems Information Center (GOSIC).

General Objective 3. International cooperation:

The GTOS Programme will:

  • Assist the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands to establish cooperation with other observing systems, and in particular with the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), the Integrated Global Observing System (IGOS) and the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS), so as to provide an integrated approach in monitoring and assessing the status of Ramsar Sites;

  • Provide technical support to the MedWet/Com and its related action programme MedWet Initiative, through pilot projects and capacity building initiatives;

  • Frame cooperation and joint activities with the Ramsar Convention (including elaboration of projects) within the priorities highlighted by the Biodiversity Liaison Group (BLG) and by the Joint Liaison Group (JLG);

  • Promote cooperation and implementation of joint activities between the Ramsar Convention and GTOS Co-sponsoring Organizations, namely UNESCO, UNEP, FAO, ICSU and WMO).

General Objective 4. Implementation capacity:

The GTOS programme will:

  • Assist in providing effective mechanisms for Contracting Parties to implement the Ramsar Convention with respect to monitoring changes in ecological character of wetlands areas, with particular emphasis on standards for monitoring/assessing land cover dynamics utilizing the Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) under the auspices of the FAO/UNEP Global Land Cover Network (GLCN) and GOFC-GOLD;

  • Assist the Contracting Parties in assessing the effectiveness of the Ramsar Convention by providing technical support on methodologies related to the application of ecological "outcome-oriented" indicators on the overall conservation status of wetlands and the status and change of ecological character of Ramsar sites, by implementing a pilot project for 10 East African countries utilizing the AfriCover Database;

  • Provide technical expertise for capacity building initiatives in support of national reporting system. Primarily focusing on land dynamics and water management issues and taking into account the harmonization of national reporting system to biodiversity-related treaties.
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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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