Secretary Generals New Years message

03/01/2006

I am privileged to be writing this New Years message sitting on the edge of Logan Lagoon - a Ramsar site on Flinders Island, Tasmania. The site itself was nominated in 1998, and is an excellent example of coastal lagoons, strongly influenced by surface and near-surface groundwater, with gradients of freshwater to brackish. And from time to time the sea breaks over the sand barrier which normally keeps the system enclosed, making structural and dynamic changes to the form and function for the lagoon system - maybe a metaphor for our Convention!

During summer (which it is now) the lagoon shrinks to northern and southern portions, the south being quite fresh, and today with large numbers of black swans (Cyngus atratus) Australasian shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides) and chestnut Teal (Anas castanea). Despite the lagoons isolation, the Parks and Wildlife Service of Tasmania has erected an informative sign, which clearly indicates its Ramsar status, as well as information on the lagoon - a good example for others to follow!

And those who can follow continue to increase in number; as at January 1 we have 150 Contracting Parties on record by the depositary, and we know of several others simply waiting for the final signatures on the political process of accession. It is gratifying for the Secretariat to see this affirmation of support for the Convention, its philosophies and products, and we remain totally committed to help parties in their implementation of the Convention.

2005 was of course an incredibly busy year for all involved in the Ramsar Convention, with regional meetings, a mid-year Standing committee and then, of course, our first African COP. Thanks to Paul Mafabi and his team from Uganda, working with the Secretariat, and with the support and persistence of the Ugandan government, COP9 was an undoubted success. Not just logistically, but also as the first COP where some of the elements of resolution VIII.45 were implemented. This showed we can be as effective with less time involvement, and my thanks and congratulations to all delegations who worked cooperatively and effectively to make this happen.

2005 was also the year in which the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment finished its work, and the wetlands section was given special prominence in a separate synthesis. One of the key products from the MA has been the promotion of a general view that ecosystems are important because of the services or benefits they provide to the planet, and to human well-being. While this is not necessarily new, it is the clear articulation of these issues that has made a difference, I believe, and was of course reflected in the adoption by COP9 of new definitions for wise use and ecological character, as well as recognizing the whole conceptual framework of the MA as a good way to organize our science and technical thoughts and advice.

And the science and technical underpinning of the convention remains our strength, and one we are committed to help Parties build upon.

COP9 gave us some new directions, and consolidated and reinforced previous policies, including engagement of the Convention in ongoing multilateral processes dealing with water; the Convention's role in the prevention, mitigation and adaptation of natural phenomena; the critical role of wetlands in poverty reduction; and the emergence of avian flu. Underlining all this, however, is an assumption that we will continue to find the most effective and efficient ways of delivering the Conventions outcomes and outputs.

From the viewpoint of "ourselves as others see us" I would like to quote from the overall COP9 summary by ENB who said:

Opening the COP with the 1960s song The times they are a changin' by Bob Dylan seemed fitting for a Convention that has undergone a remarkable transformation in its 34-year-long history. From a North-centric convention focused on the technical and scientific aspects of the conservation of wetlands and waterfowl, the Ramsar Convention has become one that actively addresses a broad range of often political issues related to conservation and wise use of wetlands throughout the world, from cultural diversity to water management to ecosystem services. COP9, the first Ramsar COP held in Africa, is indicative of this evolution to accommodate broader concerns such as poverty alleviation. In addition, COP9 served to underscore Ramsar's drive to become a more active player in the international agenda, reflected in the adopted resolutions addressing avian flu, natural disasters and water issues.

This seems a really good summary of the COP9 results, and the perspective for the future. Obviously in the next three years leading to COP10 in the Republic of Korea, we need to be sure we don't lose the connection to our heritage, but continue to reach out to other MEAs whose work links with and underscores ours, particularly the CBD and its sister Rio Conventions.

2006 may not be a COP year but with the Fourth World Water Forum in México and CBD COP8 both before April, followed by Standing committee 34 and later by the first gathering of the new STRP, we will have lots to do!

My best wishes to all involved in the Ramsar enterprise, and I hope 2006 will be an excellent and highly productive year for all of us!

Peter Bridgewater

Black swans, Logan Lagoon



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