Save Water, Grow Green Theme of 7th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference


“Save water, grow green!” was the theme of the 7th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference held 21-23 September 2011 in Astana, the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

In their final declaration, the Ministers of 44 countries in the region of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) underlined that water is critical for economic and social development and environmental protection. They encouraged intersectoral cooperation, including national policy dialogues on Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Supply and Sanitation, and agreed to pursue an ecosystem approach and the integration of ecosystem values in economic accounting. This constitutes an important regional contribution towards the Earth Summit Rio+20 in June 2012.

The major international conference, the seventh in a process launched in 1991 after the fall of the Iron Curtain, brought together about 800 participants from European and Central Asian countries and was the opportunity for the UNECE to launch the 2nd Assessment of transboundary rivers, lakes and groundwaters.  Jan Kubiš, the UNECE executive secretary, states in his foreword to the 400-pages assessment that transboundary waters play a key role in the region, that many efforts have been made to reduce transboundary impacts, but that water resources are still under great stress as a result of poor management practices, pollution, overexploitation, unsustainable production and consumption patterns, hydromorphological pressures, inadequate investment in infrastructure and low efficiency in water use, and that the degradation and loss of ecosystems, in particular wetlands, is a continuing threat.

Tourists enjoying a boat trip in the Upper Rhine Transboundary Ramsar Site shared between France and Germany

The executive summary stresses that a major innovation of the Second Assessment is the specific attention devoted to ecological and biodiversity issues, through the assessment of 25 Ramsar Sites and other wetlands of transboundary importance. In spite of important progress made in recent decades in their protection and management, wetlands continue to be among the world’s most threatened ecosystems, mainly due to ongoing drainage, conversion, pollution and over-exploitation of their resources. Instead, wetlands should be recognized as a natural infrastructure essential for the sustainable provision of water resources and related ecosystem services. In this respect, transboundary cooperation is crucial where functional units of wetland ecosystems stretch across national (or administrative) borders.

To reflect the great diversities in the UNECE region, the Second Assessment highlights major findings for five subregions separately: Western and Central, South-Eastern, Eastern and Northern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Then, the detailed assessments of transboundary rivers,  lakes and groundwaters are organised by the drainage basins of the White Sea, Barents Sea and Kara Sea; Seas of Okhotsk and of Japan; Aral Sea and other transboundary waters in Central Asia; Caspian Sea; Black Sea; Mediterranean Sea; North Sea and Eastern Atlantic; and Baltic Sea.

Individual descriptions of the rivers, lakes and groundwaters are summarized according to a Driving Forces, Pressures, State, Impact, Responses (DSPIR) framework adopted by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and broadly used under the UNECE Water Convention. The Ramsar wetland assessments also roughly follow the DPSIR framework and were carried out by a number of Ramsar experts in coordination with the secretariats of the Ramsar and UNECE Water Conventions. The Assessment is easy-to-read and illustrated with many overview maps, tables and graphics, and an impressive number of photographs.

Fisherman on lake Skadar/Shkodra Ramsar Site shared between Albania and Montenegro.

Twenty-five boxes provide general descriptions of the wetland ecosystem services, cultural values, biodiversity values, pressure factors, transboundary impacts, and transboundary wetland management at specific Ramsar Sites and wetland ecosystems in transboundary river basins. They include the Pasvik lowlands (a wetland ecosystem shared between Finland, Norway, Russian Federation), Tobol-Ishim forest-steppe (Kazakhstan, Russia), Daurian wetlands (China, Mongolia, Russia), Xingkai and Khanka lakes (China, Russia), Aydar-Arnasay lake system (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan), Ili delta and Balkash lake (China, Kazakhstan), Gomishan lagoon (I.R. of Iran, Turkmenistan), mountain wetlands of the Javakheti region (Armenia, Georgia, Turkey), floodplain marshes and fishponds in the Araks-Aras river valley (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey), the Lower Danube Green Corridor and delta wetlands (Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine), floodplains of the Morava-Dyje-Danube confluence (Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia), Drava-Danube confluence (Croatia, Hungary, Serbia), Upper Tisza valley (Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine), Domica-Baradla cave system (Hungary, Slovakia), Stokhid-Pripyat-Prostyr rivers (Belarus, Ukraine), lake Geneva wetland area (France, Switzerland), Prespa Park wetlands (Albania, Greece, TFYR. of Macedonia), Skadar/Shkoder lake and Buna/Bojana river (Albania, Montenegro), Waddensea (Denmark, Germany, Netherlands), Krkonoše/Karkonosze subalpine bogs (Czech Republic, Poland), Upper Rhine (France, Germany), Bidasoa estuary (France, Spain), Lough Foyle (Ireland, UK), lake Peipsi/Chudskoe and surrounding lowlands (Estonia, Russia), North Livonian bogs (Estonia, Latvia), and wetlands along the Western Bug (Belarus, Poland, Ukraine).

A major lesson from the Second Assessment is that ecosystem services extend beyond wetland boundaries. Wetlands are traditional gathering points, trading centres and civilization crossroads. They are biodiversity hotspots, notably for threatened and migratory species. The direct cooperation between Ramsar ecosystem experts and water managers for the preparation of this assessment was a novelty, a first concrete programme of inter-sectoral cooperation at large scale. A promising start, worthy to be continued. More work on water and water-related ecosystems is required, focusing on large and small-scale hydrological cycles and on the relations between ecological infrastructures and their water resource outputs in terms of quantity and quality. The pressures on wetland systems are now well identified. Therefore, a possible third assessment may focus on solutions for sustainable ecosystem resources management and the restoration of ecosystem services.

The Second Assessment can be downloaded (in English and Russian) from the UNECE website. Printed and CD copies can also be ordered directly from UNECE.

Written by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar Senior Advisor for Europe
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