Nordic-Baltic Wetlands Conference focuses on climate change

12/09/2013

Twenty Ramsar National Focal Points and experts from the Arctic Council gathered for a seminar on climate change impacts in Greenland from 3 to 5 September at Ilulissat, a fishing and hunting harbour and tourist resort. The spectacular Ilulissat Icefjord nearby, a World Heritage property, attracts many visitors who come to watch icebergs breaking off and drifting away from the Greenland inland glacier dome.

Ilulissat is at the edge of one of Greenland’s outstanding ecological areas, including the important Disko bay fishing grounds. Hopefully this area will soon become a new Ramsar Site, to join six existing Ramsar Sites in the wider vicinity (see the report of the 2009 Ramsar Advisory Mission here).

Sunset over Disko Bay

The conference was organised during Greenland’s presidency (2012-2014) of NorBalWet, a regional initiative under the Ramsar Convention bringing together Denmark, Estonia, the Faeroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Russian regions around the Baltic Sea, and Sweden.

Participants were pleased to listen to Greenland’s Minister of Housing, Nature, Environment and Nordic Cooperation, Ms Miite Lynge, who warned of the possible impacts of climate change on wetlands and their services to our societies and called on Ramsar to formulate proposals on how to manage these impacts, for consideration by the Arctic, Nordic and Baltic cooperation mechanisms (Ministry’s press release attached here).

Participants walking along Ilulissat icefjord, from left: Tom Barry (CAFF executive secretary), Minister Miite Lynge (Greenland), Jenny Lonnstad (Sweden), Maja Stade Aroenaes (Norway), Tapio Lindholm (peatlands expert), Tony Fox (goose expert).

The participants heard brief reports by NorBalWet members on significant progress with Ramsar implementation in their countries, on the successful conclusion of their project on wetland CEPA (coordinated by Finland, funded by the Nordic Council) and on the new project on the importance of peatlands for climate change mitigation (coordinated by Denmark, also funded by the Nordic Council). They reviewed their operational regional procedures and discussed crucial elements for a long-term vision for the Nordic-Baltic wetland cooperation initiative.

Other key points discussed:

  • Tom Barry (CAFF’s executive secretary) and Tom Christensen (co-chair of CAFF’s Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme) outlined ways of concrete cooperation on Arctic wetlands and their ecosystem services, through NorBalWet as a follow-up on the signing of a resolution on cooperation between Ramsar and the Arctic Council’s working group on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) in 2012. They said they would share a detailed programme at the CAFF council meeting in Yellowknife, in the Canadian Arctic.
  • Participants worked on NorBalWet’s priorities for the coming years and discussed their involvement in the Ramsar Standing Committee sub-group, guiding the development of Ramsar’s new Strategic Plan for the years 2016-2021.
  • The experts present at the conference identified priorities for Arctic, Nordic and Baltic wetlands, facing particularly rapid Arctic climate change. These priorities are most likely important for other regions, given the ecological linkages between the Arctic region and the rest of the world.
  • Focusing on wetland ecosystem services is a high priority for NorBalWet. To this end, the countries under the regional initiative agreed to test out the new section of the Ramsar Site Information Sheet (RIS) on ecosystem services which will be used globally from 2015 onwards, and to complement such tests with the newly proposed TESSA method of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.
  • They also agreed that reviewing the importance of Nordic and Baltic peatlands, and peatland restoration for the mitigation of climate change effects, is another high priority.
NorBalWet and CAFF Arctic Biodiversity Assessment posters

NorBalWet will act as Ramsar’s operational arm to cooperate with CAFF and to develop the focus on Arctic wetland ecosystems and their crucial role when it comes to climate change. Finally, the NorBalWet countries agreed on the need to update the 2004 Nordic Council report on wetlands through the compilation of essential reference information, and to produce communications and outreach materials on the role of Arctic, Nordic and Baltic wetlands and their ecosystem services.

The conference showed the progress NorBalWet has made as a well coordinated and highly inspiring Ramsar regional initiative. There is more information on NorBalWet activities at www.norbalwet.org, where the conference report should be made available soon.

Report and photos by Tobias Salathé, Senior Advisor for Europe, Ramsar Secretariat

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