The 9th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties

17/06/2005


"Wetlands and water: supporting life, sustaining livelihoods"
9th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties
to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
Kampala, Uganda, 8-15 November 2005
Agenda item IX
Ramsar COP9 DR 1 Annex A

A Conceptual Framework for the wise use of wetlands and the maintenance of their ecological character

See also COP9 DOC. 16, "Rationale for proposals for A Conceptual Framework for the wise use of wetlands and the updating of wise use and ecological character definitions (COP9 DR1 Annex A)"

Explanatory Note by the Secretariat

1. Action 3.1.1 of the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2003-2008 requested the STRP to "review the wise use concept, its applicability, and its consistency with the objectives of sustainable development". In addition, Resolution VIII.7 (paragraph 15) requested the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) to further review and, as appropriate, develop guidance and report to COP9 concerning identified gaps and disharmonies in defining and reporting the ecological character of wetlands, including, inter alia, harmonization of definitions and terms in the guidance on inventory, assessment, monitoring and management of the ecological character of wetlands.

2. The STRP established its Working Group 2 to progress these tasks, assisted by its Working Group 1 on inventory and assessment issues. The STRP concluded that it is both appropriate and necessary to update the definitions of both "ecological character" and "wise use", in the context of also establishing a conceptual framework to assist Parties in their achievement of wetland wise use under Article 3.1 of the Convention.

3. In undertaking this work, the STRP work has been assisted by the concurrent work of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), in particular the MA's Conceptual Framework for Ecosystems and Human Well-being and its definition and description of the characteristics of ecosystems and ecosystem services. The Panel has determined that the MA's Conceptual Framework provides a helpful basis for showing when to apply the range of different guidelines in the 'toolkit' of Ramsar Wise Use Handbooks.

4. The attached COP9 DR1 Annex A provides the conceptual framework for the wise use of wetlands and the maintenance of their ecological character, as well as updated definitions of "ecological character", "change in ecological character" and "wise use" of wetlands.

5. In Decision SC31-3, the Standing Committee approved this "Conceptual Framework" for COP9 consideration, and COP9 DR1 calls for the framework guidance to be approved by Contracting Parties.

6. The STRP's Working Groups have also prepared a supporting COP9 Information Paper (COP9 DOC. 16) which sets out the background, process and basis for the Panel's recommendations concerning the wise use conceptual framework and updated definitions of "wise use" and "ecological character", in the context of the development and usage of related terms including "sustainable development" and "ecosystem approach".


A Conceptual Framework for the wise use of wetlands and the maintenance of their ecological character

Introduction

1. Definitions of the key Ramsar Convention concepts of "wise use" and "ecological character" of wetlands were adopted by COP3 (1987) and COP7 (1999) respectively. Action 3.1.1 of the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2003-2008 requested the Convention's Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) to "review the wise use concept, its applicability, and its consistency with the objectives of sustainable development".

2. In addition, COP8 Resolution VIII.7 requested the STRP to further review and, as appropriate, develop guidance and report to COP9 concerning identified gaps and disharmonies in defining and reporting the ecological character of wetlands, including, inter alia, harmonization of definitions and terms in the guidance on inventory, assessment, monitoring and management of the ecological character of wetlands.

3. The work of the STRP has been greatly assisted by the concurrent work of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), in particular the MA's Conceptual Framework for Ecosystems and Human Well-being (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2003. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment. Island Press, Washington, D.C.), and its definition and description of the characteristics of ecosystems and ecosystem services.

4. The STRP determined that it is appropriate to update and harmonize the Convention's "wise use" and "ecological character" definitions to take into account other now more-widely used terms and definitions relating to ecosystems and sustainable development, and that a conceptual framework for the delivery of "wise use" would be of assistance to Contracting Parties and others in determining when and where to make policy and management interventions to support this delivery.

5. This guidance covers harmonizing wetland ecosystem terminologies and provides both a conceptual framework for wetland wise use and updated and harmonized definitions of "ecological character", "change in ecological character", and the "wise use" of wetlands.

Wetland ecosystem terminology

6. Within the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), ecosystems are described as the complex of living communities (including human communities) and non-living environment (Ecosystem Components) interacting (through Ecological Processes) as a functional unit which provides inter alia a variety of benefits to people (Ecosystem Services).

7. Included in Ecosystem Services are provisioning, regulating, and cultural services that directly affect people, and supporting services which are needed to maintain these other services. In the context of the Ramsar Convention, cultural services include both material and non-material values, benefits and functions as outlined in COP8 DOC.15 "Cultural aspects of wetlands". Indicative lists of the benefits and products provided for wetlands by each of the types of ecosystem services are given in Figure 1. Further information on wetland ecosystem services and their values can be found in the Synthesis Report prepared by the MA for the Ramsar Convention (Finlayson, C.M., D'Cruz, R. & Davidson, N.C. 2005. Wetlands and water: ecosystem services and human well-being. World Resources Institute, Washingotn D.C. (in press)).

8. The MA's approach includes biodiversity itself as a structural component of ecosystems, whereby it is understood that the variability between ecosystems is one element of biodiversity.

9. The MA definitions and terms concerning ecosystems and their services provide a clear and consistent terminology which may be used to harmonize definitions and terms throughout the suite of Ramsar guidance on inventory, assessment, monitoring and management of the ecological character of wetlands, as requested by Resolution VIII.7. The terms in the left-hand column of Table 1 should be used whenever possible and appropriate in Ramsar guidelines and other usages.

MA Ecosystem terms to apply in Ramsar guidelines and other Convention usages Relates to terms used in various previous Ramsar guidelines and other documents
Ecosystem Components:
physical; chemical; biological (habitats, species, genes)
"components", "features", "attributes", "properties"
Ecological Processes within and between ecosystems "processes", "interactions", "properties"; "functions"
Ecosystem Services:
provisioning; regulating; cultural; supporting
"services", "benefits", "values", "functions", "goods", "products"

Table 1. Recommended terminology for describing wetland ecosystems

10. Benefits, including unique cultural and heritage features (see the Annex to COP6 Resolution VI.1, 1996), provided by wetlands and formerly captured under the term "attribute(s)", are more properly ascribed to one or another of the four categories of ecosystem services.

Figure 1. Indicative lists of benefits provided by the four categories of Ecosystem Services applied to wetland ecosystems. [Adapted from Figure 2.1 in Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2003. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A framework for assessment. Island Press, Washington D.C.; and Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Synthesis Report - Wetlands & Water: Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being. In press.]

A Conceptual Framework for wetland wise use

11. The Conceptual Framework developed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) for the maintenance of ecosystem services for human well-being and poverty reduction provides a multi-scalar approach which indicates how and where policy and management interventions and decision-making can be made (Figure 2). Under this framework, "wise use" equates to the maintenance of ecosystem services to ensure long term maintenance of biodiversity as well as human well-being and poverty alleviation.


Figure 2. A Conceptual Framework for the Wise Use of Wetlands and the maintenance of their ecological character, and the application of the guidelines in the Ramsar 'toolkit' of Wise Use Handbooks 2nd edition (2004). [Adapted from Box 1.4 in Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A framework for assessment and the Synthesis Report - Wetlands & Water: Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being.]

12. Figure 2 also indicates where in the Wise Use Conceptual Framework application can be made of the guidance contained in the 'toolkit' of Wise Use Handbooks adopted by the Ramsar Convention. Note that some of the Ramsar Wise Use guidelines include guidance for interventions to several different stages of the Conceptual Framework.

13. The strategies and intervention opportunities which are relevant for the application of each of the guidelines of the Ramsar toolkit are listed in Table 2.

Table 2. The application of guidelines in the Ramsar "Toolkit" of Wise Use Handbooks, supported by Ramsar Technical Reports, to different intervention opportunities in the MA's Conceptual Framework. Guidelines prepared by STRP in the 2003-2005 triennium for COP9 consideration, and Ramsar Technical Reports in preparation, are indicated by [ ]):

14. Mapping the Ramsar Wise Use toolkit contents onto this conceptual framework also permits an assessment of the toolkit's coverage and gaps in coverage in relation to intervention opportunities and topics. It should be noted that many of the current Ramsar wise use guidelines concern strategies and interventions to ecosystems and their processes, or strategies and interventions addressing aspects of the direct drivers of change to ecosystems. Also, these concern interventions chiefly at local or national scales, since Ramsar guidance is for Contracting Parties acting within their territories, although some guidance also applies regionally and globally (e.g., aspects of the Guidelines for International Cooperation - Handbook 9).

15. Only two current Ramsar wise use guidelines - National Wetland Policies and Reviewing Legislative and Institutional Frameworks - wholly concern interventions to indirect drivers of change, although some other guidelines include some policy aspects. However, it is clear that these 'interventions' onto the indirect drivers of change are important to have in place if efforts to manage wetland ecosystems sustainably through the application of the rest of the suite of Ramsar wise use guidelines are to be effective and efficient. Without such a policy and legislative framework in place, there is a risk that other interventions will take place in a 'political vacuum' without a clear authorizing environment for their delivery, thus risking such efforts failing.

16. For some intervention opportunities indicated by the MA Conceptual Framework - for example, between indirect drivers of change and human well-being and vice versa - there are currently no Ramsar guidelines developed.

17. All aspects of the outline Guidelines for the implementation of the wise use concept adopted by COP4 (Recommendation 4.10) and most aspects of the Additional guidance for the implementation of the wise use concept adopted by COP5 (Resolution 5.6) have now been superseded by the suite of elaborated guidelines adopted by subsequent Conferences of Contracting Parties and compiled in the Ramsar toolkit of Wise Use Handbooks (see Table 1). However, three aspects of the COP5 guidance have not been further developed, those concerning "Research", "Training" and "Technical issues" of sustainable technologies.

Updated definitions of "ecological character" and "change in ecological character" of wetlands

18. Applying the MA's terms and concepts, under which services form an integral part of ecosystems, an updated definition of Ramsar "ecological character" is:

"Ecological character is the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time."

19. Essential to wetland management is baseline data that establishes the range of natural variation in components, processes and services at each site within a given time frame, against which change can be assessed. Contracting Parties have already adopted a range of guidance relevant to the identification, assessment, monitoring and management of the ecological character of Wetlands of International Importance and other wetlands, including wetland risk assessment (Resolution VII.10), impact assessment (Resolutions VII.16 and VIII.9), monitoring (Resolution VI.1), inventory (Resolution VIII.6), and management planning (Resolution VIII.14). In addition, the STRP is committed to the future development of a hierarchical mechanism for describing the ecological character of wetlands.

20. Consistent with the updated definition of "ecological character", an updated definition of "change in ecological character of wetlands" is:

"For the purposes of implementation of Article 3.2, change in ecological character is the human-induced adverse alteration of any ecosystem component, process, and/or ecosystem service."

21. The inclusion of specific reference to Article 3.2 of the Convention text within the definition is designed to clarify the maintenance obligation for the ecological character of listed Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites) under Article 3.2, and to note that such change concerns only adverse change caused by the actions of people. This is in line with the context of Article 3.2 and Recommendation 4.8 (1990) establishing the Montreux Record, which was re-affirmed by COP8 Resolution VIII.8. For the purposes under the Convention, this definition therefore excludes the processes of natural evolutionary change occurring in wetlands and also excludes positive human-induced change.

22. However, it should be noted that other actions adopted by the Convention, such as those concerning assessing the overall status and trends of wetlands and Ramsar sites, require information on all types of change in ecological character - positive and negative, natural and human-induced (as is recognized in COP8 DOC. 20 and by Resolution VIII.8). Likewise, the Ramsar Convention has also recognized that wetland restoration and/or rehabilitation programmes can lead to favourable human-induced changes in ecological character (Annex to Resolution VI.1, 1996) and are a key aspect of wetland management interventions (see, e.g., Annex to Resolution VIII.14).

An updated definition of the "wise use" of wetlands

23. An updated definition of "wise use", taking into account the Convention's mission statement, the MA's terminology, the concepts of the ecosystem approach and sustainable use applied by the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the definition of sustainable development adopted by the 1987 Brundtland Commission, is:

"Wise use of wetlands is the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches[1], within the context of sustainable development[2] ."

24. The wise use provisions of the Convention apply, as far as possible, to all wetland ecosystems. Societal choice is inherent in advancing human well-being and poverty alleviation, which depends on the maintenance of ecosystem services. Pressures to follow sustainable development precepts, and to maintain environmental, economic and social sustainability in land use decisions, encourage compromises ("trade-offs") between individual and collective interests.

25. Within the context of ecosystem approaches, planning processes should be formulated and implemented so as to promote the delivery of wetland ecosystem services in the context of the maintenance of wetland ecological character at appropriate spatial and temporal scales.


1. Including inter alia the Convention on Biological Diversity's "Ecosystem Approach" (CBD COP5 Decision V/6) and that applied by HELCOM and OSPAR ((Declaration of the First Joint Ministerial Meeting of the Helsinki and OSPAR Commissions, Bremen 25-26 June 2003).

2. The phrase "in the context of sustainable development" is intended to recognize that whilst some wetland development is inevitable and that many developments have important benefits to society, developments can be facilitated in sustainable ways by approaches elaborated under the Convention, and it is not appropriate to imply that 'development' is an objective for every wetland.


For reasons of economy, this document is printed in a limited number, and will not be distributed at the meeting. Delegates are requested to bring their copies to the meeting and not to request additional copies.

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