1st Oceania Regional Meeting, December 1998 -- Closing remarks

24/12/1998

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Statement to the final plenary

by the Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention,

Dr Bill Phillips

Thank you, Mr Chairman,

Before I thank the many people who have made this meeting possible, please allow me a few reflections on what we have discussed in the past three days.

We are on the threshold of a new era when wetlands, in all their forms, are recognised, appreciated and managed for the special functions, services and benefits they provide.

Consistent with this, and facilitating this new appreciation, Ramsar’s mandate has broadened - most noticeably to become a tool for promoting the management of wetlands within their landscapes/seascapes and as integrated elements of our river catchments and coastal environments.

As you have seen during this meeting, Ramsar is equipping itself to be a better tool - with a range of new guidelines and frameworks for action. This meeting has helped to further fine tune the development of these tools.

The Ramsar Convention is also coming of age as a tool for promoting sustainable development. The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance is its trademark - BUT wise use is now an equal part of Ramsar’s work consistent with Article 3.1 of the Convention text, which states that "The Contracting Parties shall formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List, and as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory".

This meeting has also served to remind us of the special situations, circumstances and needs of the Small Island Developing States. You have reviewed several of the key documents and issues which will be on the table at Ramsar’s COP7 next May in Costa Rica and provided your particular perspectives which the larger continental countries can sometimes overlook. This will be invaluable at COP7.

I think we have to acknowledge that a major weakness of the Ramsar Convention is that it has failed to attract many of the Small Island Developing States of the world to become signatories. Trinidad and Tobago, whose case study you were given, is an exception, and a role model for applying the Convention’s range of tools.

A direct consequence of this is that, as you have seen with some of the COP7 documents reviewed here, the Convention is evolving without the benefit of your experiences and without sufficient recognition of the needs of the Small Island Developing States.

We are faced with a classic catch-22 situation here! Many of you have not seen the values of joining Ramsar because it doesn’t seem to address your priorities and needs - but, until the Small Island Developing States become a voice in the Ramsar forum, how can it become an instrument to meet your expectations? Until the Small Island Developing States of the world reach a critical mass within Ramsar, and can operate as a united block at Conferences of the Contracting Parties and be represented to a greater extent in the institutions of the Convention such as the Standing Committee, the Bureau, and the Scientific and Technical Review Panel - our efforts to make Ramsar relevant and useful to the Small Island Developing States will struggle.

So, I urge you all to come to Costa Rica next May, preferably as signatories, and to make your presence felt there - help to make Ramsar what you want it to be.

I would also like to take this opportunity to commit the Ramsar Bureau to pursuing a serious and productive working partnership with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). It is clearly evident that SPREP is the primary delivery and support mechanism for the Small Island Developing States of this region and partnership with them should be among Ramsar’s highest priorities.

I believe that with such a partnership operating, and with the ongoing support of the non-government organisations such as WWF, Wetlands International, BirdLife International and others, wetland conservation and wise use can be achieved with great efficiency.

Finally, a special message to our New Zealand hosts. For many years New Zealand was a strong and highly respected voice within the Ramsar Convention. But in recent years this has diminished noticeably. We are of course delighted that New Zealand chose to host this meeting - but I make a plea for New Zealand to rejoin the mainstream of Ramsar business. You have much to share with the rest of the world.

New Zealand - the first country with a Wetland Policy, possibly the only country with a complete inventory, a remarkable legislative framework, strong community-based actions, and innovative approaches which should be showcased to the world.

Within the Bureau we have begun to explore - as an internal planning and time management tool - a rating system, a sort of report card concept, to assess the progress of each Contracting Party in putting into place the framework needed for implementing the Convention fully. We are tracking 30 indicators and it is my sense that New Zealand tops the list - not just in this region, but globally. It’s not a competition, of course, but you should be proud of what you have achieved. I call you Ramsar’s best kept secret. It’s time you stepped forward and shared your knowledge and experience with the rest of the World.

By world standards, Australia and Papua New Guinea are also making great progress, and Oceania is fortunate to have such role models. I urge the three of you to escalate your efforts to work with your neighbours in this region in applying the tools of the Ramsar Convention.

In conclusion, this meeting has been a great success due to your participation and the wonderful arrangements made by our hosts. We must leave here with renewed enthusiasm for conserving wetlands - these very special environments which provide so much.

Turning now to the thank yous to our hosts and others. Let me acknowledge and thank the following:

  • the Maori Queen and her representatives, as well as the Tainui elders for their wonderful welcome:
  • the Associate Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Marie Hasler, for her opening address;
  • Sue Miller of SPREP and Roger Jaensch of Wetlands International for their assistance with preparations and active participation here;
  • the chairs of our sessions and breakout groups, and especially Navu Kwapena, the chair of the meeting, from Papua New Guinea;
  • all the presenters and rapporteurs;
  • and then the many staff of the NZ Department of Conservation - Joris, Chris, Ross, Katie, Cath, Nikki, Barney - and all the others including Jane, Jo, and Fiona who aren’t here today but were instumental in making the arrangements.

Thank you all for an excellent meeting. I hope to see many of you in Costa Rica next May.

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