Convention to Combat Desertification's first COP: Ramsar's intervention


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Intervention by Dr Bill Phillips
Deputy Secretary General, Ramsar Convention Bureau
during the 1st Conference of the Parties to
the Convention to Combat Desertification
Rome, 29 September - 10 October 1997

The Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands presents its compliments to this the First Conference of the Contracting Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) and wishes to express its gratitude to the Contracting Parties and Observer States present here for the opportunity to make this brief intervention.

For those people around the world living in areas experiencing severe droughts and/or desertification, the management of water resources is a critical issue. For this reason, it is essential that our two Conventions identify ways to work in partnership. Despite the first impressions, our two Conventions have much in common, for Ramsar promotes practices to conserve those areas of the landscape which are typically among the first lost through the processes of desertification. We might be focused on the wet areas and you on the dry, but it is the same unsustainable practices that we are attempting to curtail.

The involvement of local populations, and indeed of societies at large, in the wise, sustainable use of wetland and water resources has long been recognised as a priority by the Ramsar Contracting Parties. It is therefore very satisfying to see that the Convention to Combat Desertification places as much emphasis as the Ramsar Convention does on the involvement of the local people in solving the problems brought about by unsustainable uses of water and land. In some countries the term "reading the land" is used to describe the intrinsic ability that local people have for identifying the problems on their land. We must mobilise and support these talents, for they will be our greatest weapon in the battle for a sustainable world.

Over the course of this meeting you will debate, and reach agreement, on the ways that your Convention can begin to take a more concerted global approach to addressing the urgent problems of desertification. In the same way, the Ramsar Convention has been escalating its efforts and regularly refining its priorities over the past 25 years, as the level of threat to wetlands, and the world´s water resources, has continued to grow at a rate which is fast approaching the crisis point.

At its 6th Conference held in Brisbane, Australia, last year the Ramsar Convention adopted a Strategic Plan to guide its actions over the following six-year period into the next millennium. Importantly, this Plan builds on the many tools which the Convention has in place, some of which are directly comparable to those which are on your agenda for consideration during this meeting. In particular, I refer to a range of activities being undertaken to accelerate the adoption of Ramsar's "Wise Use" (or sustainable use) provisions, an element of the Ramsar Convention which aims to confront head-on the unsustainable land and water use practices which in the drier parts of the world have in the past fostered, and continue today to foster desertification.

The Ramsar Convention's Strategic Plan also urges that we should strengthen and formalise linkages with other international conventions and organisations so as to advance the achievement of shared goals and objectives. The Ramsar secretariat has acted on this and is working to put in place effective mechanisms to promote synergy with a number of other environment-related Conventions. In this regard, it is notable that Ramsar is taking a leading role in the development of priorities and actions relating to inland water ecosystems for the Convention on Biological Diversity and is participating in the Global Water Partnership. It is hoped that similar areas of cooperation and information sharing can be progressed between the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Ramsar Convention.

In November of last year, your Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee identified several areas of cooperation which CCD's Committee on Science and Technology should pursue with suitable bodies and organisations. In Ramsar's case it noted our parallel expert panel, the Scientific and Technical Review Panel, and drew specific attention to the possible benefits which could flow from dialogue between them on matters relating to management planning in the drylands.

Another area where it is apparent that cooperation will be advantageous is at the regional scale, where both of our Conventions have, or are establishing, processes to enhance priority setting, resource mobilisation, and cooperative action by governments. We must strive to put in place linkages between those personnel charged by our respective Conventions with addressing issues at the regional scale to ensure we make best use of scarce resources and expertise.

At the country scale it is also obvious that we can do better in terms of coordinated implementation of international Conventions. In many countries, bureaucratic processes have resulted in different arms of government, or different parts of the same department or agency, being responsible for the implementation of different treaties. Unless mechanisms are put in place to ensure information sharing and cooperation between these differing Administrative Authorities. the classic situation of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing is inevitable. A challenge for us all is to ensure that these necessary mechanisms are in place and operating effectively.

By way of conclusion, I would like to return briefly to the theme of local people and the so-called "bottom up" approach which both of our Conventions have recognised as critically important to achieving our goals. At Ramsar's next Conference of the Contracting Parties in Costa Rica in May 1999, the theme is to be "Wetlands and People: the Vital Link". The Costa Rica Conference will focus forcefully on this subject and it is hoped that the conclusions, and the wisdom of the assembled experts who will consider this matter in great detail, may also be of use to CCD. No doubt the countries which are Contracting Parties to both Conventions will be able to bring back home the messages from Ramsar's 7th COP to assist with your deliberations in the future. It is hoped that just as Ramsar's secretariat has been able to attend this COP to hear at first hand your challenges and the ways you intend to address them, so will the secretariat of CCD attend and participate in Ramsar's Costa Rica meeting.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this intervention here today, and I hope that you will take note, and help us to pursue these several areas of possible cooperation with the Ramsar Convention. We, the secretariat of the Ramsar Convention, stand ready to work in partnership with our counterparts in your Convention and hope that Contracting Parties will ensure that similar cooperation takes place between Administrative Authorities at the regional and country scale.

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