Linkages among environment-related treaties: Ramsar address to UNEP


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21st Session of UNEP Governing Council /
Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Nairobi, 5-9 February 2001

Agenda Item 7:
Linkages among and support to environmental and environment-related conventions

Statement by
Mr. Delmar Blasco, Secretary General,
Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

uneplogo.gif (1854 bytes)Mr. President, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates and Observers,

Allow me to express some humble opinions and to put forward some recommendations on the role of UNEP in the area of linkages among, and support to, environmental and environment-related conventions. I am doing so from the perspectives of a convention that preceded UNCED, and even the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, and operates from outside the UN system. Yet, as we have tried to demonstrate in a 100-page report that we submitted to DESA this week as a contribution to the Rio+10 preparations, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, while much more simple in its content and modus operandi than the more recent conventions, is proud of having been promoting even before UNCED some of the key principles formally accepted by the international community in 1992, such as those related to the inextricable relations that exist between environment and development. And in so doing, we consider that our contribution to the implementation of Agenda 21 has not been unimportant. Of course, as is the case with all other instruments, we should be doing much more in our specific area of action: the conservation and sustainable use of wetland resources, for the benefit of the environment and the well being of people, since both are mutually dependent.

At times we are under the impression that some sectors of the international community are focusing almost exclusively on the three UNCED-related conventions, as if the other 200 or so international agreements in the field of the environment that are in force had ceased to exist. We are still there, many of us are generating a fair amount of positive environmental and sustainable development action on the ground, and we will continue to operate as long as our respective Conferences of the Parties, which by the way emanate from the same international community, do not decide otherwise.

I am making this preamble to come to express our strong support for the role that UNEP has started to play in the area of linkages among, and support to, environmental and environment-related conventions. In doing so, UNEP has had the wisdom of involving not only those conventions that are administered by UNEP but also other relevant treaties that operate within the UN system, and those that are not part of the system, as in our case.

During the past five years the Ramsar Convention has given very high priority to the question of synergies with the other biodiversity-related conventions that in some way or another have also a role to play in relation to wetland resources, which are many, including the three UNCED-related Conventions [editor: CBD, CCD, UNFCCC], the regional seas conventions, CITES, CMS, World Heritage, and others. We strongly believe that the conventions have to work in harmony in order to achieve their respective goals, which may seem to be different but which at the end of day converge in the quest of a sustainable planet for human survival with decent conditions for all. We also must cooperate to alleviate the burden of the government agencies and their officers who have to implement the treaties at the field level, in particular in the case of the developing countries and countries in transition. By alleviating their burden, we will also contribute to a more rapid achievement of each convention’s goals and the collective central goal that I just referred to.

For this very motive we have welcomed all attempts to bring the conventions to work together, in particular UNEP’s attempts, including those of UNEP-WCMC, but also those of other institutions such as the UNU. But we consider that those efforts have been, so far, too timid. Possibly because, as is no secret, and in spite of the UN General Assembly resolution that emphasized the importance of UNEP’s role in this area, for a number of reasons UNEP has found resistance in pursuing this role, and as a consequence, to a large extent, the conventions are still operating in a dispersed manner.

I respectfully invite the Governing Council to take on board the recommendation put forward by the Indian delegation, asking for an in-depth study of the true prospects for synergies and of the existing bottlenecks, in particular as they affect the developing countries. In my view this study should be action-oriented, should contemplate the different clusters of the environmental and environment-related conventions, should be done in full consultation with them, should include the issue of the existing financial and technology transfer mechanisms in support of the conventions, and should analyze in an open, transparent and candid manner the internal and external reasons that have generated resistance to UNEP’s coordinating and supporting role vis-à-vis the conventions.

I also respectfully submit that UNEP should be mandated, on the basis of the results of this study, to prepare a medium- and long-term action plan for achieving real synergies among conventions, with the full involvement of the chairs of the conventions’ inter-sessional and subsidiary bodies and the conventions’ secretariats. The action plan should also include details about the practical and concrete legislative authority that still may be required from the UN General Assembly and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and, equally important and unavoidable, from the respective Conferences of the Parties, to ensure that there is a common understanding and a harmonized approach on how to achieve a more effective joint implementation on the ground, with less wasteful use of scarce resources, and less stress and confusion at the Contracting Party level.

The Governing Council may wish to authorize the President of this session to establish a working group to carry out these tasks, inviting three countries from each geographical group to serve in the working group. Criteria for the selection of these countries may include: a) that the country is a Contracting Party to all major global biodiversity-related and chemicals/pollution-related treaties and to the most relevant regional conventions, including those related to the applicable regional sea(s); and b) that the country has already embarked at the national level upon practical attempts towards the joint implementation of least some of the conventions. The President should also be authorized to invite representative NGOs and interested agencies, such as IUCN and the ELCI and the United Nations University, to participate in the working group.

There is an urgent need of an effective and honest broker that would ensure that the treaties work more effectively together on the substance and also on very practical issues like the periodicity and dates of the meetings of the Conferences of the Contracting Parties. For example, there is a strong possibility that next year will constitute a classic case when most of the conventions will be having their COPs almost one on top of the other, putting considerable stress on government agencies that have to cope with this situation, and with all of us struggling to obtain financial support for our meetings from the same small number of donors.

In summary, it is my considered and humble opinion that UNEP should be provided with the necessary policy framework and legislative authority, including clear instructions and tools, and the financial and human resources capacity to become that honest broker. This should include, in my view, the establishment of an operational window of UNEP’s Division of Environmental Conventions in a central place vis-à-vis most of the conventions’ secretariats, such as the UNEP Regional Office in Geneva or the UN facility in Bonn.

I am sure that the Convention on Wetlands and others will welcome developments in this direction and will support them to the best of their abilities.

Thank you Mr President.

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