Ramsar address to COP5 of the Climate Change Convention, 2 November 1999

04/11/1999

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Statement to the 5th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bonn, Germany,  2November 1999

by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General
of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

Mr Chairman, Ministers and distinguished delegates.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to make this statement and to bring to you the perspectives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on issues of common concern.

I hope that emerging from it you will see, and wish to pursue, an opportunity for the Climate Change Convention and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands to join hands and support one another in those areas in which our interests coincide.

Signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, the Convention on Wetlands is the oldest of the international environment conventions and has now assembled an impressive ‘toolkit’ to support its implementation by the world’s governments, including its 116 Contracting Parties, international organizations, and local stakeholders. As you will be aware, our thinking about wetlands has matured from the sadly unenlightened views of the past to a new recognition that these are areas that provide vital services and benefits to civil society. Just as our understanding of, and attitude toward wetlands has matured, so has the Convention on Wetlands evolved into a strong and vibrant advocate and guiding influence in the management of both freshwater and coastal and marine ecosystems.

In May of this year, at Ramsar’s 7th Conference of the Parties in Costa Rica, Dr Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presented a keynote paper which recognized the importance of wetlands– some 10% of the planet’s surface – in helping to address global problems such as the freshwater crisis and climate change. He urged the Contracting Parties of the Ramsar Convention – all 116 of which are represented in this room – to pursue closer working relations with both the IPCC and the Climate Change Convention. The response to this was rather resounding and several decisions were adopted by that COP which identified linkages with the Climate Change Convention as a high priority. These decisions related to the increasingly vulnerable small island states, the integrated management of river basins, and global action for the management of peatlands.

Earlier in this meeting, your delegations were provided with copies of a discussion paper entitled ‘Wetlands and Climate Change’, made available in the six official languages, which is designed to bring to your attention the several areas of common interest we share. This paper also provides a draft framework for cooperation between our Conventions, and especially between our subsidiary scientific bodies and the IPCC, and between the respective secretariats. Speaking for those who in the Contracting Parties to Ramsar are responsible for implementing our Convention, I very much hope that you will consider this paper carefully and seek to recognize the values to be gained from the partnership actions being proposed. We stand ready to act on these and to be a strong and effective delivery mechanism for the relevant aspects of your agenda, just as we have become for the Convention on Biological Diversity, which now recognizes Ramsar as its lead partner for actions relating to wetland ecosystems.

What are these relevant aspects of your agenda that we at Ramsar see as so close to us? As you will be aware the Convention uses a very broad definition of ‘wetland’, and so our common interests range from coral bleaching to the impacts of sea level rise on tidal areas, to addressing the freshwater crisis and promoting strategies and actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Given their major role as terrestrial carbon stores, wetlands also need to be considered as an instrument for mitigating climate change.

A part of Ramsar’s maturing into the highly effective, action-based Convention it is today relates to a recognition by its Parties of the importance of wetlands in maintaining the integrity, the productivity, and, if you like, the ‘health’ of our freshwater systems. The removal of wetlands from our rivers impacts on the robustness and adaptability of these natural systems, and contributes to major catastrophes such as the devastating flooding in the Yangtze river basin in China in 1998. Among the package of responses to this flood adopted by the Chinese government through its National Ecological Environment Construction Plan is major reafforestation of the catchment and restoration of the wetlands that once helped to absorb such torrential rains.

I give this example to highlight the linkages between your work on land use, land use change, and forestry, and our promotion of wetland conservation and restoration, which we are now seeing replicated in more and more countries. Another example is the Clean Water Action Plan of the USA, which has set the target of achieving net gains in wetland area of 100,000 hectares per year by 2005. These countries have seen the value of wetlands as part of their environmental infrastructure, and have recognized that by using the natural technology provided by wetlands their freshwater delivery mechanisms can be protected. As a Convention, Ramsar believes that climate change issues should be given recognition and high priority in wetland conservation and restoration, as a part of the adaptation strategies you promote. We also feel that Ramsar can play a significant role for you in sharing and transferring this "environment friendly technology" between countries to help them become better placed to combat the impacts of climate change.

In conclusion, I would like to refer to the final section of the ‘Wetlands and Climate Change’ discussion paper, which as I indicated earlier provides some suggestions for joint actions between our two Conventions. These actions are designed to promote linkages between our secretariats and our respective subsidiary scientific bodies and the IPCC. While these proposed activities require further elaboration, we believe they provide a basis for a number of immediate joint actions which would have minimal impact on human resources for either convention, and produce instant results for us both.

One such action is to ensure that the Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the Ramsar Convention establishes a direct working relationship with your equivalent body, the SBSTA, and the IPCC. It would seem advantageous to us both for our STRP members to provide their comments on the draft of IPCC’s Third Assessment Report which is undergoing review by your Parties at present.

I hope that, just as your governments did at the 7th Ramsar COP in Costa Rica earlier this year, you will see the benefits to be gained from a working partnership with the Ramsar Convention. I urge you to accept this offer of partnerships and take the necessary steps at this COP to move us forward, and I hope that you will support the recommendation of your SBSTA urging closer cooperation with the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

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