Ramsar contribution on climate change to IUCN's World Conservation Congress


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iucn-amman.gif (4175 bytes)IUCN World Conservation Congress, Amman, Jordan, October 2000

Defining IUCN’s role on climate change: viewpoint from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

Workshop summary statement: Interactive Session 12 The Ecological Limits of Climate Change, Saturday 7 October 2000

Dr Nick Davidson, Deputy Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

This session has had wide-ranging discussions on the interaction between ecosystem and biodiversity issues and climate change, particularly in relation to forests and to carbon sequestration. But there has as yet been rather little consideration of the key, but often less recognised, role of wetlands in the climate change debate. As, however, we heard earlier from Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank recognises the great importance of wetlands, notably peatlands, in climate change.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is the oldest of the global environmental intergovernmental conventions, signed by 18 countries in Ramsar, Iran on 2 February 1971. The Convention now has 122 Contracting Parties, who between them have designated 1037 Wetlands of International Importance ("Ramsar sites") - the "jewels in the wetland crown". Ramsar covers a very broad range of wetlands: from nearshore marine and coastal ecosystems to all freshwater systems (including forested wetlands, peatlands, wet grasslands, rives and lakes, marshes and swamps, karst and caves, etc.) and artificial wetlands such dams, reservoirs and rice padi.

Ramsar Parties deliver their commitments under the Convention: the wise (sustainable) use of all wetlands, the designation and management of Ramsar sites, and international cooperation – on shared wetlands and river basins, shared knowledge and information and capacity-building, and joint work between environmental conventions on common issues. With the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) this is delivered through a formal Joint Work Plan under which Ramsar acts as lead partner on wetlands. The Ramsar Bureau (its secretariat) is now exploring with the Secretariat of the UNFCCC ways of developing a programme of joint action on climate change and wetlands.

Ramsar Parties have recognised the significance of climate change in their delivery of sustainable use of wetlands and their biodiversity, and the Ramsar Bureau is pleased to support the increasing emphasis now being afforded climate change by IUCN, its upcoming Climate Change Initiative, and its efforts to build the critical links between the climate change and biodiversity communities. Climate change and its impacts are cross-cutting and fundamental issues for all the work of both IUCN and the Ramsar Convention.

The Ramsar Convention has been working closely over the last year with IUCN - both its climate change and wetlands programmes - to develop guidance and assistance to both the Ramsar Convention and climate change communities on how to address climate change in the context of sustainably managing wetlands. As Brett Orlando (IUCN’s climate change officer) has strongly stated earlier in this session, without "helping countries robustly to address dealing with climate change" it is highly unlikely that they can achieve their commitments to the sustainable use of wetlands, or other aspects of biodiversity. The matter is cross-cutting, yet there remains scant guidance to countries on exactly how they should be tackling and responding to these critical issues on the ground.

What is the Ramsar Convention seeking to deliver - and how might IUCN be uniquely placed to undertake this?

The Ramsar Convention has already produced a wide range of guidance over the past 10 years designed to assist its Parties to deliver the wise use of wetlands. This ‘toolkit’, recently published in English, French and Spanish as nine "Wise Use Handbooks", produces much direction to Parties that is relevant to responding to the challenges of climate change impacts, but does not specifically address the impact on, and role of, wetlands in climate change.

Recognising this, our most recent meeting of our Contracting Parties (COP7, Costa Rica, May 1999) requested two climate change-related actions. These are:

1. Guidance on climate change in relation to wetlands, and

2. Improved working links between the Ramsar and Climate Change Conventions.

Guidance on climate change in relation to wetlands has been requested for consideration by the next Ramsar Convention meeting of Contracting Parties (COP8, Spain, 2002). In this context it is important to remember that this guidance has been requested by substantially the same governments as those addressing climate change directly through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), biodiversity through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), desertification through the UN Convention on Combatting Desertification (UNCCD), and migratory species conservation (CMS). But those dealing with each convention at the national level are often in different parts of government, and cross-sectoral dialogue is seemingly often weak or absent.

The guidance will address two aspects:

1. The impact of climate change on wetlands, and what will the future hold? This is essential information better to inform countries about what they are, and will, face. It will draw strongly on the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’s Third Assessment Report (IPPC TAR) as well as other wetland-specific sources;

2. What are the ways in which wetlands can, through adaptive management, be valuable in mitigating the effects of climate change and sea-level rise. We know that some wetlands can be important in this context - forested wetlands and peatlands in relation to carbon sequestration; coastal wetlands in buffering sea-level rise impacts and increased storminess - but what about practical guidance on how wetlands can best contribute, what are good management practices, and what should be avoided in wetland exploitation and management?

The second area urged by Ramsar Parties was to increase the working links between Ramsar and the Climate Change Convention, through developing joint work designed to address mutual benefit in the delivery of the conventions on the ground. This is also in the context of Ramsar’s 2nd Joint Work Plan with CBD, through which Ramsar acts as lead partner .on wetlands, and which identified the opportunity of the four conventions (Ramsar, CBD, climate change and desertification) working together in promoting wetland management and rehabilitation as a common tool.

How does IUCN fit into this? First, as one of four formal NGO International Partner Organisations (IOPs), we have asked IUCN to lead on developing this area of work for the Ramsar Convention over the coming year. This will lead to four areas of activity, from global to local:

1. Global. Guidance to Ramsar Parties on:

a). the impacts of climate change on wetlands, and

b). adaptive management of wetlands in mitigation of climate change impacts.

This guidance is being developed through IUCN’s participation in the Convention’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel for consideration by our next Meeting of Contracting Parties, in 2002.

We see this in turn providing a valuable linkage of wetland-specific additional guidance back to climate change Parties from the wetland expert network for implementing their adaptation work under Article 4.8/4.9 of the Climate Change Convention. Linked to this will be a review by IUCN of the contentious role that wetlands may play in carbon sequestration.

2. Global. Working with the Convention Secretariats, their subsidiary bodies and country focal points to identify a framework for joint activity between the two Conventions - and joint further linkage with other environmental conventions - an activity CBD Parties also strongly endorsed at their last COP (COP5, Nairobi, May 2000).

From this we anticipate IUCN working with Ramsar in at least two further areas of implementation:

3. National. Helping Parties developing National Action Plans for climate change and wetlands, through workshops that address linkages at the national level: linkages between all the wetlands, biodiversity and climate change people responsible for country-level delivery.

4. Sites & River Basins. Taking the linkages further into "on-the-ground" action, helping develop wetland and river basin scale projects that undertake and demonstrate the ways in which countries can coherently and simultaneously deliver their commitments to all the environmental conventions. Priorities here will be driven largely by the outcomes of the National Action Plan workshops, but we and IUCN have already begun identification of candidate countries for such project development. Under consideration in particular is Botswana and the Okavango Delta (the world’s largest Ramsar site).

From the wetlands and Ramsar perspective, the key role for IUCN on the climate change debate is thus the facilitation of linkages between environmental conventions and sectors, and to support this by providing these conventions and sectors with clear and authoritative information and analysis of technical issues of biodiversity, wetlands and climate change. A strong IUCN Climate Change Programme is therefore essential for this linkage work to be successful, and to provide our Parties with guidance on tackling the overarching issue of climate change in delivering their future wise use of wetlands.

Making Waves interactive session, IUCN Amman Congress, 5 October 2000

Commenting on the increasing number of river basins, wetlands and biodiversity related initiatives and IUCN’s launch of its Water and Nature Initiative, being developed through the Ramsar Convention and its International Organisation Partners as part of a presentation to the session on "The Ramsar Convention and integrated river basin management", Nick Davidson, Ramsar’s Deputy Secretary General said:

"Collaboration and coordination between the burgeoning number of wetlands and biodiversity initiatives linked to river basin and water resource management is essential. Essential to maximise its value and to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort and scarce resources; essential to avoid confusion for Conventions and donors; essential so as to provide clear and consistent guidance and tools to the wetlands and water management community; and essential to achieve the more effective cross-sectoral understanding, decision-making and action that is vital for the future sustainable use of wetland ecosystems. The Ramsar Bureau will seek to establish a coordinating process between these initiatives, in line with its lead role on wetlands and biodiversity with the Convention on Biological Diversity, so as to maximise their benefit to the Conventions’ Contracting Parties."

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