41st meeting of the Standing Committee


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41th Meeting of the Standing Committee
Kobuleti, Georgia, 26 April – 1 May 2010

DOC. SC41-17

Agenda item 4

Report of the Secretary General

Action requested: The Standing Committee is invited to receive the Secretary General’s report and advise as appropriate.


1.       This report covers the period since the 40th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC40), in May 2009. The analysis of some global issues is beyond this time frame, taking into account existing Ramsar Resolutions and ongoing global debate and actions that affect wetlands. At present the Convention has 159 Contracting Parties, with 1886 Ramsar sites, totaling 185,156,612 hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Therefore, the level of activity demanded of the Secretariat continues to increase, as the number of Contracting Parties increases and new challenges are emerging from global debate.

Secretariat actions to enhance the recognition of the vital contribution of wetlands to human well-being, livelihoods and human health, as well as to biodiversity and climate change adaptation and mitigation:

2.       The most significant achievements made to expand and better characterize the role of the Convention are related to:

    • Role of Ramsar as one of the biodiversity-related conventions

3.       The Secretariat recognizes the importance of enhancing synergies between the biodiversity-related conventions, without prejudice to the specific objectives of Ramsar, and actively participates in collaborative actions with all biodiversity-related MEAs.

4.       The Secretariat, jointly with the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP), is taking an active part in the deliberations on improving the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services. The Secretariat and the STRP take part in a process intended to reach agreement on whether to establish an intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES).

5.       The Secretariat is also working with UNEP in its leadership role in advancing understanding of the economics of biodiversity and ecosystems services and its policy implications, through the study “The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity” (TEEB).

    • Role of Ramsar as a MEA that contributes to international environmental governance and sustainable development

6.       The Secretariat participates in the debate on the concept of a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; in this regard, the Secretariat is undertaking collaborative work to promote tangible actions that can significantly address current challenges and deliver economic development. It is in this spirit that an MOU has been signed between the Ramsar Secretariat and the UN World Tourism Organization, the World Bank, and the Organization of American States, in order to stimulate joint actions between these organizations and Ramsar Contracting Parties.

7.       The Secretariat also participates in the work of the Environment Management Group (EMG), chaired by the Executive Director of UNEP, in order to cooperate with relevant UN agencies in programming environmental activities in the United Nations system in the areas of biodiversity, land degradation, and green economy.

8.       The Ramsar Secretariat is making all possible efforts to participate in the deliberations of the most relevant Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD); in particular, the Secretariat manages to attend the relevant High-level Segment, with ministerial participation, devoted to a thematic debate on major economic, social and environmental policy issues.

9.       The Secretariat is still seeking consultative status with the ECOSOC so as to be allowed to participate, present written contributions, and make statements to the Council and its subsidiary bodies. The Secretariat hopes that at least one of the following Standing Committee members, which are also ECOSOC members, can assist: Cameroon (2010), China (2010), Mauritius (2011), and the Republic of Korea (2010).

    • The role of the Convention in promoting people’s livelihoods through wetlands conservation and wise use

10.     In all of the Secretariat’s working relationships with the Contracting Parties and various organizations, the key objective is to raise awareness about wetland values so as to help shape public opinion towards an integrated view on human livelihoods and wetlands and the necessity to ensure healthy and productive wetlands for existing and future generations. The Secretariat is undertaking all possible efforts to influence decisions that aim to convert or alter wetlands through market-based activities that fail to take into account the total costs of service loss. Our efforts are made to stop behaviors that are detrimental to wetland service delivery and to stimulate actions that increase or maintain wetland service delivery to improve human livelihoods. To that end, the secretariat is increasingly working with some major players affecting wetlands through land use change, including cities, tourism industry, extractive industries and decision makers dealing with agriculture.

    • Role of the Convention in adaptation and mitigation of climate change

11.     Ramsar’s message to the 15th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Copenhagen was prepared in consultation with the STRP and it explained the role of wetlands for mitigation: wetlands are carbon stores that both store and release carbon, and much of this is related to the flooding/drying cycles; climate change may change this as can our management. For adaptation: we need the link with the ecosystem services issues, especially the value of food from wetlands and fresh water supply. That is, effective management, including restoration, under climate change scenario could also support basic human needs for food and water; keeping in mind that increasing demand for food and water could further undermine wetland management.

    • Role of the Ramsar Convention as an MEA dealing with water

12.     The major objective of the actions taken by the Secretariat and the STRP is to improve the understanding of the work of the Convention and the role of wetlands in conservation and sustainable development so as to encourage collective actions to implement the Convention’s mission. This is done at all levels to encourage the implementation of Ramsar Resolutions through a better use of Ramsar tools:

At global level

13.     For the first time, the Ramsar Secretariat and the STRP have been able to provide a joint input in the preparation of the 4th edition of the World Water Development Report (WWDR4). This input was initiated through the participation of the Ramsar Secretariat as one of the partners to the UN-Water process. The contribution of Ramsar will continue over 2010 in collaboration with some UN agencies, taking the lead of relevant thematic areas.

14.     The United Nations World Water Development Report, released every three years in conjunction with the World Water Forum, is the UN’s flagship report on water. It is a comprehensive review that gives an overall picture of the state of the world’s freshwater resources and aims to provide decision-makers with the tools to implement sustainable use of our water.

15.     Through a series of assessments, the Reports provide a mechanism for monitoring changes in the resource and its management and tracking progress towards achieving targets, particularly those of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The Reports also offer best practices as well as in-depth theoretical analyses to help stimulate ideas and actions for better stewardship in the water sector.

16.     The development of the WWDR, coordinated by WWAP, is a joint effort of the 26 UN agencies and entities which make up UN-Water, working in partnership with governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, including the Ramsar Convention.

At regional level

17.     The Secretariat is increasing its partnership with River/Lake Basin Organizations, both with specific river or lake organizations as well as with the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO). The last General Assembly of INBO, held in Dakar, Senegal, gave the Ramsar Secretary General the opportunity to address the Assembly and to discuss six thematic areas of work with the river/lake organizations.

At national level

18.     The Secretariat is increasingly working with the water sector in Ramsar Contracting Parties, stimulating joint actions between the Ramsar Administrative Authority and the Ministry of Water as well as the technical agencies within the water sector.

    • Role of the Convention as a framework to recognize the connectivity between ecology and socio-economic trends and between land and oceans

19.     In collaboration with some important players, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), NOAA, the USGS, and other scientific bodies, the Secretariat is seeking to improve our knowledge about linkages that need to be taken into account to implement the Convention. Our working relationships with many players have confirmed that the world we live in is completely interdependent. The environment (including wetlands, climate, and biodiversity), the economies, water supplies, food supplies, even the health are globally interdependent. We recognize that in society today, as in nature, all things are connected. Understanding the connectivity between land and sea, especially through the network of riverine wetlands and coastal wetlands, is a key aspect of the work of the Convention. In this regard, it is interesting to consider the challenge for wetland management to establish scientifically confirmed linkages between ecological and socio-economic systems, especially over large geographic scales. It is not enough to show correlation –  effective management requires establishing the underlying mechanisms of observed changes. Unfortunately, the data required to support such analyses rarely exist; however, through increasing partnership, we can improve the trends.

    • Legal framework and wetlands

20.     To stimulate positive incentives and discourage negative incentives, the Secretariat organized and led the first workshop with magistrates in West Africa to influence attitudes toward a regulation or a change in legal enforcement to enhance conservation. This judiciary workshop on environmental law was held from 27 to 30 April 2009 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire – it was sponsored by the Ramsar Secretariat, UNEP, IEPF, the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions and Star Alliance through its Biosphere Connection programme, with inputs from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), CBD, UNCCD, CITES and the Basel Convention Secretariat. Forty-five  magistrates practicing in various tribunals, courts of appeal and supreme courts in West and Central African countries took part in the seminar. Trainers came from the Universities of Limoges and Nantes in France and the University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

21.     In addition, the Ramsar Secretary General and the Dean and Vice President of Stetson  University have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 18 February 2010, between the Secretariat and the Stetson College of Law, which has an outstanding programme in international environmental law. The main objective of the MoU is to develop a collaborative law and policy programme for sustainable wetland and water resource conservation and management by increasing current consultation and cooperation. Common areas for joint conservation activities are conducting research related to wetland law and policy, collaboration with Ramsar regional initiatives, under the framework of Ramsar Strategic Plan 2009-2015.

 Key challenge to address

22.     The overall key challenge is about the need to ensure a continued financial support through the payment of regular contributions to the core budget and to obtain significant voluntary funding to enhance the work of the Convention. In this regard, the implementation of Resolution X.7 on Optimizing the Ramsar Small Grants Fund during the period 2009-2012 is a real challenge, in the context of the ongoing economic crisis.

Goal 1: Wise use of wetlands

23.     The Secretariat and the STRP are combining their efforts to identify major players that use or affect wetlands. A good understanding of stakeholders groups, especially the user groups, is a requirement for taking into account their interests and providing them with adequate tools that help them to establish strategic and operational programmes to maintain, improve and enjoy the benefits of the wise use principle of wetlands. In this regard, the ongoing partnership with the following organizations is an approach that adds strength to the Ramsar Convention: UN-HABITAT, UN World Tourism Organization, World Bank, Organization of American States (OAS).

24.     The collaborative work with these organizations includes the development and execution of joint projects related to the Ramsar Strategic Plan and the respective mandates of the organizations. For instance with the OAS, the proposed UNEP implemented-OAS executed-GEF funded project entitled “Valuation of Ecosystem Services” is part of the Ramsar Regional Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of High Andean Wetlands.

Goal 2. Wetlands of International Importance

Ramsar site designation and management

25.     Since SC40, the following new Ramsar site designations have been added to the List:

Africa: 23 sites have been added to the Ramsar List
Americas: 4 sites have been added to the List
Asia & Oceania: There have been 8 new Ramsar sites added to the List in Asia since May 2009. There were no new sites for Oceania.
Europe: Since May 2009 there have been three new Ramsar sites listed by European Parties -- 2 by the UK (in the South Atlantic) and 1 by Turkey. There have been two new Transboundary Ramsar Sites (Poland/Czech and Austria/Hungary), all involving previously existing Ramsar sites.

26.     Since SC40, 38 Ramsar sites have been designated bringing the present total at 159 Contracting Parties, 1886 Ramsar sites covering a total surface area of designated sites 185,156,612 hectares.

27.     Following Parties’ submission of Ramsar site designation documents to the Secretariat, staff are required to evaluate the quantity and quality of the information provided in order to meet the standards required by several Resolutions of the COP. In many cases, the staff need to have additional discussions with the designating authorities in order to bring the Ramsar Information Sheets to the stipulated standard. This is not normally but can sometimes be a lengthy process.

28.     Thus, as of 11 March 2010, a considerable number of designations are still “in the pipeline” and have not yet been completed and added to the Ramsar List. For Africa, 48 Ramsar sites still in processing; for theAmericas, 26 RIS in process, including 17 in North America, 1 Caribbean, and 8 in the Neotropics; for Asia & Oceania, 9 wetlands are awaiting addition to the List; and for Europe, 33 RIS submitted to the Secretariat in 2009 are still to be checked in early 2010.

29.     To enhance wetland management, the Secretariat continues to recommend to the Contracting Parties to include in their Regional Initiatives a strong component on management of sites.

Threats to Ramsar sites and the Montreux Record
See Doc SC41-25 Status of Ramsar sites

Goal 3: International cooperation

30.     The main actions taken to use international cooperation to raise the profile of wetlands in global processes and promote their conservation and wise use have been most significant in terms of increased cooperation with the Global Environment Facility:

31.     The participation of the Secretary General in the 5th Biennial GEF International Waters Conference, hosted by the Government of Australia in Cairns, North Queensland, October 26 through 29, 2009, offered opportunities to share experiences on various issues, including technical workshops featuring leading Australian experts in complex basin and marine systems, dealing with resolving conflicting demands among diverse stakeholders, and coping with water scarcity and the technical as well as societal impacts of climate change.

32.     Working with the GEF international waters focal area can open further opportunities to expand the work of the Convention, since the GEF Focal Area on international waters targets transboundary water systems. This can reinforce and expand the work of the Convention.

Managing the Convention

Goal 4. Institutional capacity and effectiveness.

33.     The Secretariat reiterates its encouragement to Administrative Authorities to take up specific issues (refer also to Goal 1 above) and agree to take the lead on improving their implementation strategy or programmes. In particular, at national level, it is useful to involve all relevant ministries, especially the water sector, as well as groups of civil society, including NGOs and user groups such as farmers, fishermen, tourism operators and city councils. For instance, the recent establishment of a National Council on Wetlands in France has been instrumental in adopting a long-term strategic plan to integrate wetland issues in national planning and sectoral activities.

34.     The leadership role can also happen at global or regional level through different means: establishing and leading an ad hoc working group, organizing seminars or other working meetings to further the main issues (such as those specifically addressed in Resolutions X.23-28), e.g. for members of the ad hoc working group, for national focal points, or for focal points of Ramsar plus other MEAs, etc. The countries taking the lead in this would also have to provide the necessary funds. Several of the Ramsar Contracting Parties already do this for other MEAs, and it is to be hoped that they will be willing to do that for Ramsar as well.

35.     The Secretariat takes this opportunity to express our gratitude and appreciation to Australia for providing voluntary funding to the Ad Hoc Working Group on Administrative Reform. We also thank Australia and Chile for co-chairing this working group.

Convention financial capacity

36.     The Secretariat is seeking voluntary funding or a secondment of suitable expertise to assist in the preparation and implementation of a strategy to mobilize new and additional resources for implementation of the Convention.

CEPA activities

          World Wetland Day (WWD) 2010

37.     Materials for WWD 2010 were prepared, with generous financial assistance as usual from the Danone Group, and posted on the website, and hard copies were mailed to the WWD mailing list by October 2009. Reports from WWD actors on their WWD 2010 activities are being posted on the Ramsar website, despite serious staffing overloads in this area.

38.     Special “World Wetlands Week” celebrations were held in Victoria, Seychelles. In accordance with Standing Committee decision SC40-36 noting this intention, the World Wetlands Week held in the Republic of Seychelles from the 31st January to the 5th February was a great success. Through the continually fruitful partnership between the Danone-Evian Group and the Ramsar Convention, this event was made a reality. With their generous financial and moral support, a successful six-day programme of events was developed with a specific theme for each one to achieve these objectives.

39.     There were several lessons to be learnt from this historic event:

i)       The need to encourage amongst all Contracting Parties the participation of the civil society, specifically the youth, in activities to raise awareness of the values of the natural environment and the importance of maintaining the invaluable resources.
ii)      The importance of involving the private sector, both at the international and local level, in similar activities is mutually beneficial.
iii)     The involvement of the media, at the international and local levels, is an effective way to successfully disseminate and publicize the theme of the World Wetlands Day, to increase the visibility of the Ramsar Convention and the wide range of partners that we work with to achieve our mission.

40.     By following a simple framework for organization of an event such as this, one which involves a range of participants and partners from varied backgrounds, it is not beyond reason that similar events could be carried out on an annual basis in the other Ramsar regions.

41.     The other aspects of Decision SC40-36 are handled in DOC. SC41-29: Theme for WWD 2012, DOC. SC41-30: Plan for the Convention’s 40th Anniversary, and a special report on World Wetlands Week in the Seychelles.

Capacity Building: The Capacity Building Framework

42.     The work on Framework document on capacity building, to assist in improving the capacity of Ramsar Administrative Authorities and other stakeholders,  is still underway.

STRP work, together with the Ramsar Secretariat
See Report of the STRP Chairperson, DOC.SC41-26.

There have been no additional accessions since SC40.

Working with International Organization Partners
See DOC.SC41-21.

Partnership with the private sector
See DOC.SC41-19

Annex: Annual Report 2009 (PDF)

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