Keynote address to the 4th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties
Malheureusement, il n'y a pas de version française de ce document.
4th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties
27 June-4 July 1990
WETLANDS IN A CHANGING WORLD
Keynote address by Dr Martin W. Holdgate
Director General, IUCN - The World Conservation Union
27 June 1990
Mr Chairman, distinguished delegates.
I am honoured and delighted to have this opportunity to address you this afternoon. I do so in a dual capacity - as an ecologist whose first two published papers, some 35 years ago, were about wetlands, and as Director General of IUCN, whose special relationship with the Ramsar Convention needs no elaboration by me.
I have been asked to give a so-called keynote address. With great skill the Secretary General has also given me the slot immediately after lunch. I do not think the coincidence is accidental, especially since he has also instructed me to show some soothing pictures and to make you very comfortable indeed! I will do my best. Naturally I have begun by considering what keynotes I should be striking, and I think there are three:
First, that this Convention is of great and growing importance as an agent of conservation in a world of increasing pressure on nature and natural resources;
Second, that all the achievements to date are as nothing by comparison with the challenges ahead;
Third, that among those challenges, climatic change induced by human agency could be the most dramatic, and could impose a new dimension on the strategy for conserving the world's wetlands.
You are all familiar with the story of the old Irishman who was stopped by a passing tourist car and asked how to get to some delightful destination such as Sligo or Killarney. He is said to have replied, "Well if I were you, I wouldn't start from here". We have to start from here - and indeed I see no reason why we shouldn't. For the Ramsar Convention is very well designed as a tool for conserving the very considerable part of the earth's biological diversity that is represented by wetlands. This is so especially because of the very broad way in which the Contracting Parties have defined the key term "wetland". Indeed, your creative interpretation suggests to me that only two Conventions are really needed to cover the conservation of all the habitats in the world: the Ramsar Convention dealing with any land that can be generally termed "wet", and a Drylands Convention dealing with everything else, with some useful working agreement between the Bureaux and Standing Committees on how to handle the interface that is semi-wet and semi-dry! If I may digress, not entirely as a joke, perhaps I might add as an ex-Antarcticist that I am clear that Antarctica qualifies under Ramsar as the world's biggest freshwater wetland, containing 90 percent of the world's freshwater, covering the continent to an average depth of nearly 2,000 metres - albeit of ice!
The serious point is of course that this Convention has shown its versatility in allowing the designation of a very wide range of sites covering the immense ecological diversity of wetlands from rain-fed northern peatlands through valley bogs and fens to swamps, lakes, rivers, estuaries, mangrove woodland, and even coral reefs and other formations in the shallow seas. Taken together, these habitats support a significant component of the earth's biological diversity - the coral reefs, in particular, having been described as the tropical forests of the sea - and that diversity is in retreat today. Conserving a series of key sites is accordingly an important element in the campaign to safeguard the earth's biological diversity, and that is one major task of this Convention. And this means, of course, making sure that those sites reflect the full diversity of wetlands, chosen for their water regimes, plants, insects, fish, and mammals, as well as the birds which this Convention understandable emphasises.
But we have learned in recent years that conservation and development are part of one process. You have reflected this by emphasising that the Ramsar Convention is not just about protecting representative samples of wetland diversity for the future, but is also concerned with guiding the wise use of wetlands, as a valuable resource for people. Hence this Convention and the strategy for implementing it places conservation in its human context. Those are two reasons why, unlike the legendary Irishman, I would start from here.
However, my second point was that while Ramsar - as you, the Contracting Parties, have interpreted and developed the Convention - is an extremely valuable instrument, the achievements to date are only a beginning of what the world community needs. Your 55 - shortly to be 60 - Contracting Parties are, as you well know, only about one-third of the world's nations, and there is a great need to extend the Convention's coverage in Africa, Asia and Latin America, if it is to realize its potential as a global instrument and include the range of diversity of the world's wetland sites under its protective mantle.
Let me emphasize that diversity with a personal experience. Like many northern hemisphere ecologists, I grew up knowing that rain-fed upland plateau wetlands (the so-called ombrogenous mires) were largely built by bog-mosses (Sphagnum). In 1958 I found myself on just such a bog in Southern Chile. It was built by compact carpets of flowering plants. "Odd," I said. "Not at all" said a New Zealand colleague. "All our South Island hill bogs are carpet bogs". Ancient temperate Gondwanaland, including Antarctica, had presumably evolved different wetland systems to those of the temperate north. We need to conserve the full range - and I do hope that your Standing Committee and Bureau will try to compile an overall classification of world wetland types and endeavour to see that all major kinds are represented in the list of Ramsar sites.
To strike my third key note: the note of challenge. I would like to start with history: the history of human pressure. Wetlands have been modified by human use from the earliest years of organized civilization. I want to take a few minutes to review what has happened to the world's wetlands so far, and why - as a basis for testing whether history, as Henry Ford said, is bunk or whether history, as someone else said, is likely to go on.
There are very good reasons why some wetlands are especially vulnerable to human demands. First, they occur on lands that are by definition well-watered. Second, many of them are located in gently sloping lowlandsthat attract human settlements, and are readily drained and cultivated. Third, many such lowland sites are highly productive because they combine water availability, abundant minerals, warm micro-climates and high light intensity. Once drained, many (and especially alkaline fenland peats) have highly fertile soils, although oxidation makes these a steadily wasting asset, prone also to wind erosion. Estuarine wetlands and mangroves are highly productive in other ways, and this makes them attractive to mariculture.
It is not surprising, therefore, that human pressures have changed wetlands dramatically in many regions. The World Resources Report (1987) has suggested that between 25 percent and 50 percent of the world's swamps and marshes may have been drained. In the United States, a little under half the original 84 million hectares of inland wetland was stated to remain in 1970 (Tiner, 1984). Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s some 4.4 million hectares, almost all of them in inland freshwater habitats, were converted to other uses, 80 percent being for agriculture (OTA, 1984). In Western and Central Europe the pattern has been similar, but peat-cutting for fuel has been a significant cause of destruction of the peat mires that formerly covered 17 percent of the surface of Ireland (Cabot, 1985), while grazing has accelerated the erosion of British upland blanket mire and deep drainage for afforestation is now encroaching on many such areas (Nature Conservancy Council, 1987). In the European coastal zone, large tracts of estuarine land have been reclaimed for pasture and farmland (this has been an extensive process in the Netherlands and part of eastern England).
Much the same has happened in other regions. In Asia especially, large areas have been drained for cultivation, and there have also been substantial changes in Africa. Mangrove woodlands have been extensively modified both by extraction of timber and the location of mariculture, which is a growth industry in many parts of the tropics. They have also been affected by changes in salinity patterns caused by interference with freshwater flows due to hydroelectric and irrigation schemes. Coral reefs have been damaged on a more local scale by mining, dynamiting to stun fish, and the deposition of silt from developments on the nearby land.
In the developed countries, pollution has also been a significant factor in changing the character of wetlands. Acid rain, containing the sulphuric and nitric acids that come largely from the burning of fossil fuels, altered the wetlands of parts of upland England in the course of the industrial revolution a century ago. In our own time, it has eliminated fish from lakes and streams over thousands of square kilometres of southern Norway and Sweden, and extensive areas in the eastern United States and Canada. In parallel, the discharge of organic wastes including fertilizers from agriculture, and the release of industrial pollutants, persistent pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls have had significant effects on many ecosystems. These changes stand as a warning of what may happen if industrialization proceeds in the developing world with the same carelessness that characterized northern Europe a century ago - a carelessness that indeed almost gloried in pollution, in the familiar northern English saying "Where there's muck there's brass". (Let me, to help the interpreters, translate from northern into southern English: the statement means, "Where there's dirt there's money".)
As a result of these pressures, we now have about 8.5 million square kilometres of terrestrial freshwater wetlands left. Of these, 2.5 million are represented by the peat-forming bogs and fens, and non-peat-forming swamps and marshes concentrated in the boreal zone of the northern hemisphere, under a humid cool climate. They cover some 11 percent of the land surface in this zone. Wetlands are also widespread in the humid sub-tropics (covering 17 percent of the land), and are extensive in certain restricted regions in the southern hemisphere with an oceanic cool temperate climate (Mitsch, et. al. 1986: Gore, 1983). It is noteworthy however (and very important for migrating birds) that substantial and distinctive wetlands remain even in the drier tropics.
I think we will all accept the diagnosis of the man who, asked about history, said "I think it will go on". But in what direction, and with what meaning for wetlands? I want now to turn to two major kinds of pressure that will I think determine the pattern of the future and pose new challenges to the work under the Ramsar Convention, just as they pose new challenges for the extensive Wetlands Programme of IUCN, which I see as serving and supporting this Convention.
First, we have to recognize the growing direct impact of human populations, which now total 5.3 billion and are bound to increase to over 7 billion even on the most optimistic scenarios of early stabilization.
More people need more food. Today, it is calculated that some 40 percent of plant production on land is used, in one way or another, by people. Their needs are met by the process we call development - the transformation of ecological systems so that they provide a higher proportion of products useful to humanity. Development means forest clearance, wetland drainage, and conversion of natural grasslands to arable and to managed pastures. It is inevitable and essential, and it will need to go on if the millions of people now suffering acutely from poverty are to be given a higher quality of life and if tomorrow's new millions are to be fed.
I think we must accept the continuing pressure for conversion of wetlands for intensive human use as an inevitable consequence of growing human numbers and mounting human needs. The fact is that wetlands are just too attractive to leave aside. Moreover, many dryland areas are already not far from their productive limits - and per capita food production in such areas has been falling. The wetter areas, capable of more intensive use, are almost bound to be the focus of future production. But there is the world of difference between sustainable and non-sustainable development.
You have just heard me use the magic words of the decade. I feel a little like the sorcerer's apprentice, repeating a spell with some doubt as to whether the result will be immediate transformation into a toad or some other wetland species! Sustainable development has become a term we all use, with uncertainty as to its meaning. I have heard Agriculture Ministers' definitions, Development Ministers' definitions, and Finance Ministers' definitions - the last, by courtesy of the OECD, stating that "sustainable development is development that maintains the highest rate of economic growth without fuelling inflation". I think most of us would dispute this last definition: at least in environmental terms. For me, sustainable development does not mean a continuing increase in production from a natural resource, but the management of that resource so that it provides as much benefit as possible for people indefinitely into the future. As the World Commission on Environment and Development put it (1987), it is development that meets present needs, without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
It is obvious that there has been too much non-sustainable development in the past. Drainage has led to erosion: irrigation schemes have run into problems of salt accumulation: dams have silted up and starved deltas of the sediment they need as nature's protection against erosion: mangroves have been cleared, exposing low-lying coasts to sea surges: and pollution has transformed productive fisheries into sterile waters. Looking ahead, there is a great challenge in ensuring that wetlands, whether already drained and managed by people or to be converted for human use in future, are used wisely. This is one major area of potential partnership between IUCN and the Ramsar Convention's Programme, and it is an area in which I see IUCN's work as very much in support of this Convention.
We need such critical analysis of the ways of managing wetlands wisely especially in face of the other major challenge, which arises from the discharge of so-called greenhouse gases - especially carbon dioxide, but also chlorofluorocarbons, methane and nitrous oxide - released to the atmosphere through a diversity of human actions, largely but far from exclusively located in the industrialized and developed countries. The climatic changes the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are likely to cause will be superimposed on, rather than apart from, the more direct pressures on wetlands as a consequence of increasing human numbers and rising human demands for resources. They will inevitably increase as a consequence of the industrialization which nations all over the world understandably seek as a basis for a more prosperous future - unless we ensure that such industrialization is helped from the beginning to use technology that is friendly to the environment, while greenhouse gas emissions from the present industrialized countries are reduced.
I am not going to talk about the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, crucial though that is. My concern is with the climate change to which we are already committed, and what this means for wetlands. There is a broad scientific consensus that we can expect an increase in global mean temperature of between 1oC and 2oC by 2030 (Commonwealth, 1989: Wigley, 1989). Over the same period, the estimate is of a sea level rise of between 17 and 26 centimetres worldwide, naturally superimposed upon local changes related to coastal movements.
Table II sets out the most likely way in which the overall greenhouse effect will be distributed between broad zones of latitude.
It is clear that there is a disturbing coincidence between the projected zone of maximum climate change and the zones of maximum wetland occurrence. The high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, north of 60o N, contain the great expanse of tundra wetlands, and are projected to undergo a warming between twice and two and a half times the global average in winter. The mid-latitudes, where many other extensive wetlands occur, are projected to experience rather less warming, but nonetheless to have changes exceeding the global average.
Some people, I know, see the prospect of greater warmth - for example in northern Europe - as good. I recall a Minister in my own country (and as an ex-government servant of course I will not name names) who concluded that if climate change gave the English south coast a Mediterranean climate, and the northernmost isles of Scotland a temperature regime like that enjoyed today by the mildest corners of the far south west, then Britain should vote in favour of it. But, seriously, there are grounds for worry about the scale and rate of the projected changes which will put a strain on the economies and development strategies of most countries.
Wetlands are particularly vulnerable. In considering how they will respond, we need to consider three major factors: the limitations imposed on species by temperature, rainfall, drainage and soil conditions; the dispersal capacity of species; and the extent to which pollution (especially acid rain) will be a factor. As to the first, a 1oC rise in mean temperature implies, in very crude terms, a 125 km poleward, or a 150 m altitudinal, shift in the limits of tolerance of species: within the next 50 years there could be a 250 km latitudinal or 300 m vertical adjustment of such limits. Put very simply this means 6 km per year or almost 15 m per day! Such adjustments are not new: the floras of the northern temperate and polar zones responded to even greater changes following deglaciation some 10,000-15,000 years ago. But the changes forecast now imply a bigger shift in a shorter period than the world's flora and fauna has had to respond to in known biological history, and this takes us into new territory of intellectual speculation (Commonwealth, 1989).
One simple question is whether plants and animals can keep up with these shifting zones of tolerance by migration. The answer will vary from one plant and animal group to another because of inherent differences in dispersal capacity. Mosses, dominant peat formers in many northern wetlands, have easy worldwide distribution through light windborne spores, and colonize any new habitats suitable for them quite rapidly, as happens even around moist steam-emitting on island volcanoes in the Antarctic regions (Longton and Holdgate, 1967). Higher plants, however, disperse more slowly. Forest trees appear to have maximum dispersal rates of around 2 km per year, or 80 km in 40 years (Bennett, 1986), which suggests that they could lag significantly behind the zones of changing climatic tolerance. One impact of climate change is commonly expected to be a broadening of the transition zones betweeen major formations like tundra and coniferous forest, and an increase in abundance of widely dispersed "opportunistic" species.
Some experts think that there will be an accelerated thawing of the Arctic permafrost zone. This in itself, while altering the characteristics of wetlands, may not reduce their total extent. Thaw lakes could well expand, and there could be a northward movement into the present tundra zone of wetland species currently characteristic of more southerly lands. More significant is the projection that the northern limit of coniferous forest could well advance to the Arctic Ocean around much of its perimeter, thereby squeezing tundra and open ground formations into those areas from which trees are excluded by ground water. The result could be a new pattern, replacing the wide, open, tundra by a mosaic of extensive valley fens and bogs and rain-fed plateau mires, with forest vegetation restricted to the well-drained ridges. There could be major implications for the many waterfowl that breed in this region.
A critical factor in such a situation is clearly precipitation (and, above all, soil moisture content). Most of the climatic models imply that there will be considerable increases in rainfall in the areas that are currently wet, but perhaps an increasing aridity in already dry regions. If these models are valid (and let me emphasize again that they involve considerable elements of uncertainty), there could be an increase in rain-fed wetlands in the high and mid latitudes of the northern hemisphere, and cool temperate southern areas like Fuego-Patagonia. Such expansion will clearly not happen in areas where human activities contrive to maintain drainage - and you will understand that these changes pose a daunting challenge to the sustainability of agriculture. In places like central Europe, increased temperature and a possible increased seasonality of rainfall with drier summers and higher evaporation, could well make the maintenance of wetlands less easy, and there may be significant losses through the drying up of swamps and marshes, or at least their conversion to seasonal wetlands.
The tropics present a great conundrum. If monsoon rains become more vigorous, then some of the great tropical wetland zones may become more saturated, and their conversion to other uses rendered more difficult. The run-off of water into lakes and rivers fed from such rainfall could increase, and some lake systems that have been contracting under recent conditions could again expand. There would be inevitable impact on the salinity of estuaries, and the ecology of mangrove and other communities. On the other hand if the arid zones become more arid, the situation for wetlands in zones like the Sahel, as for example around Lake Chad and in the Inner Niger Delta, or further south in systems such as the Okavango Delta could become more difficult, with further contraction of wetland habitat.
All this poses an immense challenge to human societies. Traditional crops will no longer suit traditional cultivation systems. New kinds of agriculture and forestry will need to be developed. Some areas of current intensive agriculture may be unsustainable without new and expanded irrigation, for example in the mid-west of the United States. There may well be loss to desert of areas in such states as Colorado, Arizona and California, which are currently sustaining agriculture largely through the non-renewable mining of groundwater. On the other hand, in areas such as the Indian Sub-continent and East Africa, if rainfall intensifies, agriculture may expand into areas currently marginal for it. And these adjustments may have to occur with dramatic rapidity. Let me remind you of the figure I gave a few minutes ago. If temperature rose at a rate of 2.5oC in 50 years - by no means impossible - this would imply a poleward shift of crop limits by 6 kilometres a year, or 15 metres a day. Of course these crude averages must not be taken literally, but the need for adjustment even to changes which a Minister in a cold country may perceive as favourable will obviously put a great strain on all societies.
There have been many expressions of concern about the implications of climate change and sea level rise for the coastal zones. The projected 17-26 centimetres increase in global mean sea level by 2030 is in absolute terms rather little. It is tiny compared, for example, with the 60-odd metres of sea level rise that would result if that great wetland, Antarctica, were turned from the solid to the liquid state. On the other hand its rapidity, and the possibility of combination with rainfall and run-off changes, in turn affecting salinities in estuaries, could have major implications for mangrove and marsh vegetation on low-lying coasts. Mangroves do have a capacity to match changes in sea level with upward growth, but this presupposes sediment supply and appropriate salinities. Much the same holds for salt marsh vegetation like that predominant on the soft coasts and estuaries of Europe and the eastern seaboard of the United States. Other problems might affect the great delta systems like those of the Nile, Ganges and Indus. Some of these are currently already eroding because the construction of large dams upstream, interrupting the flow of silt to the river mouths, is starving the estuarine systems of the essential silt nourishment they require for their continued extension. If this process of silt starvation is accentuated by sea level rise, recession is likely to be accentuated. Coral reefs also have a capacity for upward growth of the order of 1-8 millimetres per annum, and for reefs to be suppressed sea level rises would therefore have to be of the order of 20-50 centimetres a century sustained over very many centuries. You may feel that reef destruction is not our greatest worry, therefore, and modest sea level rise might even be beneficial by rejuvenating reefs that have reached the limit of their upward growth and had their surfaces colonized by algae.
The social implications of such sea-level rises are however far greater than their modest scale would suggest. Half of humanity lives in or near the coastal zones, often at high density, pressing as far seaward as people dare because the soils are fertile. The pressures on low-lying tropical coasts are aggravated by human impact, and by non-sustainable development, for example clearing mangrove which provides a protective screen against sea surges. This is a significant factor because some projections of climate change also imply that the increased injection of energy into the system will make tropical storms more violent - on some scenarios by as much as 60 percent if there is a doubling of global greenhouse gas concentration (Emmanuel, 1986). In countries such as Bangladesh, where a one metre sea rise (most unlikely in the short term under any plausible scenario) would inundate 15 percent of the country and displace ten percent of the people, the superimposition of even a moderate sea level rise on an already over-pressurized system would clearly be very great, and it could only be aggravated by the rapid increase in human numbers in many such countries.
The English poet G.K. Chesterton wrote four lines that may strike you as relevant at this point (may I apologize to the interpreters because I know that poetry is very hard to translate):
"I tell ye naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher."
We could easily relapse into gloom, or consider following Noah's example and building our own personal ark. But we would be wiser to accept these changes as likely, and start planning how to respond.
Of course I accept that all the details of these projections are uncertain. They depend on the validity of models, which are not comprehensive in the parameters they include, and indeed are highly imperfect in their treatment of extremely important variables such as cloudiness. Even minor changes in the basic assumptions used in the models can produce significant alterations in the projections. Nonetheless, the data I have been quoting reflect an emerging consensus of the world's scientific community. It is widely agreed that it would be foolish to neglect to evaluate the possible consequences of these changes while awaiting a more certain projection. If the scenarios are reasonably true, then the next 40 years are going to show more rapid climatic change than humanity has seen in the course of its evolution, leading to a world that will be warmer 40 years hence than at any time in the past 120,000 years, with considerable redistributions of rainfall, increasing storm vulnerabilities, and major requirements for ecological and human adaptation. It would be sensible for anybody concerned with the management of substantial sectors of the earth to evaluate now what possible changes could mean within their area of responsibility. That is a clear challenge to the Ramsar Convention.
It is clearly pointless to consider wetlands on their own. All wetland habitats depend very substantially on inputs from outside the system. Such input may be in the form of rainfall, stream and river flow, seasonal flooding, or pollution, together with the direct impact of human modification of river systems. In planning the future priorities for wetland conservation, we must not therefore ignore wider human activities in contiguous habitats. Forest clearance, especially on mountain catchments, inevitably accelerates flash floods, brings down heavy sediment loading, and may increase the probability that stream systems will dry up in a dry season. This is already happening in parts of Africa. There are projections that the substantial deforestation of the Amazon Basin could lead to considerable changes in local climate, with diminished rainfall, as well as to increased run-off and sedimentation downstream. In the northern hemisphere, the impact of air pollution deposited in acid rain is well documented, and although that process seems likely to be slowly reversed over the next 40 years, it stands as a warning of what will happen if the kind of energy supply systems hitherto used extensively in the northern hemisphere are introduced in the developing world and begin to acidify wetland systems there.
It is time to ring my three key notes again:
First, the importance of the Ramsar Convention is the more evident because there are good reasons for believing that wetlands maybe especially vulnerable to the changes I have been discussing. The urgency of expanding the coverage of the Convention to make it truly global is increased in consequence. For it is clear that while most of the arctic and temperate wetlands lie within countries which are Contracting Parties to the Convention, most of the tropical wetlands, which are vulnerable to changes in rainfall, rising sea-level, and increasing human pressure, lie in countries which are not yet Contracting Parties. It is also clear that global temperature rises of the magnitude now discussed could shift the optimum habitats of wetland species - and other species that use wetlands hundreds of kilometres - from one country to another. It could greatly affect the migration routes of birds. The management response has to be considered on a regional, and global scale. The challenges - but also the opportunities - are immense, but I am sure that the Ramsar machinery is now ready for them. In a sense, the work under the Convention has now come to the end of the beginning.
My second key note rings out loudly: the scale and tempo of activity for wetland conservation has to increase.
Third, climate change, superimposed on the needs of mounting human numbers and the pressures of urgent human development must be taken into account or our collective responses as a global community will be wrong. We shall indeed be like the old Irishman's tourists - speedily finding ourselves in an inappropriate place for the continuance of our journey.
What then are the ingredients of a response, for the world community as a whole and for work under this Convention in particular? I suggest six needs:
First, to reaffirm that our common goal is the safeguarding of the human future, and that an important ingredient in that work is to maintain the maximum practicable biological diversity, because the richness of genes, species and ecosystems provides the raw materials with which the natural world and human users will adapt to changing conditions. Wetlands support wild relatives of cultivated species such as rice - from which crop breeders will need to take genes for new future varieties. Wetland species may well have other features important in adjustment to future climatic oscillation. We must seek to conserve wetland biological diversity as an important asset for tomorrow's world. I hope your Standing Committee and Bureau, with partners like IUCN and IWRB, will analyse systematically where the centres of that diversity lie, and what the key wetlands are, taking all groups of plant and animals into account.
Second, we must look forward. We need to use the best scenarios we have of likely change, both in human impact and climatic conditions, and evaluate what they could mean for wetland preservation and wetland wise use in the different countries and regions of the world. Will the sites now designated remain viable? Are management regimes appropriate? A precautionary approach is necessary, analysing what could happen, and avoiding actions that could increase vulnerability to the more probable elements of change. For example - and as a component of wise use of wetlands - it makes little sense to destroy mangroves on tropical coasts that could well become more exposed to violent storms. It makes little sense to denude catchments if flash-floods are likely to be more frequent in future, or to destroy coral reefs if sea surges will increase in incidence and violence. It makes good sense to try to curb settlement on the most exposed coasts - or, where this cannot be done, to provide early warning of impending storm disasters, and some kind of safe refuge.
Third, as a part of the precautionary approach, we need to study what is actually happening in the world, so that we can compare real change with the various projections and predictions of models. This means improved monitoring. The Ramsar Bureau should, in my view, link itself to global monitoring of change in wetland systems. Developing countries need assistance to monitor their own environments and interpret the results, and global networks need to be strengthened, taking developing country situations more into account.
Fourth, environmental management systems need to be integrated. Wetlands have to be managed in context, and that context is the whole catchment and hydrological dynamic. Wetlands, indeed, provide an object lesson in this respect, because it is more obvious for them than for other environments. Work under this Convention can demonstrate the need for integrated catchment management, as part of wider national and regional land-use planning strategies.
Fifth, our management systems must be both ecologically sound and broadly-based. Conservation can only be achieved within sustainable development, which means wise use. This has been stressed as a core element in the Ramsar Strategy, but it needs spelling out and communicating to people who still see environment and development or conservation and development somehow as antagonistic rather than as part of one single process of meeting human needs. It is possible to manage wetlands so as both to conserve biological diversity and to yield products that are of value to people, and especially those living in the region. People can have access to biological resources like fish, mangrove poles and other valuable products harvested at a sustained level, while a wetland remains wetland, contributing to the management of the water cycle and providing a habitat for many species. If people living in the region derive benefit from such management they are far more likely to support it than if they see the wetlands simply as a reserve, access to which is denied them.
Sixth and finally, I hope that we can all struggle to improve people's perception of wetlands. Far too many still see them as soggy, fly-infested, disease-haunted wildernesses, and the importance of such systems as fish nurseries, waterfowl habitats, genetic reservoirs, food sources and regulators of water flow is not appreciated. Just as in many parts of the world the first reaction on seeing a wild forest is to set fire to it, so on seeing a wetland, many people's instincts lead them to reach out for the drainage tools. There is an uphill struggle here, but you have embarked on it in Ramsar and I know that this will continue.
This keynote address has not contained any commercial for IUCN. There are several reasons for this. First, I do not think it is necessary for me to urge the Governments represented at this meeting to do more for IUCN, for virtually all of them are staunch supporters of the Union, of which they themselves are members. Of the 58 present or immediately pending Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, 32 are State members of IUCN while we have State agency members concerned with conservation in a further 17, and non-governmental members in all except 4 of the others. We are thus already involved together in a partnership, and I hope I can take it for granted in this room that we agree that this is vital for the achievement of our shared aims. Second, I regard the Wetlands Programme of IUCN as advancing the totality of worldwide wetland conservation and I hope I have said enough to leave you in no doubt that I see the Ramsar Convention as a crucial, indeed leading, instrument in this field. To that extent, the IUCN Wetlands Programme works for Ramsar, and the excellent contacts that now exist between the Wetlands Programme Coordinator, your Secretary General, the Director and staff of IWRB, the Standing Committee and myself all predispose toward that cooperation. I can assure you that in developing our work in IUCN, through the discussions that many of you are likely to participate in at the IUCN General Assembly, in western Australia later this year, the needs of the Ramsar Convention will be very much to the fore. I myself see this Conference of Parties as an input to my own programme planning, because IUCN wants to advance the work under this Convention. We need one, world wetlands conservation strategy - as Patrick Dugan says in the document he has edited and distributed to you, and as the World Conservation Strategy for the 1990s will also say. We can only achieve it in a partnership which involves all Governments, all international bodies, and all national groups concerned with conservation. We all share a fundamental mission - the establishment of an enduring harmony between humanity and nature.
My colleague Jeffrey McNeely, reviewing an earlier text of this address, told me I should end with an anecdote. Instead, I am going to end with another poetic quotation, repeating my apologies to the hardworking and long-suffering interpreters. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins summed up in simple words something we tend to lose sight of in our discussions of conservation and environmental policy today, where the utilitarian tends to crowd out the aesthetic, and where our concern to face the challenges of the human future leads us from time to time to forget that the world we live in is not just vital to our survival, and useful to us, but wonderful, beautiful and inspiring. Hopkins asked a simple question:
"What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness?",
and like all good poets he answered his own question in the following way:
"Let them be left.
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet."
Let us hope that tomorrow's world will retain the rich diversity of nature in which so many of us find uplift and inspiration.