Ramsar address to COP7 of the Convention on Biological Diversity

09/02/2004

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[media release (PDF)]


Convention on Biological Diversity
Conference of the Parties, 7th meeting
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Monday 9 February 2004

Statement by the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

Peter Bridgewater
Secretary General, Ramsar Secretariat

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

Thank you for the opportunity to briefly update this Conference of the Parties on the progress of the work of the Ramsar Convention, and its relevance to your work in the next two weeks. Our Standing Committee, ably chaired by Gordana Beltram, who is also acting as your rapporteur today, met three weeks ago. At that meeting, Standing Committee underscored its willingness to see the implementation of the highly successful joint work plan on inland waters, now several years in operation.

Mr. President,
Historically, Ramsar was the first global environmental convention, focusing on a critical ecosystem and its biodiversity elements, primarily because of its key role in protecting sites for migratory waterfowl. The founding fathers of the Convention were exceptionally farsighted. So much so that, even though biodiversity and sustainable development were not yet in the global lexicon, the Convention was written to encompass the ideas encapsulated by those terms. In the last 33 years the Convention has grown and matured, as a key biodiversity related convention.

World Wetlands Day was celebrated just one week ago, around the world from New Zealand to Peru. And just last year was the International Year of Freshwater. Right now the world is poised to cope with the issue of ensuring enough freshwater for all - which also means ensuring enough water for wetlands and other ecosystems. The Ramsar Convention has increasingly recognized that wetlands not only play a vital role in the hydrological cycle, but that to secure their conservation and wise use it is essential that they are managed in the wider context of basin-scale and water resource management. Our joint efforts, with other partners, in developing the River Basin Initiative is a practical example of this in action. The challenge is to find ways of securing appropriate allocation of water to wetlands in the face of increasing water demand and diminishing water supply through over-abstraction and the effects of prolonged and increasing droughts and desertification in many parts of the world.

In recent years, and particularly after the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, 2002, it has become clear that water is one of the most important resources of the planet, yet also one of the most under stress. There is thus a necessity for a more coordinated global management of water resources - and the Ramsar Convention appears as the most relevant existing international agreement to deal with this new and increasing responsibility.

Yet we are still seen too often as a convention dealing only with wetlands as a means of ensuring waterbird conservation. While that was once true, and it is still true that the issue of species conservation is a key one for the Convention, we have also moved to become a convention addressing some of the key environmental issues of this century:

  • Provision of water as a means to alleviate poverty;
  • Reducing the loss of biological diversity;
  • Enhancing food and water security;
  • Promoting integrated ways of managing environmental systems.

There will be a side event on Friday at lunch to explain this further.

Of course, we are not going to solve these issues alone, and so we also place great store in creating more comprehensive environmental governance. Linkage and synergy with other conventions is essential - and there is no convention with which we have more connection than the CBD. Yet even here we need to move beyond being seen simply as providing advice and expertise and help in developing a joint programme on inland waters. Wetlands, according to our Convention, cover elements of mountains, marine and coastal, arid lands and even forests. Our Wetlands of International Importance now constitute the largest protected area network on the planet, and so we hope to join the debate on this issue. And we are also working strongly with you on other key cross-cuts, especially including developing the ideas in the Ecosystem Approach.

Mr. President, our subsidiary bodies also have worked closely together on key issues, and we see this continuing. And of course we are both clients of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which further strengthens our joint technical base. During the next days I hope we can continue to build support for linkages and synergy from cooperation between our secretariats to coordinated actions at national level. I wish this Conference of the Parties all due success.

Thank you Mr. President.

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