34th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee -- Statement from the IOPs


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34th Meeting of the Standing Committee
Gland, Switzerland, 10-13 April 2006

Opening statement by the Ramsar International Organisation Partners

(Delivered by Rebecca Tharme, International Water Management Institute,
Plenary session, 10h00-13h00, 11 April 2006)

Thank you and good morning, Mr Chair and distinguished delegates. It is truly an honour to be present at this 34th Standing Committee meeting giving the opening statement on behalf of the Convention's International Organisation Partners, as the Ramsar focal point of the International Water Management Institute.

At COP9 in Kampala, last November, as many of you here will recall, IWMI became the Convention's fifth IOP. This would not have happened without the encouragement and support of the Ramsar Secretariat, the IOPs - BirdLife International, WWF, Wetlands International and IUCN - and the tremendous endorsement of the Contracting Parties. I would like to take this opportunity to again extend my sincere thanks to all of you for the confidence you have shown in IWMI.

IWMI is a non-profit research organisation within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (the CGIAR), with the mission of "improved water and land management for food, livelihoods and nature". It aspires to become the leading international knowledge centre on the water-food-environment nexus, generating knowledge through applied, policy oriented research. The Institute works to achieve its global mandate through partnership arrangements with a diverse range of partners, from international NGOs and national governments to local communities, focusing on river basins in developing countries.

The Institute has worked increasingly with Ramsar over the past few years, including through our involvement in its Scientific and Technical Review Panel and collaboration on various initiatives with the IOPs and observer organisations. IWMI also convenes the multi-institute CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, and the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture - the latter programme, co-sponsored by Ramsar, the Convention on Biological Diversity, FAO and others, which is in the final phase of gathering knowledge globally to provide insights on investments in water for food, and their impact on people and ecosystems.

As a new IOP, it is encouraging to see distinct areas of common ground emerging across the partners represented here, and with the Secretariat, towards future oriented, strategic knowledge generation with clear policy relevance, active advocacy, and CEPA outreach - all vital avenues for promoting and advancing wetland conservation and wise use. IWMI remains committed to working more closely with everyone here to realise this shared vision.

Many elements of the work of the IOPs are critical to the successful implementation of the Ramsar Convention's Work Plan and the priority areas identified for the STRP's work in this triennium. This is no coincidence. Instead, it represents a trend of shared understanding of some of the most pressing challenges facing us, and a move towards harnessing our combined strengths and commitment to remain at the cutting-edge of wetland science and management. There remains more to be done, however, in crafting a well developed Strategic Plan for the Convention to be presented for CoP10's consideration, that highlights the specific roles of the IOPs, individually and collectively, with key result and performance measures.

There are now clear connections being made between society's activities in the basins in which Ramsar sites and other Wetlands of International Importance are situated, and the extent, and changes in ecological character of the wetlands themselves. All the IOPs recognize that there remains a need to obtain adequate site coverage and to safeguard protected wetlands, noting Ramsar's own 250 Mha protected area target, and that now adopted by CBD COP8 for 275 Mha of inland waters. It is clear Ramsar has an important part to play in assisting the achievement of the CBD target. Efforts by the Ramsar Secretariat to shift emphasis from site designation to effective management as well also have great merit. We are therefore intensifying activities in the area of wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring, at a range of scales. We aim to develop a more active, systematic and coordinated role in future on inventory and monitoring of sites and to explore the functional basis for site networks. We are also reshaping the Waterbirds Conservation Strategy, for example, to focus more on providing policy-relevant analyses.

The IOPs will continue to address Integrated Water Resource Management at catchment scale. There remains more to be done to develop and disseminate guidance and to demonstrate best practice in the integration of wetlands into water resource management - including on ways to ensure environmental flows are determined and implemented, and that increasing attention is given to the impacts of inappropriate groundwater management on wetlands.

We are in a strong position to work with the Secretariat and Parties to direct more attention to the role of wetlands in supporting people's livelihood strategies, and to implement the Resolution on Wetlands and Poverty. We aim to demonstrate the potential for mutual benefit, rather than conflict, in how wetlands are managed to meet societal objectives for multiple uses and as opportunities for sustainable development. The IOPs are combining our strengths to work with the Secretariat and Contracting Parties on this challenge.

There is much to be done to advance cross-sectoral understanding of the interactions between agriculture and wetlands, in particular, to assist in the implementation of Resolution VIII.34, including the development of guidelines through the STRP and plans for the development of wetlands-agriculture pilot actions in specific countries. We aim to improve wetlands-agriculture management practices and better inform decision-makers on how to assess, and value in economic terms, the socio-economic tradeoffs that are made between the use of wetlands for food production and for other ecosystem services that support human health and well-being.

It is encouraging that Ramsar has initiated a process for measuring Convention effectiveness, linked also to the 2010 biodiversity target. As a group we need to help contribute to the development and testing of indicators and the steps needed to acquire the necessary data, and to act on feedback. We are committed to reinforce and disseminate our knowledge on the ground, through our networks of project implementation sites and partners, and to provide support in areas such as the Ramsar Small Grants Fund, Ramsar Advisory Missions and Ramsar regional initiatives. We intend to continue to work with governments on implementation of the Convention at national level, including issues of accession, national policies and legislation, and assessment and reporting.

Importantly, we will continue to work towards the core strengths and business of the Convention, while at the same time supporting the evolution of Ramsar's role to better penetrate mainstream political agendas. At the Fourth World Water Forum, in Mexico last month, it was clear that new progress has been made towards the Convention's aims, particularly in relation to addressing the global freshwater crisis and the use of water for food and ecosystems. During the course of the Forum it was also apparent, however, that far more is required in making the connection explicit between the policies of national governments and the day-to-day challenges faced by wetland-dependent communities.

In this light, as IOPs, we agree to work harder to coordinate our activities, to replicate the kinds of successes achieved through our combined efforts for CoP9. The recent joint meeting of the IOPs with the Secretariat was extremely useful in identifying new directions, and we anticipate further discussions on ways forward. We encourage similar kinds of interaction outside of Standing Committee meetings among the delegates representing the Parties in their regions. We also look forward to closer engagement between NGO partners and the Secretariat, and to greater visibility of the roles of IOPs in the Convention. We see that with such moves there will be an increasing need for high-quality administrative processes to ensure that Ramsar's limited resources are harnessed most effectively in future, and so the IOPs welcome initiatives such as the Management Working Group, Oversight Panel for CEPA activities, and STRP Oversight Committee.

As IOPs, we look forward to further developing areas of cooperation with the Secretariat, Contracting Parties and others, and to capitalizing on the synergies and momentum already created. In the light of the findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, presented at CoP9, of the accelerating degradation and loss of wetlands and their services to people, there remains much to be accomplished.

Thank you.

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