The 13th Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP13) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands opened today at the Festival Arena in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Ministerial Delegations representing 157 countries are meeting from 21 to 29 October to assess the progress of the Convention, negotiate 26 resolutions and consider emerging issues and priority actions. In total more than 1,300 people are attending the meeting including Contracting Party Delegates, Observers, Observer States and visitors.
The Ramsar Convention’s newly released flagship publication, “The Global Wetland Outlook; State of the World’s Wetlands and their Services to People”, states that the world’s wetlands are declining rapidly, 35 per cent have been lost since 1970; with wetlands disappearing three times faster than forests. Authors of the report stress the need for immediate action to reverse this trend. The report provides an important resource and roadmap for moving forward.
During opening ceremonies, Uruguay, the COP12 host country, handed over the ceremonial Ramsar flag to UAE, transferring the COP Presidency for the next triennium.
“Wetlands have received the attention of our government, and hosting this prestigious event confirms our commitment to conserving our natural environment and protecting our ecosystems from urbanization and human activities,” said His Excellency Dr Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment at the Opening Ceremony. “We cannot risk losing these valuable ecosystems, as it will have an impact on our lives, society and our future. I hope that this conference will open more doors for greater collaboration, understanding and intervention to preserve and save the world’s wetlands.”
Jorge Rucks, the Chair of the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention said, “The Standing Committee is striving to act responsibly and transparently to carry out the mandate entrusted to it. COP13 is a new landmark for action to protect wetlands, goals of the Ramsar Convention are closely linked to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We need to apply scientific knowledge and technology to ensure sustainable protection of wetlands.”
Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, opened the meeting saying: “We are at a decisive moment here in Dubai. While tonight is an evening of celebration and yet, while we sit here tonight we know that wetlands are being lost at a rate three times that of forests. That since 1970, 35%, one third of wetlands have disappeared. The Global Wetlands Outlook which is being released here at COP13 is both a distress signal, and a wakeup call, that urgent action is needed to reverse this trend. The planning and actions put into motion at COP13 to halt and reverse the loss of our planet’s wetlands will have echoing effects on future generations and the sustainability of our planet. “
The theme for COP13 “Wetlands for Sustainable Urban Future,” seeks to highlight the great value of wetlands in cities. In populated areas, wetlands protect human life, offering a natural infrastructure to help buffer against the threat of flooding, which has become increasingly common with extreme weather events. These buffers come in the form of salt marshes, mudflats, mangroves, or other wetland habitats—all of which house excess water in times of heavy rainfall and flooding. During the hot season, wetlands are invaluable in reducing city temperatures. They are natural filters that remove sediment and pollutants as water flows through them, ensuring safe water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Their fisheries strengthen urban security. And engineered properly, wetlands can address drainage issues, directing water flow in a way that prevents or reduces pollution downstream, where people reside. Importantly, wetlands help create jobs, so local economies are sustained.
During this COP the Ramsar Convention will introduce the Wetland City Accreditation, which recognizes 18 cities that have taken exceptional steps to safeguard their urban wetlands.