Ramsar Visit to Washington, D.C., October 1997

Ramsar Visit to Washington, D.C., October 1997

14 October 1997

(15 October 1997)


This is a brief summary report of the visit to Washington, D.C. (USA), 6-10 October 1997, by the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Mr. Delmar Blasco. The main purpose of his visit was to participate in the 5th Annual World Bank Conference on Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development (ESSD5) and subsequent related meetings, as follows:

6-7 October 1997: ESSD5

The Conference was opened by World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and attended by a large number of World Bank staff, government people, NGOs, and specialists. The first day consisted of a number of keynote presentations and panels, with the participation of well known figures. The second day was devoted to a series of thematic roundtables on climate change, biodiversity, international waters, and desertification and forests. Mr. Blasco served as a panelist on the roundtable on biodiversity, together with Peter Schei (past SBSTTA Chair and Special Advisor to the Minister of Environment, Norway); Nicolas Mateo (INBIO, Costa Rica); Peter H. Raven (Director, Missouri Botanical Garden), Charles Perrin (Head of the Department of Environmental Economics and Environmental Management, York University, UK); and Bernd von Droste (Director of the World Heritage Centre, UNESCO).

In his intervention, Mr. Blasco pointed out that in his view there were three things that the World Bank should do regarding biodiversity: mainstream and simplify; mainstream and simplify; and mainstream and simplify. As long as we continue to treat biodiversity as one more sector that goes in parallel with the rest of the development process, we will not succeed. Biodiversity considerations should be incorporated in all actions, everywhere. In addition, the Bank (and the GEF) should use a more down-to-earth and simple language to deal with biodiversity issues; procedures have become so complicated and sophisticated that many people have a hard time to follow them. Developing country people are by no means stupid but in most cases they have too many other urgent and pressing things to worry about in their countries to be able to afford time for overcomplicated analysis and schemes.

Mr. Blasco also issued a call to use all the existing conventions: the Biodiversity Convention is still in the making. So, at this time in particular, other well-established treaties are offering windows of opportunity to advance biodiversity-related actions. He then spoke briefly about how Ramsar is preparing to contribute to the CBD's mission, particularly on freshwater biodiversity. He further insisted on the need to generate endogenous processes to deal with biodiversity, instead of coming with recipes that, well-intentioned as they might be, could always been perceived as impositions from abroad.

8-10 October: Follow-up events

Morning of 8 October: seminar on "Global Treaties and the World Bank Policies: Meeting Environmental Objectives". This was oganized by the Environment and International Law Unit of the Legal Department of the World Bank and The Learning and Leadership Center. Mr Blasco was invited to speak about Ramsar. CITES and CMS were also there.

Afternoon of 8 October: consultative meeting on "Global Ecosystem: Innovative Strategies for the 21st Century", hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Smithsonian Institution. There was a background paper prepared by consultant Lee A. Kimball, and participants included Ruth Greenspan Bell (Resources for the Future), Rudolf Dolzer (Institut für Völkerrecht, Germany), Ian Johnson (Assistant CEO, GEF), Thomas Lovejoy (Smithsonian Institution), David Roodman (Worldwatch Institute), Peter Schei (Norway), Alvaro Umaña Quesada (Chair of the World Bank Inspection Panel and former Environment Minister of Costa Rica), David Wheeler (Principal Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank), and a few people from the Legal Department of the World Bank.

10 October: a whole day's seminar on "Mainstreaming Freshwater Biodiversity in Development Projects: The Agenda Matures". Mr. Blasco was invited to give one of the two keynote opening addresses, on "New Directions for Wetlands". Since he had been asked to include references to the new approaches to wetlands by the US Corps of Engineers, Mr Blasco invited the U.S. Ramsar Committee Chair, Constance Hunt, to join him in speaking about this particular issue. Other speakers during this day included Ian Davidson, Wetlands International--The Americas, and Gonzalo Castro (now in the World Bank but previously with WWF-US and very much connected to Ramsar's Wetlands for the Future Initiative).

Other meetings

The Secretary General devoted 9 October to US matters: in the morning he met with Herb Raffaele of the International Affairs Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (and Chairman of the Subgroup on Finance of the Ramsar Standing Committee) to follow up on some Standing Committee issues, and then attended (with him) a meeting of the US Ramsar Committee to brief the members on the results of the 20th Standing Committee meeting in Gland.

Mr Blasco had lunch with Marshall Jones, USFWS, and then attended a briefing session by US Fish and Wildlife Service and other Department of Interior staff on: a) the findings of the USFWS in its report to Congress on Wetlands Status and Trends in the Conterminous United States, 1985 to 1995; b) the legislation under consideration in Congress that would require parliamentary approval for designation of World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves, and Ramsar sites; and c) opportunities and limitations to designating new Ramsar sites in the US at this particular moment. During this session Marshall Jones and the Secretary General signed a Memorandum of Understanding to extend the Wetlands for the Future Initiative for another three years. Subject to the availability of funds, the US Government intends to make available additional annual contributions for the USGov't fiscal years 1998, 1999 and 2000. In addition to the activities so far financed by the WFF Initiative, a new one has been added: to advance ecologically sound community management. The text of the WFF Memo of Understanding is also available on this Web site.