Secretary General's statement to the SWS Symposium on Arctic to Tropical Peatlands

Secretary General's statement to the SWS Symposium on Arctic to Tropical Peatlands

9 June 1998

[At the annual meeting of the Society of Wetland Scientists, Anchorage, Alaska, USA, 8-12 June 1998, the full-day "Arctic to Tropical Peatland Symposium"  (9 June) considered, among other topics, the IUCN draft guidelines for sustainable management of tropical peatlands and the role of international conventions and other policy instruments.  Mr Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, contributed this statement to the participants, which was conveyed to the meeting by Prof. Ed Maltby of the Royal Holloway Institute for Environmental Research, co-chair of the SWS symposium and Directory of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management. -- Web Editor.]

Statement on the occasion of the Society of Wetland Scientists
International Symposium - Arctic to Tropical Peatlands, Anchorage,
June 1998

by Delmar Blasco
Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

Under the Convention on Wetlands, promoting the conservation and wise use of peatlands is a global priority, and I welcome the increasing attention being directed at these issues through the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG), the International Peat Society (IPS), and now the Society of Wetland Scientists at its Anchorage Symposium.

At its 6th Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP6), in Brisbane, Australia, in 1996, the Ramsar Convention adopted Recommendation 6.1 entitled "Conservation of Peatlands", which I commend to the participants of your symposium. This Recommendation recognizes the global importance of peatlands for their environmental and economic values and expresses concern about their ongoing degradation and destruction. The Recommendation also calls on Ramsar Parties to give priority to a range of actions intended to give priority to the conservation and wise use of peatlands at the national and regional levels. These actions include inventories to identify peatland resources for concerted management action, research into functioning and restoration, and the development of regionally-based peatland management guidelines.

This same Ramsar Conference, through the adoption of the Convention's Strategic Plan 1997-2002, recognizes that peatlands are an under-represented wetland type in the List of Wetlands of International Importance and calls upon Parties to rectify this situation. Today there are 920 Ramsar sites in 110 Contracting Parties and of these 207 (22.5%), in 41 of the 110 member countries, contain peatland wetland types. It remains clear, however, that a large number of Ramsar Parties have not yet responded to the hopes of COP6 by identifying and designating their most important peatlands as Ramsar sites. The designation of our most significant peatlands as Wetlands of International Importance remains an important element of the global response to the threats being faced by peatland ecosystems.

Recommendation 6.1 from Ramsar’s COP6 also urged that Parties fully apply the Convention's Wise Use Guidelines for peatlands, and it was very pleasing to see as an action arising from the joint IMCG and IPS meeting held in Germany in November 1997 that a discussion paper on wise use guidelines for global peatlands and mires is to be prepared. We welcome this and look forward to this paper being distributed for consideration at Ramsar's COP7 next May in San José, Costa Rica.

I would also like to take this opportunity to focus attention on the unfortunate fires we have witnessed in the forests, and many peat swamp forests, of Asia over the past months. The international community has mobilized to provide short-term responses but it can only be through strategic policy decisions and actions by these countries that we can hope to see these precious natural resources managed for long-term sustainability. The Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention, when it met in September last year, expressed its deep concern about this issue and prepared a statement entitled "Wetlands on Fire" on behalf of the Convention. It urged the full implementation of the Ramsar Convention by these signatories as a long-term way to respond to these catastrophic events

Finally, in wishing you well in your deliberations and discussions, let me urge that we strive for a closer working relationship between the Ramsar Convention and the Society of Wetland Scientists. One of the challenges for our convention is to ensure that those who are making decisions which impact on wetlands, be they local people or ministers, have access to the best possible technical information. The ability of us in the Ramsar Bureau to access and direct others to expert wetland management information would be a major contribution to this effort. The inclusion of SWS members in the recently established Ramsar Experts Database would be a good start in this regard, and I encourage you to consider this suggestion. I would also strongly encourage the SWS to participate at Ramsar's COP7, either through an exhibition, by organizing a side event, or by participating in the Global Biodiversity Forum which will immediately precede it.