Whetting the Appetite, Improving Knowledge as a Tool for Wetlands Protection
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As the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands approaches and Parties and stakeholders prepare to reflect on its success and future plans, a new e-course from InforMEA, a project of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Information and Knowledge Management Initiative, has been established to promote understanding of the Convention and its role in international wetlands conservation.

As the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands approaches and Parties and stakeholders prepare to reflect on its success and future plans, a new e-course from InforMEA, a project of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Information and Knowledge Management Initiative, has been established to promote understanding of the Convention and its role in international wetlands conservation.

The e-course is timely, as the twelfth meeting of the COP to the Ramsar Convention (a meeting that occurs every three years) convenes 1-9 June 2015 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. This policy update considers the role of this e-course in facilitating deliberations at the COP and in other fora, as well as in building awareness of the Convention and its partnerships with other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and stakeholders.

The Ramsar Convention is the first international treaty to recognize the enormous ecological contribution of wetlands to controlling floods, preventing soil erosion, and balancing the carbon cycle. Wetlands, as explained in the course, are highly productive and biodiversity-rich ecosystems on par with coral reefs and rainforests. Since the Convention entered into force in 1975, it has been a central part of international efforts to conserve these important ecosystems, and has to date, protected 208,514,877 hectares of wetlands around the world.

The e-course provides an opportunity for Parties and other stakeholders to revisit the unique approach and provisions of the Convention in time for COP 12. The Ramsar Convention has a site-specific approach to wetlands management. The principle obligation of Parties to the Convention is to designate and maintain at least one site for the List of Wetlands of International Concern (aka, the Ramsar List). The Convention does not require countries to enact national legislation, but rather to develop and implement plans to sustainably use and maintain the designated sites on the Ramsar List, and, if possible, other wetlands in the county’s territory. As the course explains, this could imply the need for national legislation, but it is not an explicit obligation.

When Parties meet in Uruguay, two key issues are on the agenda: reviewing the implementation of the Convention and considering opportunities to establish synergies with other MEAs. On the first issue, there is good news in terms of the successes of the Convention in protecting a growing number of Ramsar Sites. As of 2014, the Ramsar List had some 2186 sites protecting wetlands globally. The number of Ramsar sites has risen to this considerable number from less than 1500 in 2004 and less than 750 in 1994. This is a significant achievement for the Convention, yet work remains. As the COP 12 documents will report, 57% of Ramsar sites have missing or out of date information, which is critical to the monitoring and conservation of wetlands around the world.[1] Filling these information gaps, in part, requires keeping the issue of wetlands management on the agenda of countries, which is part of the reason this e-course seeks to provide an accessible and accurate description of the Convention.

The course also helps facilitate another objective of COP 12, the promotion of synergies and partnerships with other MEAs, which requires improved knowledge of the Ramsar Convention. At a glance, it seems that the Ramsar Convention has a relatively narrow scope, to protect specific sites of one category of ecosystem. Yet, as the e-course explains, attaining the Convention’s mission to achieve “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution to achieving sustainable development throughout the world,” is easier with collaboration on a range of issues governed by other MEAs.

The Ramsar Convention is unique because it has its potential to affect land, forests, climate, migratory species and other types of biodiversity on its own as well as through cooperation with other MEAs. To support understanding and possible action around this potential, the e-course provides an in-depth understanding of Ramsar’s distinctive, site-specific approach to wetlands conservation, which could be the basis of cooperation between it and other MEAs.

For instance, recently, the Ramsar Convention and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) jointly committed to achieving “land degradation neutrality” through wetlands restoration and halting and reversing land degradation, respectively.[2] In the climate arena, the e-course discusses how peatlands serve as greenhouse gas reserves, underlining the role wetlands can play in stabilizing the world’s climate. The reverse is also true, as climate change could hamper efforts to protect wetlands.[3] As the Ramsar Convention seeks further cooperation with other MEAs, a tool such as the e-course can be helpful, providing a one-stop, accurate source of information about the Convention. The e-course provides an excellent base of information for both lessons learned as well as partnership building.

Beyond the immediate issues under consideration by the COP, the e-course can also support the ongoing efforts by a number of stakeholders to highlight the importance of wetlands and the Ramsar Convention. The Ramsar Secretariat spearheads an annual awareness raising campaign,[4] and since 1997, the world has celebrated World Wetlands Day every 2 February. These efforts aim to showcase what is being done to protect wetlands in an effort to encourage more Ramsar sites to be listed, to increase protection of existing Ramsar sites, and to strengthen local support for and data on wetlands conservation. Increased local and broad-stakeholder knowledge of the Ramsar List, as offered by the course, could further aid wetlands protection and complement efforts underway to make international wetlands law more locally-understood.

The e-course is timely, arriving shortly before the COP, and at a time when the Ramsar Convention is seeking and securing a growing list of partnerships with other MEAs. As an older, successful, yet relatively small Convention, the e-course is an example of how greater understanding of the Ramsar Convention can contribute to its continued success, collaboration with other MEAs and enhanced wetlands protection at local and international levels.

[1] Ramsar 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Featured Documents: ‘Report of the Secretary General pursuant to Article 8.2 concerning the List of Wetlands of International Importance. COP-12 Doc.7.’

[2] IISD RS Water Policy & Practice News: ‘UNCCD, Ramsar Commit to Land Degradation Neutrality.’

[3] IISD RS Climate Change Policy & Practice Guest Article #83: Climate Change and Wetlands: Implications for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

[4] IISD RS Water Policy & Practice Guest Article #1: ‘Campaigning for Wetlands – Ramsar’s World Wetlands Day.


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