Ramsar Global Outlook: “Wetlands Under Far Greater Threat Than Forests”
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GWO conclusions include: approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015, with annual rates of loss accelerating from 2000; the economic value of services provided by wetlands “far exceeds” those of terrestrial ecosystems; and wetlands contribute to 75 SDG indicators.

The report expresses concern that wetlands remain “dangerously undervalued” by policy and decision makers in national plans, terming it an “inexplicable omission,” given the pivotal role wetlands play in delivering global commitments on climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction.

An open letter signed by the International Organization Partners of the Ramsar Convention, issued in conjunction with the publication of the GWO, raises concern that the world is off-track to achieve SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation).

1 October 2018: Wetlands, which comprise the world’s most economically valuable ecosystems and essential regulators of the global climate, are disappearing three times faster than forests. This is one of the key findings of the first-ever Global Wetland Outlook (GWO) published by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Titled, ‘Global Wetland Outlook: The Importance of Global Wetlands to Sustainable Development,’ the report provides an overview of the status of global wetlands, including their extent, trends, drivers of change and the responses needed to reverse the historical decline in wetland area and quality. It also highlights measures being taken by Parties to the Ramsar Convention to reverse wetland decline. The GWO was published ahead of the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which takes place from 21-29 October 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Among key findings, the GWO concludes that: approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015, with annual rates of loss accelerating from 2000; the economic value of services provided by wetlands “far exceeds” those of terrestrial ecosystems, with inland wetlands, for example, valued at five times more than tropical forests, the most valuable terrestrial habitat; and wetlands contribute to 75 SDG indicators. The report estimates that up to 40% of the world’s species live and breed in wetlands, and more than 25% of all wetland plants and animals are currently at risk of extinction.

The GWO also highlights the role of wetlands in providing, directly or indirectly, “almost all of the world’s consumption of freshwater,” and supporting the livelihoods of more than one billion people.

The report attributes wetland losses to “megatrends” such as climate change, population increase, urbanization, particularly of coastal zones and river deltas, and changing consumption patterns, noting that these trends have fueled changes to land and water use. The report finds, inter alia, that wetland-dependent species have been in serious decline since 1970, with 81% of inland wetland species populations and 36% of coastal and marine species affected.

Perverse incentives for farmers and business such as subsidies for agriculture that encourage wetland conversion or pollution should be ended.

Introducing the report, Martha Rojas Urrego, Ramsar Convention Secretary General, describes the findings as a “wake-up call,” not only on the steep rate of loss of the world’s wetlands but also on the critical services they provide. “Without them, the global agenda on sustainable development will not be achieved,” she emphasizes.

According to the GWO, wetlands currently cover more than 12.1 million square kilometers, an area greater than Greenland. Between 13% and 18% (2,300 sites) are on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. The report however expresses concern that wetlands remain “dangerously undervalued” by policy and decision makers in national plans, terming it an “inexplicable omission,” given the pivotal role wetlands play in delivering global commitments on climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Cautioning that it is not enough to merely designate new wetland sites for protection, the GWO emphasizes the necessity of developing effective wetland management plans and integrating wetlands into the planning and implementation of national plans on sustainable development, climate change and other key global commitments.

The report also stresses the role of good governance and effective institutions at local, national, and regional levels as a crucial factor in preventing, ending, and reversing trends in wetland loss and degradation. It calls for more accurate data on wetland extent and wetland inventories to help countries identify priority sites for restoration, highlighting indigenous and local knowledge, as well as citizen science, as invaluable resources on the state of wetlands that should be better used.

Drawing on successful examples across the world, the report recommends using existing funding mechanisms to apply economic and financial incentives for communities and business to protect wetlands through tax benefits. Perverse incentives for farmers and business such as subsidies for agriculture that encourage wetland conversion or pollution should be ended.

The GWO builds on a number of complementary global assessments and initiatives, including: the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment); the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB); the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the Global Land Outlook (GLO) by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); the Thematic Assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES); and input from other biodiversity- and water-related multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

An open letter signed by the International Organization Partners of the Ramsar Convention, issued in conjunction with the publication of the GWO, raises concern that the world is off-track to achieve SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation). The co-signatories, including BirdLife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wetlands International, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), describe the GWO as “a clear wake-up call that we are not collectively doing enough,” and calls on COP 13 to show the leadership and ambition needed to protect all wetlands, from rivers to coral reefs. The letter highlights the role of Ramsar Advisory Missions in providing an essential service to Parties to the Ramsar Convention by enabling countries to mobilize and apply expertise to help them tackle existing and future threats.

The GWO emerged from Ramsar Resolution XII.5, which called upon the Convention’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) to update and expand upon Ramsar Briefing Note 7 titled, ‘State of the World’s Wetlands and Their Services to People: A Compilation of Recent Analyses.’ The Standing Committee subsequently identified this task as among the STRP’s highest priorities. 170 countries have ratified the Ramsar Convention, which seeks to protect wetlands and promote their wise use. [Publication: The Global Wetland Outlook: State of the World’s Wetlands and Their Services to Ppeople 2018] [Publication Landing Page] [Ramsar Convention Press Release] [UN-Water Press Release] [UNFCCC Press Release] [IUCN Press Release] [Open Letter from International Organization Partners of the Ramsar Convention]


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