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A Brief Introduction to Wetlands Conservation

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (the Ramsar Convention) was signed in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971, and came into force on 21 December 1975. The Convention provides a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Originally emphasizing the conservation and wise use of wetlands primarily to provide a habitat for waterbirds, the Convention has subsequently broadened its scope to address all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use. This shift in focus reflects the increasing recognition of the importance of wetlands as ecosystems that contribute to both biodiversity conservation and human well being. Wetlands cover an estimated nine percent of the Earth’s land surface, and contribute significantly to the global economy in terms of water supply, fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism.

The Ramsar Convention is the only environmental treaty dealing with a particular ecosystem, and as of December 2008 had 158 parties. Also as of December 2008, a total of 1822 wetland sites, covering 168 million hectares, were included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Parties to the Convention commit themselves to: designate at least one site that meets the Ramsar Criteria for inclusion in the Ramsar List and ensure maintenance of the ecological character of each Ramsar site; include wetland conservation within national land-use planning in order to promote the wise use of all wetlands within their territory; establish nature reserves on wetlands and promote training in wetland research and management; and consult with other parties about Convention implementation, especially with regard to transboundary wetlands, shared water systems, shared species and development projects affecting wetlands.

Contracting parties meet every three years to assess progress in implementing the Convention and wetland conservation, share knowledge and experience on technical issues, and plan for the next triennium. In addition to the Conference of the Parties (COP), the Convention’s work is supported by a Standing Committee, a Scientific and Technical Review Panel, and the Ramsar Bureau, which carries out the functions of a Secretariat.

There have been ten meetings of the COP since the Convention’s entry into force: COP1 in Cagliari, Italy (24-29 November 1980); COP2 in Gröningen, the Netherlands (7-12 May 1984); COP3 in Regina, Canada (27 May-5 June 1987); COP4 in Montreux, Switzerland (27 June-4 July 1990); COP5 in Kushiro, Japan (9-16 June 1993); COP6 in Brisbane, Australia (19-27 March 1996); COP7 in San José, Costa Rica (10-18 May 1999); COP8 in Valencia, Spain (18-26 November 2002); COP9 in Kampala, Uganda (8-15 November 2005); and COP10 in Changwon, Republic of Korea (28 October-4 November 2008).

COP7: At COP7, delegates focused on the interrelations between human societies and wetland habitats. They considered the Convention’s implementation in each region and adopted 30 resolutions and four recommendations on policy, programme and budgetary issues. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ramsar Bureau and the UNESCO World Heritage Center.

COP8: With over 1000 participants, COP8 was the largest COP in the Convention’s history. Focusing on “Water, wetlands, life and culture,” delegates adopted more than 40 resolutions addressing policy, technical, programme and budgetary matters, including wetlands and agriculture, climate change, cultural issues, mangroves, water allocation and management, and the Report of the World Commission on Dams. They also approved the Convention’s budget and Work Plan for 2003-2005, and its Strategic Plan for 2003-2008.

COP9: The theme of COP9, the first COP held in Africa, was “Wetlands and water: supporting life, sustaining livelihoods.” Delegates adopted 25 resolutions on a wide range of policy, programme and budgetary matters, including: additional scientific and technical guidance for the implementation of the Ramsar wise use concept; engagement of the Convention in ongoing multilateral processes dealing with water; the Convention’s role in disaster prevention, mitigation and adaptation; wetlands and poverty reduction; cultural values of wetlands; and the emergence of avian flu. The COP also reviewed its Strategic Plan 2003-2008, and held two technical sessions on the wise use of wetlands in integrated water management and culture and knowledge in wetland management. Participating ministers adopted the Kampala Declaration, which emphasizes the role of the Convention in arresting continuing loss and degradation of wetland ecosystems. 

COP10: COP10 was organized around the theme “Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People,” and convened from 28 October 2008 - 4 November 2008, in Changwon, Republic of Korea. COP10 adopted 33 resolutions, including on: wetlands and climate change; wetlands and biofuels; wetlands and extractive industries; wetlands and poverty eradication; wetlands and human health and well-being; enhancing biodiversity in rice paddies as wetland systems; and promoting international cooperation on the conservation of waterbird flyways. The COP also adopted the Convention’s budget for 2009-2013 and Strategic Plan 2009-2014. The main issue of institutional reform – the legal status of the Convention’s Secretariat – was deferred to an intersessional working group.
Legal Regime
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Ramsar Convention
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