Influencing the global wetlands agenda

The Ramsar Convention – in full The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat but also known as the Convention on Wetlands – is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the Convention was signed in 1971.

The Ramsar Convention remains the only global convention relating to a specific habitat type. The Ramsar definition of wetlands is broad, covering “…areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres”.

Signatory nations of the Ramsar Convention (there are 169 contracting parties) agree to the Convention’s mission: “The conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

Ramsar and ecosystem services
Whilst the Ramsar Convention might be most commonly understood in terms of the global network of designated ‘Ramsar sites’ (there are over 2,200 designated sites covering over 219,000,000 hectares), commitments made by contracting parties cover conservation and wise use of ALL wetlands. The concept of ‘Wise Use’ was pioneering when the Convention was drafted, very much shaping, and now acknowledged as synonymous with, contemporary conceptions of sustainable development. This approach emphasises that humans and human uses are integral to wetland systems, with sustainable livelihoods protecting the ‘Natural Character’ of wetlands.

The concept of ecosystem services has also been significantly informed by work on the world’s wetlands, and the Ramsar Convention continues to develop and promote the practical implementation of an Ecosystem Approach on a global intergovernmental basis.

IWSN and UWE involvement in the Ramsar Convention
For several years, Dr Mark Everard has been a member of the Ramsar Commission’s Science and Technical Review Panel (STRP). Mark was invited to join the STRP largely on the basis of his expertise on ecosystem services, but also because of his lifelong involvement in wetland science, conservation and use.

In recent months, two ecosystem service-based Ramsar Guidance Notes – of which Mark is a co-author – have been published:

These Guidance Notes are significant as they inform the decisions and actions of the 169 contracting parties, effectively shaping global policy relating to wetlands but also with wider ramification as to how governments think about other habitats.