Why Ramsar Convention is Crucial: Introduction

Wetlands are the most productive ecosystem in the world, and the most threatened as well. Why? Cause 60% of the world’s population live around such environment. Wetlands provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, protection from hurricanes and flooding. Then they have recreational opportunities, water purification ability and can recharge groundwater supplies. But, Wetlands continue to decline globally, both in area and in quality. As a result, the ecosystem services that wetlands provide to humans and society are diminishing. Ramsar Convention has been providing the basic framework for wetland conservation.

The Ramsar Convention is a major Environmental Agreement which works as standard for wetland management and biodiversity governance system. Though development of Ramsar was a lengthy process as universal consensus was the target, the convention was signed in Ramsar (Iran) in 1971 and came into force in 1975. The mission of Ramsar Convention according to 4th Strategic Plan (2016-2024):

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.

The Ramsar convention was adopted to stop the continued destruction of wetlands, particularly those which support migratory waterfowl, and to recognize the ecological, scientific, economic and recreational values of wetlands (Kusler and Kentula, 1990; Hails, 1996). There were two characteristics in the conceptual development of the convention: 1) Area protected by conservation approach and 2) an immutable deference to ‘national sovereignty’ was echoed (Hettiarachchi et al. 2015). International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was asked to host to ensure neutrality and there was funding shortage as well.

The current organizational framework of the Ramsar framework. (Hettiarachchi et al. 2015)
The current organizational framework of the Ramsar framework. (Hettiarachchi et al. 2015)

Currently, Ramsar has 2,218 Sites covering 214,131,110 ha worldwide in 168 countries (October 2015). In order to declare a site as ‘Ramsar site’, there are 9 criteria that are taken into considerationRamsar has three pillars to which all joining parties commit:

  1. Ensuring the conservation and wise use of wetlands it has designated as Wetlands of International Importance,
  2. Including as far as possible the wise use of all wetlands in national environmental planning, and
  3. Consulting with other Parties about implementation of the Convention, especially in regard to trans-boundary wetlands, shared water systems, and shared species.

44 years later, the Ramsar convention works as the ‘bible’ for wetland regulation and management. In the 12th meeting of the Convention of Wetlands (2015), the key messages delivered were:

  • The global extent of wetlands is now estimated to have declined between 64-71% in the 20th century, and wetland losses and degradation continue worldwide.
  • Because of wetland losses and degradation, people are deprived of the ecosystem services that wetlands provide. Adverse changes to wetlands, including coral reefs, are estimated to result in more than US$20 trillion in losses of ecosystem services annually.
  • Despite some positive news about Ramsar Sites, even these are under threat. For example, although populations of wetland species appear to be increasing in Ramsar Sites overall, populations of wetland species in Ramsar Sites in the tropics are decreasing.
  • While there are ongoing initiatives that will provide a more precise picture of the extent of the world’s wetlands, it is clear that there is a negative trend and wetlands are still being lost or degraded, resulting in negative impacts on biodiversity and other ecosystem services.
  • Policymakers have sufficient scientific information to understand the urgent need to take appropriate actions to conserve wetlands and their services to people.
Natural wetland habitat area loss between 1975, 1990 and 2005 in a sample of 214 wetland sites around the Mediterranean
Natural wetland habitat area loss between 1975,
1990 and 2005 in a sample of 214 wetland sites around the Mediterranean

SO, how successful has the Ramsar Convention been? Michael Bowman in 2002-03 wrote:

considerable progress which has been made in the realms of wetland conservation over the thirty years since the Ramsar Convention was concluded, not least in the rehabilitation of the image of wetland features in human consciousness. Although the provisions of the Convention as originally drafted were deficient in various respects, a great deal of time and effort has been devoted to their clarification, amplification, and development, primarily through CoP resolutions, and this has undoubtedly enhanced the potential of Ramsar to advance the cause of wetland conservation

Ramsar Convention is one of the six treaties which are in the Liaison  Group of Biodiversity related convention. Ramsar guidelines support legal initiatives, including litigation and advocacy, to protect wetlands worldwide e.g. Mexico, USA, South Africa.

Urban wetlands were not formally considered before 2008 (Res. 27), and Urban setting is the most complex and crucial due to the fact that environmental degradation is more complex in cities, specially in developing countries.

For example, Bangladesh has only two wetlands as Ramsar sites and the data for these two site are not up-to-date and there are other sites which should come within the convention.