Safeguarding the world’s wetlands – let’s be bold, brave and ambitious

“We have to make the Ramsar Convention a catalyst for change – and change on a scale massive enough to stop and reverse a terrible history of wetland loss and destruction.”

Azraq Wetlands Reserve

These were the words of IUCN’s Director General Inger Andersen as she addressed the opening ceremony of the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands yesterday in Punta del Este, Uruguay. 

Wetlands are among the world’s most productive environments. They are cradles of biological diversity, providing water and primary productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. Wetlands also perform valuable ecosystem services such as water purification and filtration, water storage and storm buffering.

Over the past four decades, the multiple roles of wetlands and their value to humanity have been increasingly documented. That millions of people around the world rely on wetlands for livelihoods is familiar now to many. The Inner Niger Delta for example hosts over 20% of the population in Mali and generates on average 90,000 tonnes of fish catch per year.

Yet, more than half of all wetlands have disappeared since 1900. Data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species shows that one in every three freshwater species is under threat. This loss and degradation of wetlands means an increase in flooding events, loss of wildlife habitat, a decline in water quality, and serious reductions in the vital and valuable benefits that humans receive from nature.

“We have to make sure that this CoP counts. We have to make the Ramsar Convention a catalyst for change – and change on a scale massive enough to stop and reverse a terrible history of wetland loss and destruction. The Ramsar Convention was the first Multilateral Environmental Agreement. It is the big sister of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements. Like all big sisters, Ramsar should show the way”, said Ms Andersen.

During the conference, IUCN will be supporting the negotiating and passing of new Resolutions which will be key milestones for wetland conservation. Building on this, the conference can join the momentum of transformation along with the new pathways set by the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and the Climate Change framework.

IUCN will promote ‘nature-based solutions’ as a key part of a strategy for change for ending the world’s century-long crisis of wetland destruction. Nature-based solutions can be peat bogs that function as water filtration plants, mangroves that protect shoreline development, floodplains that serve as dikes and levees, or wetlands that help to treat industrial effluent. If we safeguard nature’s health, and therefore performance, we could protect $29 trillion per year in natural water infrastructure services that wetlands provide - for free.

“This ‘natural infrastructure’ does not necessarily replace built infrastructure, but it may be a more affordable and durable option. It complements engineered designs as a counterpart, working hand in hand. By investing in natural infrastructure, we invest in the people closest to its pulse. With the right incentives, the right institutions, we can empower people to become part of the solution,” said Dr Mark Smith, Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme.

IUCN hosts the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention at its headquarters near Geneva, Switzerland. Over the years, IUCN has collaborated with the Ramsar Convention in many ways, such as supporting countries in accession to the Convention, scientific assistance in the designation of Ramsar sites, providing help at site level management, and supporting the capacity to link local communities with government authorities to ensure the conservation of wetlands. A report highlighting this collaboration was produced for Ramsar COP12: ‘IUCN-Ramsar Collaboration. Supporting the Wise Use of Wetlands’. 

For more information on Ramsar CoP12, please click here.
 

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