Ramsar COP14: The importance of collaboration in wetland conservation

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By Chaturangi Wickramaratne, Radheeka Jirasinha and Priyanie Amerasinghe

As a result of global efforts, wetlands are more widely appreciated than ever. Wetlands are highly productive ecosystems hosting rich biodiversity that provide invaluable ecosystem services. Wetlands play a critical role in climate change mitigation by sequestering carbon. Some contribute to adaptation by acting as natural buffers against extreme weather events. Wetlands are increasingly threatened by human activities, however, and since 1970 it is estimated we have lost around 30% of global wetland habitat. The struggle between conservation and development has intensified under a growing population and increasing resource requirements. And since the COVID-19 pandemic, the emerging risk of zoonotic diseases, due to our damaged relationship with nature, cannot be overlooked.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, established in 1971, is recognized as the pioneer global environmental treaty focused on nature conservation. Initially developed with a focus on protecting waterfowl habitats, the Convention’s mandate has since expanded to enhance Ramsar wetland site designation and management, promote wise-use of wetlands, and foster international cooperation. Every three years, 172 member states and six International Organization Partners (IOPs) convene at the Conference of Parties (COP) to review the progress of the Convention’s strategic plan and make key decisions to overcome global wetland management challenges, and take action for the wise-use of wetlands.   

This year, the 14th Meeting of the Ramsar COP (COP14) was a hybrid event and took place in Wuhan, China, and in Geneva, Switzerland, between November 5 and 13. Staff from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), supported by NEXUS Gains, attended as one of the IOPs in Switzerland. A report by the new Ramsar Secretary General, Dr. Musonda Mumba, presented the progress made toward achieving the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2016-2024 targets since COP13, including designation of 125 new Ramsar sites and 25 new Ramsar accredited cities.

IWMI-led side event on community-based wetland management at Ramsar COP14

IWMI/NEXUS Gains participated and contributed to several key side events led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Wetlands International, Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), addressing themes related to wetlands as nature-based solutions for food production, wise-use of wetlands in South Asia, restoration of mangrove and seagrass ecosystems, and challenges in protecting and conserving Ramsar sites, respectively. IWMI staff promoted the need for integrated food production systems where the water–energy–food–environment (WEFE) nexus is taken into consideration. CGIAR’s NEXUS Gains Initiative specifically examines the interconnections between WEFE systems and connects multiple sectors across various scales to support socio-economic growth and environmental sustainability. Nexus approaches facilitate integrated management across sectors to identify positive synergies and manage trade-offs thereby identifying sustainable long-term solutions to development challenges that can reduce threats to the environment, including wetlands.

The theme of COP14, “Wetlands Action for People and Nature”, emphasized the need for integrated management approaches that can enhance the well-being of communities while maintaining the ecological integrity of wetland ecosystems. IWMI’s collaborative efforts aim to encourage community engagement to identify and strengthen community-led wetland monitoring and management solutions.

To highlight the importance of community knowledge and involvement in wetland management plans, IWMI, along with other organizations (Cobra Collective, IUCN, Birdlife International and the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka), conducted the side event “Community wetland management for livelihood and biodiversity resilience” on November 7, 2022. An interesting panel discussion generated ideas on how community-based wetland management strategies can be improved by sharing best practices and lessons learned – success stories that are not often documented.

While the importance of people-centric wetland management approaches was agreed, the lack of financial incentives and sustainable business models was identified as a main constraint for community motivation in the wise-use of wetlands. The Secretary General’s report showed low progress in projects that contribute to poverty alleviation, indicating that current wetland conservation programs do not adequately address livelihood development. This can reduce the opportunities for improving social well-being and minimize the sustainability of wetland programs. Initiatives such as NEXUS Gains that aim to boost wetland related water productivity and improve nexus governance at systems level are critical for the sustainable development of rural communities. Representatives from the Green Climate Fund presented ideas to mobilize innovative financing to support nature that can meet conservation needs as well as livelihood requirements. These multidisciplinary approaches are vital for effective wetland management.

A key topic of discussion throughout the COP, was engaging youth in the Convention’s work. Australia/Costa Rica and South Korea/China submitted two youth-centered resolutions encouraging parties to create and support strategies to 1) include diverse youth communities when developing wetland related programs and policies, and 2) integrate and increase wetland education and opportunities in schools. Many countries supported the two resolutions, noting that the younger generation will bear the costs of continued loss and degradation of wetlands, and the potential young people have to drive responsible wetland governance.

There was a strong focus on enhancing the Ramsar Convention’s visibility and creating synergies with other multilateral environmental agreements such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). With the UNFCCC COP27 taking place simultaneously as the Ramsar COP14, there was discussion on the vital need for integrating wetland-based solutions to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. With the upcoming CBD COP15 in December 2022, IOPs also pressed for adequate recognition of wetlands in the final version of goals, targets and indicators of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Dr. Priyanie Amerasinghe, Emeritus Scientist from IWMI, delivered the closing statement on behalf of the IOPs, stressing “now is the time for action”. She highlighted the importance of wetlands for water security and drinking water in view of the upcoming UN Water Conference in March 2023 and stressed the need for “high-level political commitments to wetland ecosystems at the center of sustainable development”. Dr. Amerasinghe, continued “together we must reinvigorate the role of wetlands and this Convention on the global stage of nature, climate and water, to help deliver an equitable, carbon-neutral, nature-positive world”.

Chaturangi Wickramaratne is a researcher and freshwater ecologist at IWMI, Radheeka Jirasinha is a researcher in freshwater and wetland management at IMWI, and Priyanie Amerasinghe is an emeritus scientist, human and environment health.


Header image: Lukanga Wetland, Zambia. Photo by Matthew McCartney/IWMI.

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