This article is written by Ishita, a student of Sharda University School of Law and edited by Gitika Jain. This article deals with the Ramsar convention, its objective and the reason why it was held, and still holds a social obligation for a greater good.
The 20th century was a whole new era of environmental revolution, people were becoming more aware of the environmental hazards that humankind was imposing upon nature such as the depletion of the resources, increase in the level of pollution worldwide, population growth, etc. And the emerging nations of that time realized the importance of a safe environment and the need to protect it.
Various conventions and treaties were also being signed amongst the nations for safeguarding the environment. The main objective of these treaties and conventions was to safeguard biodiversity. The official name of the treaty is The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat. This name emphasizes on the conservation and wise use of wetlands, most importantly as habitat for waterbirds. Wetlands are now recognized as ecosystems that are vital for biodiversity conservation, as well as sustainable development, and for this wholesome purposiveness, the treaty is also commonly known as the ‘Convention on Wetlands’.
What is Ramsar convention
The Ramsar convention, also known as the Convention on Wetland is an international (intergovernmental) treaty, signed on 2nd February 1971, and came into force in 1975. The name ‘Ramsar’ has been adopted from the city of Ramsar which is an Iranian city of the southern shore near the Caspian Sea. It is one of its kind first intergovernmental international treaties for the conservation of the environment. A total of 169 nations were a party to it as of January 2016 and approximately 234 transboundary wetlands are listed within the convention, many of them are located in the countries presently experiencing conflict with each other. This convention holds the potential to be the role model for the countries and build diplomatic relations amongst them for the betterment of the environmental security of the citizens. This convention sends out the message to make the sustainable use of the wetlands. More than 2,220 wetlands come under the special protection under this convention also known as the ‘Ramsar Sites’ covering 2.14 million square kilometres. The UNESCO serves as the depositary for the convention, but the Ramsar Wetland Convention is not a part of the United Nations or UNESCO.
The global movement to preserve wetlands began in the 1960s, which was led by the concerned ornithologists who were worried about the worldwide loss of migratory bird habitat, because of various underlying reasons such as conflicts between the nations itself, the threat of pollution due to increasing infrastructural developments, thus inculcating involving many nations in this mission to save the waterfowl. The few initial conferences addressed the issue of management and conservation of the habitat of these birds and the wetlands themselves but the greater issue was including the nations and to develop a dedicated international body for this purpose. The participants included IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), Birdlife International, and Wetlands International. These were the key players who struggled upon various issues to develop a consensus, such as methods to identify and conserve wetlands, issues of sovereignty, and enforcement mechanisms.
The meeting to sign the treaty was organized by Mr Eskander Firouz, Director of Iran’s Game and Fish Department, and it was held in the Caspian seaside resort of Ramsar in Iran. The Convention was signed on 2 February 1971, by the delegates of 18 nations the next day. Earlier, the notion of conservation was only focused on conserving the species, not the ecosystem or the habitat in which they were living. Addressing the wetlands as an ecosystem was a notable development in the field of international conservation. Initially, six hundred wetlands were listed, and the task given to the participant countries included developing inventories of their wetlands. The Ramsar Convention has been amended twice since its adoption, the first amendment was made in the year 1982 via a protocol, and the second amendment was made in 1987.
The convention has adapted to the shifting global concerns. There has been a notable shift, which has emphasized the need to promote the benefits of sustainable development benefits of protection of wildlife, wetlands, etc. The main reason this convention is successful and is world-renowned is that it doesn’t focus on the need to protect a species or a group of species instead it emphasizes the need to protect the ecosystem as a whole which in turn will be able for the sustenance of a whole lot of species in it.
The Ramsar convention has significant broad aims out of which one is stopping the worldwide loss of wetlands and the life contained in it. All this can be done through the wide use of management, policy-making, and technology transfer. All this can be made successful if the nations come together and consider it a topic of concern for the conservation of the environment. The Ramsar convention encourages the designated sites to conserve the wetlands and the biodiversity in it. When a potential wetland site has to be designated as a wetland site, countries agree to establish and oversee the management of the framework which is aimed at conserving the wetland and hence ensuring its wise use and maintaining its ecological character.
The convention’s mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands existing on this planet through local, national, and international cooperation and achieving sustainable development throughout the world. The convention uses a broad definition to define the types of wetlands covered in its objective, which included rivers, lakes, marshes, wet grasslands, deltas, estuaries, mangroves, coral-reefs, and man-made sites such as ponds, paddies, salt pans, and reservoirs, etc.
Since its inception, there have been notable provisions under ramsar convention which reflect its importance.
- Article 2(1) states that each contracting party shall declare a suitable wetland in its territory to be included in the list of wetlands of international importance. The boundaries of each wetland must be exactly depicted on a map and they may have riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, marine water bodies or islands which are deeper than six meters at low tide to be lying within the wetlands, especially where these wetlands have the importance of waterfowl habitat.
- Article 3(1) of the convention elaborates that signatories to the convention must formulate and implement their plannings so as to conserve the wetlands included in the list which lie in their territories as far as possible for their wise use.
- Article 3(2) directs that the signatory parties shall arrange to be informed as soon as possible, if there is any change found in the ecological character of any wetland within its territory or is likely to change due to technological developments, human interference, or due to an increase in the population.
- Article 4(2) talks about the liability imposed upon the signatory country, if due to any urgent national interest it becomes important to destroy, decrease the boundary or any kind of compromise is made on that listed wetland, then in that case, as far as possible it is mandatory to compensate for any kind of loss of wetland, its resources, and the life within it. In particular, it should create additional natural reserves for the waterfowl either in the same area or somewhere else in the country, it should be an adequate portion of the original habitat.
- Article 4(3) The signatory parties shall encourage research and development regarding the wetlands and their flora and fauna, it shall also encourage publication regarding the same.
- Article 5(1) The signatory parties shall consult with each other about the implementation of the obligations which arise from the convention, especially in the case of extending the territory of a wetland of one or more contracting parties. At the same time, they must coordinate and support each other in devising and implementing future policies that concern the conservation of wetlands and the flora and fauna within it.
With the increasing population in coastal and floodplain areas, the threat to the flora and fauna is also increasing tremendously. Wetlands are ecosystems and host a wide variety of life in it, but it is decreasing due to urbanization and population boom. In a study which was conducted in the Mediterranean region, it was revealed that the water consumption rate in the wetland area increased as the water renewal rate decreased significantly, five watersheds showed a potential decrease of 20% to regulate floods of rivers. Significant improvement has been seen where the regulations have been implemented for example, the use of international environmental conventions improved waterbird population trends and facilitated climate warming adaptation of their communities. Still, in today’s scenario, the Ramsar Convention has not resulted in the overall improvement of the wetlands globally, instead, many more measures have been taken by the countries themselves to protect the flora and fauna of the wetlands. Hence, reformatory changes must be made in the regulations of the convention so that it is able to create an effective impact that is crucial in environmental protection.
Reforms and suggestions
Over some time period, the convention has significantly evolved and now has 5 main bodies in it:
1) Contracting Parties– The convention is directly responsible to the parties and the conference of contracting parties to meet every three years.
2) Standing Committee– This is the main authority between the conference of contracting parties meetings.
3) The Secretariat– Conducts daily administration under the authority of the standing committee.
4) The Scientific and Technical Review Panel also known as (STRP)– Is responsible for the technical expertise for convention issues.
5) International Organization Partners– A formal relationship exists between various environments conserving organizations such as UNESCO, Birdlife International, Wetlands International, World Wide Fund for Nature.
Since the year 1970, about 35%of the natural wetlands, such as marshes, shallow coastal wetlands, and lakes have disappeared. Currently, the wetlands cover only about 3% of the earth’s surface, which is a thing to worry about because the wetlands are disappearing faster than the forests. There has been a decline of 81% of freshwater species and 36% of the marine life, because of the disappearance of the wetlands. It is predicted that by the year 2050, one-third of the world’s population is expected to struggle because of extensive concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus in the rivers, lakes, and other wetlands.
The Ramsar convention’s contribution could be seen as seeking peace through shared water management. When the borders are porous it is inevitable for the conflict to arise between the nations and these conflicts impose institutional instability which is mainly triggered by poverty and local because of disturbances within nations.
At last, effective agreements can contribute to a government’s legitimacy and help in sustaining peaceful conditions amongst its own people and with its neighbouring countries. The source of human existence is a healthy ecosystem, and so is the role of this convention to build a global infrastructure for the world as one community that addresses the wetland conservation through national and international efforts altogether. This also helps to confront the problem of transboundary issues, such as cross border pollution which further supports the goal of regional sustainable development. The ecological process and life can be enhanced technologically, as well as by the help of legislations and management framework. By its effective work worldwide the convention is building the capacity required for effective governance which in turn is essential for maintaining global peace.
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