Achim Steiner's statement at the "Global Forum on Wetlands for the Future" on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention

Statement delivered by Bakary Kante, Director, Division of Environmental Law and Conventions (DELC) on behalf of the UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner

5 - 7 March 2011

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


Distinguished delegates

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honor for me to deliver this statement, on behalf of Mr. Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme at this "Global Forum on Wetlands for the Future" on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention here in this beautiful city of Tehran.

Let me start by offering apologies from Mr Steiner for not being here with you in person, as he has to be in New York for another meeting. Let me also thank you, Your Excellency, Mr. M.J. Mohammadi-zadeh and your Government and the Secretary-General of the Ramsar Convention,Mr. Anada Tiega for inviting UNEP to participate in thisforum.

Yes, 40 years on, we are again traveling the road back to Iran the birthplace of the Ramsar Convention. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is the only international treaty that addresses a specific type of ecosystem.

Over the last 40 years the Convention has evolved into a modern Convention with 160 Parties now.It has madesignificant progress in these years in terms of the number of wetland sites that have been designated for conservation and wise use. There are over 1,900 wetland sites that cover a total of approximately 188 million hectares of the earth's surface.

The Convention must be commended for the achievements, but more importantly the credit must go also to the Parties for their efforts in implementing the provisions of the Convention and the decisions handed down by the Conference of the Parties as it is the Parties who in the end mustact to designate these wetland sites for their conservation and wise use -and they have fulfilled their commitments.

This is an illustration of the significant role and contribution of wetlands to the environment and humans alike and the need to conserve them. It is also a signal of the gradual shift from a perception held generally that wetlands are unproductive and valueless to a more positive one where wetlands supply significant multiple values to society.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) estimated that wetlands provided services worth US$ 15 trillion worldwide. Some of these services include food, water, disaster regulation, climate regulation, and cultural and recreational values.

For instance, in Cambodia, inland fisheries alone are worth US$ 500 million a year with 60 per cent coming from Tonle Sap Lake.

Furthermore, wetlands regulate climate change by storing and capturing carbon, particularly in peat, which although it only covers 3% of the world's land surface is estimated to be the largest carbon store, storing 550 gigatonnes of carbon worldwide.

A third example is from a study carried out by the World Resource Institute (WRI) on economic evaluation of reef-related tourism and fisheries in just one area, Glover's Reef Marine Reserve, where it contributed approximately US$ 4.9 – 7.3 million a year to the national economy of Belize. There are several other examples of the economic value of wetlands.

Given the tremendous value of wetlands in terms of their contributions to national economies, poverty alleviation and sustainable development generally, there exists a potential for further development. UNEP's Green Economy Initiative is one area that is relevant and intends to explore the opportunities of going green.

Thus last week, UNEP hosted and concluded the26th session of its Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) in Nairobi where the ministers responsible for the environment discussed the Green Economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty alleviation, and an International Framework for Sustainable Development, including the International Environment Governance (IEG). This is in part intended for preparations toward Rio+20 to be held in Brazil in 2012.

There was general agreement among the environment ministers that the green economy initiative has a potential for countries in terms of creating green jobs, triggering conservation including wetlands and contributing to national economies. The decisions that came out from the meeting are that the ministers responsible for the environment took on special meaning and a special responsibility. It is no longer a question of if we should act, or that it would even be sensible to act, we live in an age of the imperative to act.

Rio+20 represents a real opportunity to mature and to evolve the sustainable development landscape from a 20th century of potential threats to meet a 21st century of real and all too tangible challenges—economic, environmental and social.The decisions taken over this year and next are also likely to define in whole or in part the future of both UNEP and the Ramsar Convention within the UN system and beyond.

In doing so, it will define not only the direction of sustainable development for many years to come, but the scope and contribution of environment ministers to sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Last week, UNEP also launched Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication—A Synthesis for Policymakers—part of a larger macroeconomic report that is being made available on-line now and for comments by governments, the private sector and civil society.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has already stated his intent to inject the findings into the work of the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability that is also informing preparations for Rio+20.

The report, a joint effort with experts, UN agencies including the International Labour Organisation and civil society, is neither the final say nor is it a preliminary draft. The report is designed as a review and an analysis of where the current economic models have brought us.

These are contrasted against the 'green shoots of a green economy' that are literally sprouting across the globe, with focus on ten key sectors in developed and developing economies alike.

A Green Economy is relevant to both a developing and a developed economy, and to the varied economic and political orientations that are found among more than 190 countries. It must however be noted that the green economy is not a substitute for sustainable development, but a way of realizing it.

The report cites India where over 80 per cent of the $8 billion National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which underwrites at least 100 days of paid work for rural households, invests in water conservation, irrigation and land development.This has generated three billion working days-worth of employment benefiting close to 60 million households.

The report challenges the myth that there is an inherent conflict between economy and environment not in some ideological way, but through analysis, pragmatism and evidence on the ground. Let me share some highlights in more detail:

  • A Green Economy can grow the global economy at or above the current projections, but in a way that can dramatically reduce the shocks, crises, scarcities and inequalities inherent in current economic models;

  • Emissions of greenhouse gases can be kept at or below 450 parts per million;

  • Multiple benefits catalyzing sustainable development accrue in both developed and developing economies, but will only truly accrue if all of the ten spotlighted sectors are addressed; and,

  • That overall, a Green Economy can employ and redeploy jobs from the old brown economy into greener and more decent work with the right public policy choices.

One of the enabling conditions identified in the new Green Economy report is governance, and more specifically environment governance. Enhanced institutional and governance frameworks are need to truly catalyse sustainable development. The UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) also discussed the International Environment Governance (IEG) last week in Nairobi.

Governance in a broader context includes not only the green economy, but also multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) like the Ramsar Convention and how they contribute to environmental sustainability. Notwithstanding the impressive landscape of institutions, agreements and protocols, the environmental governance landscape of the here and now is increasingly fractured and fragmented. This situation requires reform in the environmental governance arena.

The current process on the Administrative Reform of the Ramsar Convention regarding its legal status and the possibility of UNEP being an alternative institutional host of the Convention may bepartly relevant to the IEG discussions. UNEP has been requested by the Convention to contribute to the Administrative Reform process, and it has been actively participating by providing information as much as possible to the work of the Standing Committee and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Administrative Reform of the Convention. UNEP will continue to provide the necessary support to the Administrative Reform process when requested by the Convention.

UNEP considers the Ramsar Convention to be the most important legally binding instrument to tackle the challenges of wetlands around the world. It has a special role in linking environment and development through environmental protection, wetlands conservation and wise use with poverty alleviation through its sustainable development mission, thus contributing to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It also provides an important platform for partners to cooperate in addressing some of the challenges facing the loss of wetlands and its ecosystem services.

UNEP continues to be an active partner in its support for the Ramsar Convention's activities through ongoing initiatives such as the Administrative Reform and projects which contribute to conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Your deliberations at this "Global Forum on Wetlands for the Future" in commemorating the 40th Anniversary here in Tehran, with the Ramsar Convention, compliments the Nairobi meeting last week and are key—key to shaping, scripting and sharpening the issues to be considered at the numerous preparatory meetings taking place across the globe in 2011 towards the UN Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20. That engagement will benefit from the dialogue and directions transmitted from both Nairobi and Tehran.

Finally, UNEP remains committed to working with the Convention, the Parties including the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and other partners in addressing the problems of wetlands degradation and loss through its own programmes and through collaborative efforts.

I sincerely wish you a fruitful outcome of the forum.

Thank you


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