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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.

Full Release

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director



Further Resources

Ramsar Convention


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