Utrecht University: Assistant Professor of Global Environmental Governance

Ramsar Convention on wetlands celebrates 50th anniversary, but wetlands are still in decline
On the 2nd of February 2021, the Convention on Wetlands, also known as the Ramsar Convention, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Despite its long history, there is still an alarming decline in wetlands. Dr. Peter Bridgewater from the University of Canberra and Dr. Rakhyun E. Kim external linkfrom the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development external link at Utrecht University wrote about the mixed legacy of the convention in Nature Ecology & Evolution external link. They argue that the convention will need to embrace new ecological thinking and conservation approaches for it to survive and stay relevant in the Anthropocene.

“Over the 50 year lifetime of the convention, at least 35 percent of wetlands globally have been lost,” Bridgewater and Kim state. According to them, the convention has a mixed legacy. Its notable achievements in establishing better awareness of wetlands globally, an extensive network of Sites of International Importance, and near universal membership of the world’s nations contrast with recent reports of declining wetlands.

Insufficient long-term impact
In its current form, the authors find it questionable that the Convention will have sufficient impact on wetlands in the long term. “One of its major flaws is the Ramsar’s site-based approach,” Bridgewater and Kim argue. The Ramsar Convention identifies suitable wetlands for a List of Wetlands of International Importance. Once on the list, the Convention mandates countries to ensure the sites maintain their ‘ecological character’. However, the authors argue that once an area is placed on the list, there is little change in its management and conservation to be observed.

Bridgewater and Kim therefore call for action by the convention. In its next fifty years, the convention can thrive if it links better with other global processes, reduces its focus on sites while ensuring better management of those already established, and develops a stronger focus on ‘wetscape’ approaches for wetlands to help mitigate against global change, especially in ‘blue carbon’ environments, uniquely covered by the convention.

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