Right now, from 6th to 13th July, the 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP11) is being held in Bucharest (Romania), on the theme “Tourism and Wetlands” *. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar (Iran) in 1971 is an “intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands of international importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.” Today, it brings together 162 countries, with 2,040 sites and 193,411,417 hectares of wetlands designated as being of international importance. But the Convention also has private partners, and in fact became a pioneer of collaboration with this type of actor in 1998, when it signed an agreement with Danone-Evian. In the context of COP11, an important event for the Ramsar Convention and for the protection of wetlands, down to Earth has chosen to focus on its mission and its work with Danone.
The three pillars of wetland protection
The Ramsar Convention, like many other initiatives to protect the environment, can trace its roots back to the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, as consumer society started to become aware of the effects of its lifestyle on the planet, concern was growing on certain environmental issues. Among them,
the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds,
which led to negotiations between a number of countries and non-governmental organizations throughout the 1960s, and to the adoption of the Convention in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The treaty came into force in 1975, aiming for “conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”. To achieve this mission, three pillars were defined: to establish the “Ramsar list” of wetlands of international importance and ensure they were managed; to support the wise use of these wetlands “through national land-use planning, appropriate policies and legislation, management actions, and public education”; and to promote international cooperation concerning transboundary wetlands. Cooperation is in fact key to Ramsar’s activity: although it is not affiliated to the United Nations, it does collaborate closely with other multilateral environmental agreements endorsed by the UN and is a full member of the “biodiversity-related cluster” of conventions. And this cooperation now goes even further, since it was extended to cover the private sector 14 years ago.
Private-public cooperation for sustainability
In 1998, the Ramsar Convention was the first ever environmental convention to partner up with the private sector, through the signature of an agreement with Danone and its bottled water company Evian, leading to the creation of the Danone-Evian Fund for water. The Fund was given an educational mission, to increase awareness of issues relating to water resources among both decision-makers and the general public. In 2008, collaboration between Danone, the Ramsar Convention and NGOs was reinforced by the creation of the Evian Water Protection Institutes. There are three of these across the world today: in Argentina, Thailand and Nepal, supporting a number of local projects in favour of water preservation. Also in 2008, Evian, Ramsar and the UICN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) signed a new agreement which created the Danone Fund for Nature. The three entities decided to fight climate change through the restoration of wetlands, which are important both to biodiversity and to carbon sequestration, notably by replanting mangroves. This agreement also fits with Evian’s aim to become 100% carbon-neutral.
Back in 1998, and in once again in 2008, this partnership between a global environmental agreement and a private company sent a strong signal within the world of sustainability: large corporations could and would now be called upon to assume a level of responsibility similar to that of signatory States. A sort of acknowledgment of the role that major private actors must play in increasing the efficiency of public utility initiatives. Instead of leaving such concerns solely to governments and NGOs and focusing only on their own profits, these new sustainability actors must collaborate with the “traditional” ones; partly because of their size and their power, but also, and more importantly, because sustainability is a key challenge for the future of business. Corporate companies must include this issue in their innovation process and business strategy. This idea is now starting to be widely acknowledged, and one can only hope that the bonds of cooperation between public and private entities to achieve sustainability keep growing tighter.
* The COP11 on “Tourism and Wetlands”
The year 2012 is the year of tourism and wetlands for Ramsar, which wants to formally address
wetland tourism, recognizing the increased demands for tourism expansion and the potential negative impacts on the health of wetlands, but also understanding that, if managed sustainably, tourism can bring many benefits, environmental, social and economic.
On this subject, Ramsar has established a partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which defines sustainable tourism in the following terms: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” Together, they put together a publication that will be unveiled during COP11. This session will take the focus on “Wetlands and Tourism, a Great Experience” a step further, aiming in fact to “identify what countries need to do at national and local levels to ensure that wetland tourism is sustainable, consistent with the Convention’s ‘wise use’ principle, which will hopefully result in the adoption of a Resolution on tourism and wetlands.”
(Photo from http://upload.wikimedia.org)