Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Strengthening Capacity to Manage Ecosystems Sustainably for Human Well-Being

“Ecosystems & Human Well-being: Wetlands & Water Synthesis” launched at Ramsar COP9

Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Peter Bridgewater, launched the fifth synthesis report by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), “Ecosystems & Human Well-being: Wetlands & Water Synthesis” during the opening ceremony of COP9. The Wetlands and Water synthesis was designed for the Ramsar Convention to meet the need for information about the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and sought to strengthen the link between scientific knowledge and decision-making for the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Highlighting the findings from the report, Bridgewater, who was also a member of the MA Board, noted that, “The degradation and loss of wetlands is more rapid than that of other ecosystems. Similarly, the status of both freshwater and coastal wetland species is deteriorating faster than those of other ecosystems.”

He also stressed the need to balance the desire to add more sites to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance with ensuring their effective management and representativeness. He called for: synergies among biodiversity-related Conventions; better environmental governance frameworks; and capacity building.

In a special presentation on the Wetlands and Water synthesis during a COP9 Plenary session, Synthesis Team Co-Chair, Rebecca D’Cruz, stressed that ecosystem services are vital to human well-being, lamenting that many of these services are overused, mismanaged or degraded, and highlighted policy choices available to reduce wetland degradation while maintaining benefits.

Commenting on the accelerated wetland degradation, she highlighted a reduction of human well-being, especially in developing countries, coupled with an increased demand for wetland services. She said policy decisions must address trade-offs between current and future use, and emphasized cross sectoral and ecosystem approaches. Finally, she noted that the report would help set the future agenda for Ramsar, and could be used to raise awareness on wetlands.

The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, I.R. Iran, 1971) has recognized from the start that the MA can and should provide the Contracting Parties to the Convention, and all involved in the conservation and wise use of wetlands, with new understanding and insights into how best they can meet the objectives of the Convention. The Convention’s Standing Committee, Secretariat, and Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) have supported and contributed to the work of the MA throughout.

During its work, the MA made a significant contribution to the work of the Convention’s STRP. Through this “cross-fertilization” of ideas, the MA’s conceptual framework provides a structure for the delivery of the Convention’s central concept of “wise use” of all wetlands. Furthermore, the STRP has recognized that the ecosystem terminologies adopted by the MA provide a valuable approach to its work of updating and harmonizing the terms and definitions used by the Convention, notably those concerning ecological character and wise use. Finally, the existing Ramsar “Toolkit” of Wise Use Handbooks is enhanced and supported by the MA’s advice on response options.

Among the key messages from the Wetlands synthesis report include:

  • More than 50% of specific types of wetlands (including lakes, rivers, marshes, and coastal regions to a depth of 6 meters at low) in parts of North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand were destroyed during the twentieth century, and many others in many parts of the world degraded.
  • Wetlands deliver a wide range of ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being, such as fish and fiber, water supply, water purification, climate regulation, flood regulation, coastal protection, recreational opportunities, and, increasingly, tourism.
  • When both the marketed and nonmarketed economic benefits of wetlands are included, the total economic value of unconverted wetlands is often greater than that of converted wetlands.
  • The projected continued loss and degradation of wetlands will reduce the capacity of wetlands to mitigate impacts and result in further reduction in human well-being (including an increase in the prevalence of disease), especially for poorer people in lower-income countries, where technological solutions are not as readily available. At the same time, demand for many of these services (such as denitrification and flood and storm protection) will increase.
  • Cross-sectoral and ecosystem-based approaches to wetland management—such as river (or lake or aquifer) basin-scale management, and integrated coastal zone management—that consider the trade-offs between different wetland ecosystem services are more likely to ensure sustainable development than many existing sectoral approaches and are critical in designing actions in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

Major policy decisions in the next decades will have to address trade-offs among current uses of wetland resources and between current and future uses. Particularly important trade-offs involve those between agricultural production and water quality, land use and biodiversity, water use and aquatic biodiversity, and current water use for irrigation and future agricultural production.