Saleem Ali and Pamela Griffin
Increasingly important as population growth and climate change are predicted to worsen water access in many areas of the world, the emerging field of environmental diplomacy seeks ways to use conservation to prevent conflict or build peace between countries.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, is the only global environmental treaty that deals with one particular ecosystem. With over 40 years of international wetland conservation work and ratified by 160 countries, it can offer a significant contribution to environmental diplomacy.
Armed with a wide definition of wetlands that includes lakes, rivers and coastal waters, the Ramsar Convention is in a position to help countries build capacity to effectively manage wetlands. Effective agreements like it can contribute to a government’s legitimacy and help to sustain peaceful conditions among its own people and with its neighbours.
Ramsar in focus
As the first treaty to adopt an ecosystem approach to conservation, rather than focusing on the preservation of a single species, the Ramsar Convention led the way for other treaties, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to approach conservation as a holistic system. Ecologically coherent wetlands that cross national boundaries are recognized as transboundary wetlands within Ramsar.
There are currently 234 Wetlands of International Importance listed with Ramsar that share borders with two or more countries. At this time, 14 of these areas have become officially recognized transboundary conservation areas with a shared management regime. Specific Ramsar transboundary agreements have commenced in conflict prone areas and include Africa’s first formal transboundary site between Gambia and Senegal that includes the Niumi-Salorim National Park and the Delta de Saloum. A transfrontier wetland exists between Burkina Faso and Mali called the Complexe Kokorou-Namga.