Ramsar Convention: Protection of wetlands decided 50 years ago

Nations joined since 1971 according to https://rsis.ramsar.org/
The so-called Ramsar Convention was a breakthrough for international nature conservation law in 1971. The international treaty, which will be 50 years old on February 2, 2021, has proven to be very effective.

According to geoecologist Prof Jörg Matschullat and the expert for environmental law, Dr Maximilian Wormit from TU Bergakademie Freiberg, the number of participating nations testifies to the success of the agreement: The treaty was signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 and has been recognized by 171 signatory states to date. “Each signatory state designates suitable ecosystems for inclusion in a ‘list of internationally important wetlands’ and thus assumes special responsibility for the conservation, promotion and balanced use of the respective wetlands. This also includes the willingness to cooperate internationally, for example by exchanging data and publications,” says Dr. Maximilian Wormit, explaining the legal basis of the decision. In retrospect, the researchers at TU Bergakademie Freiberg certify that the convention played a pioneering role in nature conservation law: "The convention provided the impetus for the conclusion of numerous other international nature conservation agreements and, in particular, had a lasting impact on European habitat protection law," says Dr. Maximilian Wormit.

Soft control approach is both a weak point and a success factor

The participating states are not subject to any specific obligations. “This ‘soft’ regulatory approach” is a weak point but at the same time one of the essential success factors of the Ramsar Convention. The detailed design of the protection of the wetlands is left to the participating states, which ensures compatibility with the most diverse national standards of nature conservation,” the environmental law expert continues. With the currently planned adjustment of the criteria to the protection categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, the integration of Ramsar areas into national laws should be improved. "As a result, this would also mean that violations of the convention could be legally punished in future, which is to be welcomed," explains Dr. Maximilian Wormit.

Climate change: forest- and grass areas need better protection

"Fortunately, the focus of the Ramsar Convention has expanded significantly over the past 50 years," adds geoecologist Prof. Jörg Matschullat. While in the early years only areas were on the list that migratory birds cover on their journey from summer to winter quarters, today well over 2,000 water-rich landscapes are protected. In Germany alone, the list includes 34 areas; from the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas to lakes and rivers in the southern Alpine region; from the Peitzer pond landscape near Cottbus in the east to the nature reserve Schluesselburg barrage near Kalkar in the west.

“Wetlands are not only habitats for threatened plant and animal species, they are also of great importance for the storage of greenhouse gases and groundwater reserves. In this regard, the Ramsar Convention has made a significant contribution to protecting against man-made climate change. Forests and grasslands are just as important and take up much larger areas worldwide. This is one of the reasons why further measures are needed today to consistently protect all ecosystems," argues Prof. Jörg Matschullat.

Fragen beantwortet / Contact: 
joerg.matschullat@ioez.tu-freiberg.de; maximilian.wormit@rewi.tu-freiberg.de