Inter-convention synergies: Ramsar, biodiversity and climate change
AMADO S. TOLENTINO JR.
The Manila Times
ALTHOUGH addressed separately in international law, the concept of wetlands per Ramsar Convention (mangroves, rivers, lakes, peatlands, rice paddies, fishponds, etc.); biodiversity (conservation of species of plants and animals for food security, availability, accessibility, affordability, among others); and climate change (global warming, sea level rise, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floodings, outbreak of infectious diseases, among others) are interdependent, interacting with one another. Their interrelationship is manifest in the way wetland resources and services are affected by climate change and, in turn, by the fact that while climate change is a major threat to biodiversity, destruction of biodiversity contributes to climate change to a great extent. Scientific reports show that changes in climate have exerted additional pressure and have already affected biodiversity, which by itself can help build ecosystem resiliency and help to mitigate the effects of climate. An example is deforestation, to which is attributed one-fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions. Halting deforestation and preserving biodiversity are ways of developing carbon sinks which can contribute significantly to climate change mitigation. In the same way, serious international environmental concern has been fueled by reports of the degradation of peatlands and other wetlands in many parts of the world due to drainage and fires with associated impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity conservation. Effects in Asia There are many examples of these effects in Asian countries: 1) Climate change threatens the transboundary Mekong River on which people from five Asean countries depend for a healthy life and food security; 2) In Chilika Lake (India), plankton and aqua plant populations are changing due to change in the climate with adverse impacts on fisheries and livelihood; 3) From Malaysia, a study warns of the danger to the future of migratory birds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway because of the threats posed by climate change; 4) In the Philippines, coral reefs such as the Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan are suffering from mass coral bleaching resulting from increased seawater temperature, and new strategies are required to build up ecosystem resilience to climate change; 5) In Bangladesh, the ecologically sensitive St. Martin’s Island, among others, is suffering from coral damage and coastal erosion, and decisive management actions are required to stem the threats to wetland and biodiversity conservation in the area. And when Typhoon “Odette” hit the Philippines in December 2021, it was proven that biodiversity helps in disaster risk reduction. There were fewer casualties in places with intact natural ecosystems like those with thicker forests and mangrove areas. During the last two years, as Asian countries battled the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change was pointed to as the fastest way for diseases to cross borders. As warmer temperature expands, the range of disease-carrying animals and insects are exposed to it. As a consequence, viruses quickly spread across Asia. Be that as it may, at the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands held in Valencia (Spain), a resolution of relevance to rice-producing Asian countries reports on the rice paddy as a wetland type, and the impacts of changes in climate and uncontrolled pesticide use not only on rice production but also on the conservation of diverse species found therein. Actually, wetlands have always been implicitly recognized as a cross-cutting ecosystem type in deliberations about the Convention on Biological Diversity. The COP in Korea emphasized the critical importance of coastal wetlands for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, in particular for migratory bird species, sustainable livelihood, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. The COP invited parties to give due attention to the conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands. Ramsar and CBD Synergies and collaboration between the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are evidenced by a COP resolution, which called upon countries to “take action to minimize the degradation as well as promote the restoration and improve management practices of peatlands and other wetland types that are significant carbon stores or have the ability to sequester carbon and are considered as mitigating factors as well as to increase the adaptive capacity of society to respond to the changes in those ecosystems due to climate change.” The CBD COP 7, on the other hand, called for synergies between CBD and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), including its Kyoto Protocol (now Paris Agreement on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions). A technical expert group on biodiversity and climate change to collaborate with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up to examine the scientific impact of climate change on biodiversity and provide advice for the integration of biodiversity considerations in the UNFCC. The CBD COP 10 in Nagoya (Japan) further expanded the scope of cooperation. It requested the secretariat to develop joint activities with other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), especially in the areas of marine and coastal biodiversity, protected areas and biodiversity and climate change. The COP also noted the importance of biodiversity in inland water ecosystems, recognizing the important work on wetlands of the Ramsar Convention in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Later, the Ramsar Convention was included in the joint liaison group meetings among the Rio Conventions (biodiversity, desertification, climate change) to further cooperate on joint actions and operations on climate change issues. The joint action presupposed institutional coordination not only at the international level but at the regional and national levels as well. Meaning, there should be synergy at the domestic level in regard to the objectives of CBD and the Ramsar Convention, and the actions they require to be addressed including climate change concerns. Such collaboration, cooperation, coordination and synergy between the Ramsar Convention and the CBD were extended to other related MEAs — Desertification Convention, Convention on Migratory Species, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, as well as NGOs, which can provide a link between and among conventions. A Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to, among others, reduce pollution from all sources to levels that are not harmful to biodiversity and ecosystem functions and human health is on the way to formal adoption. To think that the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had confirmed that the world faces an unprecedented global hunger crisis. There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022. And 2023 could be worse. Expanding connectivity The Conference of the Parties of multilateral environmental agreements on wetlands and biodiversity so far held during the last two decades of the 21st century pointed at expanding their close connectivity with the leading environmental problem at hand — climate change. The UNFCC is just one MEA whose program of work on mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change does not substantially address wetlands conservation and biodiversity concerns. But, on the other hand, the CBD and the Ramsar Convention have important roles in addressing climate change. They should continue to capitalize on linkages between their already existing programs and climate change concerns in order to raise their political standing. The two conventions must continue developing and implementing policies that promote their objectives without aggravating the causes and effects of climate change. There is much that the Ramsar Convention and the CBD can do to create more synergies with each other and these could include activities such as establishing corridors to help species migration, encouraging more planting of drought resistant crops and restoring degraded habitats. If governments were to seriously acknowledge their responsibilities and bring with them the general public, including the business sector (as corporate social responsibility), it would be a big boost to successful governance of wetlands and biodiversity as they relate to the serious climate change problem confronting Asia and the rest of the world.