Monday, February 27, 2012

Do we really need the Ramsar convention?

Today I held a lecture on the topic “International Conventions of importance for Biodiversity”. Having explained the Ramsar convention (protection of wetland), I showed how despite that a nation has signed the Ramsar convention, they can take actions that threaten wetlands in such a way that the loss can not be compensated. This resulted in a discussion about the value of the Ramsar convention. The specific case I mentioned, were a nation was clearly violating the Ramsar convention despite having signed it, was Iceland and its large expansion of hydropower, for the ever increasing number of aluminum smelters along the coast. Lake Myvatn in Iceland is a Ramsar site and it is affected by hydropower. The same is true for another Ramsar site in Iceland, Thjörsárver. Recently a large area of pristine nature in Iceland was flooded when the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant was built, and several rivers were dammed resulting in the destruction of a long series of waterfalls. By signing the Ramsar convention, Iceland has agreed to, not only protect the wetlands it has designated as Ramsar sites, but to protect its other wetlands as well.

The problem is that the Ramsar convention is not a punitive convention. On the homepage of the convention it states that the violators of the convention risks international embarrasment. It is hardly a punishment that is likely to have any effect, considering the potential profit. There is neither any embarrassment, if the violator does not share the values expressed in the Ramsar convention. So the question is. Do we need the Ramsar convention, and if so why? Clearly spreading information about the importance of wetlands is of vital importance, but is really a Dress-Up-and-Pretend-To-Be convention the best way to do this.

I don´t have any clear answer to this. I do however think that watered down declarations have very limited use for the conservation of wetlands.

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