World Wetlands Day, marked on February 2, did not attract a lot of attention this year (alas, it rarely does). No TV headlines, no political rhetoric, no riots. Only a few conservationists produced posters and pins to commemorate one of the days dedicated to environmental issues.
The current environmental and water agenda is filled with discussions on post-Rio+20 development goals, climate change, and the water-food-energy nexus. Lost in all this is a very natural phenomenon: wetlands take care of water. Wetlands can regulate water quantity, increase resilience to storms in deltas and coastal areas, and contribute to flood regulation. It’s simple: wetlands are an important actor in climate change adaptation!
So why is there so much ignorance when decisions are taken about new urban infrastructure, new irrigation schemes, new industrial parks or new golf resorts? Loss and degradation of wetlands of all kinds continue to accelerate worldwide in spite of the fact that the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was signed (one of the oldest international conventions) in 1971 – more than 40 years ago. As of today, 164 countries are parties to the Convention.
“Get the solutions flowing!” was the theme for this year’s World Wetlands Day, organized by Wetlands International together with the City of Rotterdam and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). It was appropriate that the conference, held in Rotterdam on January 31, 2012, to mark World Wetlands Day, was opened by Wim Kuijken, the Delta Commissioner of the world’s the largest delta program. The Dutch Delta Program was the response to the deadly flood of 1953 and it is ongoing investment program. In 2010, a new long term delta program was endorsed with two basic goals: (1) make the Netherlands safe from flooding and (2) provide sufficient water supply to its citizens and the environment.
The Dutch can be justly proud of a program that combines large structural and engineering measures with ecological preservation. “Building with nature” is their manifesto: keep environmental values in harmony with economic growth. The city of Rotterdam showed off its environmental face—the programs, supported by the City Council, called Climate Buffer or Floating Buildings, are at the top of the agenda for city planners. These programs were presented by the vice-mayor of Rotterdam, Alexandra van Huffelen.
Sixty-five people came to Rotterdam and all of them were involved in discussing the tools and approaches that could be used to influence policy, raise awareness, and to stimulate actions for wetlands preservation. The conference organizers dared to bring together an unusual combination of debaters: business leaders, government officials, researchers, journalists, and ecologists. This kind of partnership is essential if we are ‘to get the solutions flowing.’
I represented Global Water Partnership on a panel to argue that building capacity and sharing knowledge is essential to taking action. The panel concluded that there are numerous knowledge products already available, that it is not so much an issue of producing new information, but getting the existing information into the right format (easily digestible). One excellent suggestion made to bring ecosystem services values into decision making is to create working relationships among private companies (who know about customers and profits), researchers and ecologists (who know about ecosystem preservation) and politicians and journalists (who know about public opinion).
Joppe Cramwinckel of the WBCSD said that businesses have clear procedures for investments: assess, plan, take action, and evaluate impact. Thus, businesses need a strong signal as to where, when and how to invest. He told the ecologists that the private sector is ready to support ecosystem preservation actions where it brings tangible outcomes, rather than discussions that stay at the “we-have-a-problem” level. Businesses need to see the economic arguments for investments.
Ms. Jane Madgwick, Executive Secretary of Wetlands International, said that the environmental role in water management was lost and that water is perceived as a product for life, food, and energy. So there is a need to remind water managers where water engineering technologies come from: wetlands are natural water treatment plants, natural water reservoirs in times of drought and natural flood protection in times of heavy rains. She concluded the conference with the launch of a year-long Wetlands for Water and Life campaign which aims to bring natural water infrastructure into a more central role in development and business solutions. The campaign is now open for all here.
Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP Knowledge Management Officer, from Rotterdam, January 31, 2013