06 Dec 2016 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

The Future of Wetlands

According to Ramsar Convention  between 1997 and 2011 the economic losses due to changes in tidal marshes and mangroves were in the region of US$ 7.2 trillion per year, while changes in swamps and floodplains accounted for US$ 2.7 trillion losses of ecosystem services per year.

At the 13th meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Environment Chief Erik Solheim met with Ramsar Convention Secretary-General, Martha Rojas-Urrego. The two chiefs committed to a series of actions designed to support parties to the Ramsar Convention do more to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands. These commitments include improving access to information about the status and condition of wetlands, improving cooperation across biodiversity conventions, and working together to further advance shared goals and objectives.

Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, talked about the complexity of the agricultural systems that allowed the Mayan of the Yucatan Peninsula to thrive as far back as 1000 BC. He described the Mayan’s environment as tough, with recurring droughts and rising sea levels, leaving them to farm rough and rocky terrain intermixed with vast swamps and wetlands.

“Most Maya monumental sites in Yucatan region occupy escarpment edges next to wetlands that are either perennially or seasonally wet. Researchers have found that the Maya coped with tough environmental conditions by developing ingenious methods to grow crops in wetland areas,” said Solheim.

“Today, we are almost as dependent on wetlands as the Maya were thousands of years ago, and possibly even more so due to climate change. UN Environment is committed to working with the Ramsar Convention do more for this most critical of natural resources, and one that works so hard for the well-being of mankind.”

Martha Rojas-Urrego, Secretary-General of Ramsar Convention stressed how critical it was to have reliable data on the state of wetlands and how information sharing across conventions and with UN Environment was so important,  with InforMEA now serving as the principal knowledge management tool for multilateral environmental agreements.

Ileana Lopez of UN Environment who moderated the session, reminded participants that rice grown in wetland paddies is the staple diet for nearly three billion people and that most of the water we collect and use today comes from wetlands. She said we must preserve our wetlands for the sake of millions of the world’s most vulnerable people as well as for the whole of humanity.

The Memorandum of Understanding between Ramsar Secretariat and UN Environment aims to provide a framework of cooperation and understanding, and to facilitate collaboration between the two institutions and further their shared goals and objectives

The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, also known as the Convention on Wetlands, working in collaboration with UN Environment. The purpose of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ramsar Convention and UN Environment is to provide a framework of cooperation and understanding, aiming to facilitate collaboration between the Parties to further their shared goals and objectives. This is in regard to the support of data, shared ambitions, and use of technology in order to promote sustainable development benefits conferred by all types of wetlands.

To learn more about multilateral environment agreements please visit the InforMEA site:

To learn more about UN Environment’s work on Environmental Governance please visit:

For more information please contact niamh.brannigan [at] unep.org