Wetlands and the Role of Geneva
Last updated: 02 Feb 2023
Wetlands are essential for human lives and biodiversity. As a global hub for environment governance and the host region of the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, Geneva is key place to protect wetlands and reverse the trend of global loss of wetlands.
Importance of Wetlands
Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands that includes both freshwater and marine and coastal ecosystems such as all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fishponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and saltpans. They are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems, providing essential services and supplying all our freshwater.
Loss of Wetlands
Nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s. According to the Global Wetland Outlook, we lose wetlands three times faster than natural forests. Yet, these ecosystems are critically important as they contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, world economies and more.
The significance of wetland biodiversity was stressed recently in the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The report identified wetlands as the most threatened ecosystem, impacting 40% of the world’s plant and animal species that live or breed in wetlands. It is worrying that they are disappearing fast due to human activities and climate change. Therefore, the conservation of wetlands is a vital task of humanity, which can help achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
It is urgent that we raise national and global awareness about wetlands in order to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them. World Wetlands Day is the ideal time to increase people’s understanding of these critically important ecosystems.
World Wetlands Day
World Wetlands Day is celebrated each year on 2 February to raise awareness about wetlands. This day also marks the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention), which was adopted as an international treaty in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. Find more information about the yearly theme and activities below:
- 2023 | It’s time for wetland restoration
- 2022 | Wetlands Action for People and Nature
- 2021 | Wetlands and Water
UN Decade on Restoration (2021-2030)
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration calls for the protection and revival of ecosystems around the world for the benefit of people and nature. It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, and restore them to achieve global goals. Only with healthy ecosystems, such as wetlands, can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.
The UN Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the UN Decade is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future. That will include building political momentum for restoration as well as thousands of initiatives on the ground.
Role of Geneva
Geneva and its surrounding area host important international organizations working on wetlands.
Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention)
The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975.
Managing wetlands is a global challenge and the Convention presently counts 172 countries as contracting parties, which recognize the value of having one international treaty dedicated to a single ecosystem.
The Convention’s mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.
Under the “three pillars” of the Convention, the contracting parties commit to:
- Work towards the wise use of all their wetlands
- Designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management
- Cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species
“Wise Use” of Wetlands under the Ramsar Convention
At the centre of the Convention’s philosophy is the “wise use” of wetlands. When contracting parties accede to the Convention, they commit to work towards the wise use of all the wetlands and water resources in their territory, through national plans, policies and legislation, management actions and public education.
The Convention defines wise use of wetlands as the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development. Wise use can thus be seen as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.
Geneva Water Hub
Water insecurity is increasingly a cause of social and political instability threatening peace and security at all levels. The Geneva Water Hub aims at better understanding and preventing water-related tensions between competing uses, between public and private actors, and between political entities and countries.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) works in support of the Ramsar Convention as one of its International Organization Partners, but also with grassroots communities and river basin agencies to implement wetland conservation as part of its water management work. IUCN also engages in water governance that integrates the needs of people and nature, the implementation of sustainable water resource management to secure water-related ecosystem services and conserve freshwater biodiversity, and support increased investment in ecosystems as natural water infrastructure. The IUCN Conservation Centre also hosts the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is a global initiative focused on making nature’s values visible. Its principal objective is to mainstream the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making at all levels. It aims to achieve this goal by following a structured approach to valuation that helps decision-makers recognize the wide range of benefits provided by ecosystems and biodiversity, demonstrate their values in economic terms and, where appropriate, capture those values in decision-making.
This report on Water and Wetlands builds on the TEEB approach to generate a better understanding of the ecosystem service values of water and wetlands and encourages improved decision making and business commitment for their conservation, investment and wise use. The primary objective of the report is to help identify major gaps and inconsistencies in current knowledge of the economics of water and wetlands, so as to inform agenda-setting for further work on the economics of water and wetlands.
United Nations Water (UN Water)
The United Nations Water (UN Water) coordinates the efforts of UN entities and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues. All freshwater ultimately depends on the continued healthy functioning of ecosystems, and recognizing the water cycle as a biophysical process is essential to achieving sustainable water management.
WWF International works to preserve wetlands around the world, with its efforts focused on the Ramsar Convention. For over 20 years, WWF has been one of the Convention’s most committed partners, supporting the designation of 110 million hectares of Ramsar sites across the world. WWF also believes it is critical to bolster the Ramsar Advisory Missions (RAMs), which help countries identify and address the wetland challenges they face. RAMs need to be strengthened, supported, given adequate resources, and utilized by countries – as well as recommended by NGOs – to help ensure the ecological character of the world’s most important wetlands are maintained so that they continue to deliver benefits to both people and nature. In addition, WWF promotes climate change adaptation to help preserve and restore wetlands to buffer weather extremes and to integrate climate change considerations into wetlands and river basin management. WWF is working with local communities to assess their vulnerabilities to climate change and to develop strategies for climate adaptation. WWF has been an International Organization Partner for the Convention since 1999.
Canton of Geneva
Geneva celebrates World Wetlands Day each year by inviting the public to discover these natural spaces. Since 1991, the canton has hosted a site protected by the Ramsar Convention, a key area for biodiversity. In order to raise awareness of the value of this site, specialists representing different organizations involved in the safeguarding and monitoring of these spaces organize a series of activities and events led by ornithologists.
Ramsar Site: Rhône and natural valleys of the Allondon and the Laire
The Ramsar Site: Rhône and natural valleys of the Allondon and the Laire contains a section of the Rhône River in Geneva and downstream, extending from the lake south-westward to the French frontier. It includes the shores of Lake Geneva and riverbanks within the city, riverside areas of the Rhône and natural valleys of the Allondon and the Laire, the Rhône’s two main tributaries in the area. The Site forms a green corridor with a varied vegetation cover and habitats such as reedbeds, grasslands subject to seasonal inundation, scrub and alluvial woodland. The Site also includes some of the last remaining relatively unmodified stretches of the Rhône in Switzerland and is one of the most important wintering sites for waterbirds in the country.
Groupe des Jeunes de Nos Oiseaux
The Groupe des Jeunes de Nos Oiseaux brings together dozens of young people (up to 25 years old) who are passionate about birds, their observation in nature and their protection.
Groupe Ornithologique du Bassin Genevois
The Groupe Ornithologique du Bassin Genevois unites the ornithologists in the Geneva region and coordinates the various conservation projects of local birds. It also lists protected wetland sites for birdwatching in the canton and its surrounding area such as Marais de Sionnet and Les Teppes de Verbois among others.
Pro Natura is the oldest nature preservation organization in Switzerland, with several protected sites with important wetlands such as the Centre Nature Vallon de l’Allondon and the Centre Nature de la Pointe à la Bise in Geneva.
Past GEN Events
Ciné Environment House | Chaos in the climate of the Sundarbans
25 January 2023 | Geneva Environment Network & Geneva Global Health Platform
- UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) & role of Geneva
- Financing Mechanisms for Freshwater Ecosystems | Ramsar Convention Secretariat | 9 December 2021
- Wetlands: Key enablers for a resilient and sustainable recovery | Ramsar Convention Secretariat | 8 July 2021
- General Assembly Proclaims World Wetlands Day | United Nations | 31 August 2021
- Guidance on Mainstreaming Gender under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands | Ramsar Convention Secretariat | 26 March 2021
- Nature Hires: How Nature-Based Solutions Can Power a Green Jobs Recovery | WWF International and International Labour Organization (ILO) | October 2020
- Coastal Wetlands Emerge as a Critical Ecosystem for a Healthy Climate | The PEW Charitable Trusts | 1 September 2020
- Wetlands: Ultimate Biodiversity Hotspot | IUCN | 30 January 2020
- The Relationship of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities with Wetlands | UN Water | 5 November 2018
- Multifunctional Wetlands | United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health | February 2018
- Valuing Nature’s Water Infrastructure| The Economist | 5 June 2015