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IN SEARCH OF A PLAN OF ACTION
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A National Wetland Policy is understood to be nationwide in scope but it may be developed simultaneously or in sequence at several levels of government. In Australia and Canada, for example, both the fede- ral government and component state (or provincial) governments have developed wet land conservation policies. This reflects the federal nature of these two nations, wherein constitutional authority for natural resources management...is divided between levels of government.

In some nations, policy can be formally adopted by an appropriate process by the national government at a level...which can commit all relevant arms of government to its implementation. In federal states with shared constitutional jurisdictions, this may not be the case. A federal government may express its commitment to wetland conservation through a federal policy. Such a policy would, however, only apply to federal authorities and areas of federal control. The extent to which it was applied, as opposed to setting a good example or non-binding guidance for sub-national jurisdictions ...would depend on the circumstances of each nation.

A National Wetland Policy will function as a framework that enables clear conclusions to be drawn about what actions are required (but does not in itself set out detailed prescriptions for actions) and what end result is expected. It must be clear about how things would be different if the policy did not exist — and thus demonstrate its own net added value...Depth is not critical but it must be complete in its coverage of key policy issues which affect wetlands (so breadth is critical), even if the jurisdiction of some of these lies outside the originating agency. These include jurisdictional authority for natural resources management such as water resources, development planning, pollution control, education and foreign relations...

A paper on the status of wetland policies in Ramsar Contracting Parties was presented at COP6. The paper was organized by the seven Ramsar Regions that existed at that time, incorporating 92 nations. The Convention now (April 1999) has 114 contracting parties.

The paper separated reporting on development of standalone “wetland policies” from “wetland strategies and plans” based on the terminology used in national reports by contracting parties. The paper felt this was an important distinction based on national experience that a separate “policy” is more often an expression of government commitment with clearly defined goals, timetable, budgets and structure to proceed with implementation. On the other hand...“plans and strategies” refer more frequently to a longer term process without immediate commitment to proceed and a less defined set of goals.

It is recognized that in many cases there can be considerable overlap in how these terms are used by different organizations and national governments. Hence, the analysis presented here must be tempered with the knowledge that the decision as to what national wetland initiatives are listed as “policy” versus “strategy/plan” is as imprecise as the sources of information used to gather the numbers...

Rubec’s paper was based on the information derived from regional reports prepared for the 1995 meeting of the Ramsar Convention standing committee...It has been updated with information in the national reports submitted for COP7 of the Convention in Costa Rica in May 1999...

As of April 1999, a total of 44 of the 114 Ramsar contracting parties indicated they were engaged in development or implementation of a National Wetland Policy. The majority (39) of these nations also reported they were developing a parallel national wetland action plan or strategy through other mechanisms or as a standalone document in addition to the National Wetland Policy. These initiatives were distributed across the seven Ramsar Regions. Only 12 Ramsar contracting parties reported that such a policy had been adopted by the government. An additional six contracting parties indicated that a National Wetland Policy was in draft form, and 26 reported that development of such a policy was under consideration or proposed. Several nations... that were not yet Ramsar Contracting Parties, were also developing National Wetland Programmes.

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