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International Environment Law


Prepare a 1,200 word critical analysis that explores and identifies the issues and evidence underpinning the following:

-The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (1971)





Introduction and Scope

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (the “Convention”) is an international pact which got materialized in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 with the aim of conserving and safeguarding wetlands and their related habitats. It was the first worldwide treaty that intended to safeguard a particular type of habitat across the globe and reflected a swing in worldwide efforts from safeguarding specific species to safeguarding habitats instead.[1] The treaty has been ratified by over 170 countries, making it one of the most extensively adopted environmental conventions globally. It also happens to be the first arrangement which sought to foster the idea of “wise use” which in present times, we refer to as “sustainable use,” to specific ecology.’[2] There are four main obligations that contracting members need to accept to in the treaty. These are that each member country shall observe the following:

  • Select at least one wetland with the standards to a global stature;[3]
  • Strategize for the prudent usage and preservation of selected wetlands;[4]
  • Create reserves to encourage the preservation of wetlands and waterfowl;[5]
  • Encourage education and training with regards to in wetlands and investment in research and development.[6]


Evolution of the Convention

The Convention has evolved significantly since its inception in 1971 and coming into force in 1975. It has been successful in promoting the preservation and prudent use of wetlands worldwide through a range of approaches, including the designation of wetlands of global stature, the development of national policies and strategies, and the promotion of research, education, and awareness in public.

[1] Philippe Sands et al, Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, 3rd ed, 2012) 3.

[2] Mario P Comino, ‘The Ramsar Convention in Australia – Improving the Implementation Framework’ (1997) 14(2) Environmental and Planning Law Journal 89.

[3] Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, opened for signature 2 February 1971, 996 UNTS 245 (entered into force 21 December 1975) art 2.

[4] Ibid art 3.

[5] Ibid art 4.

[6] Ibid art 5.


The Convention has been nothing short of a hit show as this treaty has led to the designation of over 2,300 Ramsar Sites worldwide, amassing an area of over 254 million hectares thus being successful in promoting the development of national policies and strategies for wetland conservation, with many countries adopting policies and strategies that incorporate the principles of the Convention.[7] Finally, the Convention has helped to raise awareness of the importance of wetlands through its emphasis on study, education as well as public consciousness.[8]


Foundational Principles Of International Law

The Convention is based on several foundational principles of international environmental law, including:

Sovereignty: The Convention recognizes the sovereignty of each nation over its own wetlands, but also emphasizes the need for international cooperation to conserve wetland ecosystems that transcend national boundaries.[9]

Sustainable Use: The Convention promotes sustainable usage of wetlands, which involves balancing economic, social, and environmental benefits derived from these ecosystems in a way that ensures their long-term health and productivity.[10]

Precautionary Principle: The Convention applies the precautionary principle, which requires taking action to prevent harm to the environment even in the face of scientific uncertainty.[11]

Participation and Equity: The Convention emphasizes the importance of participation and equity in wetland management, which involves involving all stakeholders in policymaking processes and making sure that the benefits and costs of wetland use are fairly distributed.[12]

Ecosystem Approach: The Convention takes an ecosystem approach to wetland conservation, which means considering wetlands as complex systems that are interconnected with other ecosystems and the broader environment. This approach recognizes the importance of preserving the ecological processes and functions of wetlands, rather than just protecting individual species or habitats, on which this Convention is based upon.[13]

Overall, the Convention provides a framework for international cooperation and coordination to protect and conserve wetland ecosystems, which are critical for biodiversity, climate regulation, water purification, and human well-being.

[7] Finlayson, C.M., Davidson, N.C., Spiers, A.G., Stevenson, N.J., and Taei, S. ‘The Ramsar Convention and wetlands: Past achievements and future challenges’ (2019) 29(2) Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 165-186.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, opened for signature 2 February 1971, 996 UNTS 245 (entered into force 21 December 1975).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.


The Australian Context

While the ratification of a convention or a treaty by Australia may create an upsurge to a genuine belief that the government shall act in affirmation with the standards of that particular convention, however, any international obligation including a treaty or convention in Australia becomes a part of it only when it has been enacted into the legislation with the necessary changes made suited to the country’s requirements.[14]


Be that as it may, the treaty has already been validated and taken into form in the Australian system of laws and is regulated by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999[15] (the “EPBC”). EPBC creates and ensures a ground for managing and regulating wetlands in accordance with the formation of the Australian Ramsar management principles.[16]


In addition to this, the EPBC is also reinforced by state legislation and guidelines. The reference and adaptation of the same could be found in state laws like as the Native Vegetation Act 2003[17] (the “NVA”) and the Wetlands Policy 2010.[18] In the matter of Director General of the Department of Environment and Climate Change v Hudson, the Hon’ble Court of NSW affirmed that the NVA was in consonance with EPBC.[19]


Critical Analysis Of The Convention

The Convention has certainly had a positive stimulus on wetland preservation and management, and has also been pivotal in raising worldwide awareness on the importance of wetlands. It has also been a key factor in facilitating the exchange of information and best practices among member parties and has provided a regulatory framework for global cooperation on wetland issues.


One of the strengths of the Convention is its recognition of the interconnectedness of wetlands with other ecosystems and their importance to human well-being. The Convention also emphasizes the need for a balanced approach to preservation and sustainable usage of wetlands, considering the economic, social, and cultural values associated[20] with them. This approach acknowledges that wetlands are not just important for their ecological value but also for the benefits they provide to neighbouring areas such as food, water, and sustenance.


However, the effectiveness of treaty has been criticized in some quarters for various reasons. One of the main criticisms is that the Convention lacks adequate enforcement mechanisms and relies heavily on voluntary compliance by member states. This has led to some member states failing to fully implement the Convention's provisions, resulting in continued degradation of wetland ecosystems.

[14] D E Fisher, ‘The Impact of International Law upon the Australian Environmental Legal System’ (1999) 16(5) Environmental and Planning Law Journal 371, 379; Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs v Teoh (1995) 128 ALR 353, 361-5.

[15] Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

[16] Department of the Environment (Cth), Australian Ramsar Management Principles http://www.environment.gov.au/water/ wetlands/managing/australian-ramsar-management-principles.

[17] Native Vegetation Act 2003 (NSW).

[18] Department of the Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW), NSW Wetlands Policy (March 2010) http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/water/10039wetlandspolicy.pdf.

[19] [2009] 4 NSWLEC 61.

[20] Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, opened for signature 2 February 1971, 996 UNTS 245 (entered into force 21 December 1975).

Another criticism of the Convention is that it does not address some of the root causes of wetland degradation, such as unsustainable agriculture and urbanization. While the Convention does encourage member states to address these issues, it lacks the teeth to enforce such actions.


Furthermore, the Convention does not provide clear guidance on the definition of wetlands, which has led to some confusion among member states on what constitutes a wetland and what activities are allowed in wetlands.



In conclusion, the Convention represents an important international agreement for the protection of wetlands. Its strengths lie in its recognition of the interconnectedness of wetlands with other ecosystems and their importance to human well-being. The Convention also emphasizes the need for a balanced approach to the preservation and sustainable usage of wetlands.


However, despite reaching these significant feats, wetlands continue to be threatened by humankind with activities such as urbanization, agricultural expansion, pollution, and climate change. Therefore, it is crucial to fortify the application of the Convention and increase efforts to preserve and sustainably manage wetlands, both at the national and global scales. Moreover, since the effectiveness of Convention gets restricted by its lack of enforcement mechanisms and failure to address some of the underlying causes of wetland degradation, the Convention in order to counter this weakness, needs to provide clearer guidance on wetland definition and incorporate more stringent enforcement mechanisms to ensure member states comply with its provisions.

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