Youth is becoming ever more important for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat – commonly referred to as the Ramsar Convention – is one of the oldest multilateral biodiversity treaties in the world. It was concluded already in 1971 and has 171 parties. These 171 parties decide which wetland areas under their jurisdiction is to be conserved.

A fundamental concept for the Ramsar Convention is the concept of ‘wise use’, which appears in article 3.1. In many other conventions, this principle is also referred to as ‘sustainable use’ or ‘sustainable utilisation’. But up until 1990, it was not entirely clear what ‘wise use’ actually entailed, so the parties adopted guidelines on the concept, which stipulated that any management measures of wetlands were to include local people and also were to take account of their requirements. A few years later, these guidelines were extended and it was called for the active and informed participation of local and indigenous people. Also the national Ramsar Committees as well as national delegations that are sent to the Conferences of the Parties are to be joined by local and indigenous delegates.

Up until this point, therefore, the participation of local and indigenous populations in managing Ramsar sites as well as in the decision-making process has become an increasingly important issue for the convention. Indigenous youth became explicitly recognised in 1999 when a resolution to establish and strengthen local communities’ and indigenous people’s participation in the management of wetlands called on those who facilitate the efforts of engage local and indigenous people also ensure the involvement of women and youth of the community.

While this resolution did not constitute implementable requirements, it nevertheless turned into a well-established initiative to engage youth in the management of wetlands. The Ramsar website even goes so far and holds a subpage on youth engagement (here). Here we find the Youth Engagement Thematic Group, which was formed as part of the 2013 Ramsar Culture Network. The Youth Engagement Group aims to 1. collate youth engagement information relating to culture and wetlands; 2. develop ‘lessons leaned’ concerning youth engagement, which is to include suggestions for integration into implementing measures of the convention; and 3. explore new and enhanced ways of engaging youth in contexts of culture and wetlands.

The first actual activities of the Youth Engagement Group occurred in 2018 at the Conference of the Parties in Dubai. Here, a side event and a workshop were hosted that aimed to discuss and develop a common vision for youth engagement in the convention. In other words, youth are becoming increasingly important as partakers in the conservation discourse of Ramsar. Here it also becomes clear that it is not only the attendance of the Conferences of the Parties, which is of importance, but rather of making youth integral to the entire conservation and implementation processes.

While indigenous youth are explicitly mentioned, this integration of youth in the conservation discourse occurs rather along lines of culture and not ethnicity. It can therefore also be any cultural link of local youth to wetlands, which determine the way youth are being considered.

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