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Ramsar at 50: A Conversation with Martha Rojas Urrego

18 October, 2021 | 10:00 EDT.

Watch the recording here.

Anniversaries offer opportunities to reflect on the past and imagine the future. In 2022, the United Nations Environment Programme turns fifty and has a chance to reimagine itself. Created to catalyze environmental work within the United Nations and beyond, how has UNEP done? What are the new challenges and what should it do differently? Who can cause that change, and how can they do so?

To explore the questions over the year that commemorates UNEP’s 50th anniversary, the Center for Governance and Sustainability at UMass Boston convenes a series of conversations with leaders around the world who have shaped UNEP’s history. Guests will engage with the new book by Center Director Prof. Maria Ivanova, “The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty.”

For our fourth dialogue, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Martha Rojas Urrego, joined Professor Ivanova to continue exploring the untold stories of environmental governance and reimagine environmental multilateralism on Ramsar at 50.

Prior to her role as the Secretary General, Rojas Urrego served as the Executive Director of National Parks of Colombia; she worked for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and later became the Head of Global Advocacy of CARE International, where she worked with local communities on fighting poverty, providing development and humanitarian aid.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is the oldest intergovernmental agreement, which is celebrating its 50 year anniversary this year. Rojas Urrego talked about the origins and the history of the creation of “networks of protective areas and the concept of ‘wise use’”. These concepts had a big influence on the future development of global environmental political treaties.

She also spoke about the impact of the Convention at the country/member-state level: “Of course, it [having Ramsar sites] is a commitment by the governments...but...the establishment of the Ramsar site creates awareness, creates commitment, creates ways of looking for solutions when there are threats that allow and help the government in protecting these ecosystems."

The dynamic discussion also included live Q&A; some of the questions that participants asked were about the “pioneer birdwatchers” who established this Convention; the difference between wetlands and Ramsar site wetlands (and its benefits); as well as what role there might be for non-governmental actors, and how civil society can participate in constructing more effective regimes.

The Center for Governance and Sustainability was honored to launch the inaugural conversation for the UNEP at 50 Dialogue Series with Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of UNEP, earlier on 7 May, 2021.

For the second dialogue on 3 June, 2021, Dr. Maria Ivanova was joined by the Administrator of UNDP and former Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, to discuss the interconnectedness of environment and development and the future of the two organizations.

For the third discussion, on 29 September, 2021, we had the honor to host the Vice President and Regional Director for Africa at the World Resources Institute, Wanjira Mathai, to discuss environmental activism and leadership outside of the UN system.

Please join us on December 2, 2021, for Maria Ivanova’s next conversation about the Elephant Protection Initiative with John Scanlon, the former Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well the former Principal Advisor on Policy and Programme at UNEP.

Watch the Dialogue Here

Register for the next conversation with John Scanlon. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook #UNEP50 #DialogueSeries #UntoldStory

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