Implementation of Changwon Declaration in Korea?

South Korean Wetland NGOs sent a letter to the government of S. Korea asking if the government is implementing the Changwon Declaration which  was proposed by the Korean government and adopted at the Ramsar COP10 in 2008 in Changwon, S. Korea.

Inquiry to the Republic of Korea Government
regarding the implementation of
'The Changwon Declaration on Human Well-being and Wetlands', Resolutions X.3 of the Ramsar 10th Conference of the Parties

In a speech during the opening ceremony of Ramsar COP 10 held in Changwon, Korea, from October 28 to November 4 last year, President Lee Myung-bak declared that "The Korean government will make South Korea an exemplary member of the Ramsar convention, as we continuously increase Wetlands Protection Area and Ramsar site."

The Conference of the Contracting Parties showed its thanks and appreciation to the Republic of Korea for its "efficient, comprehensive and thorough preparations which ensured the smooth running of the COP and all its associated events" and it also expressed "its gratitude to His Excellency Lee Myung-bak, President of the Republic of Korea for his outstanding commitment to and support for wetland conservation" through Ramsar COP 10 Resolution X.32.

The government of the Republic of Korea was complimented "for its initiative in preparing the Resolution X.3 'The Changwon Declaration on Human Well-being and Wetlands' to provide an agenda for future action on wetlands for the people of the world" and was welcomed in particular "for its plan to inaugurate the Ramsar Regional Centre for East Asia to enhance implementation of the Ramsar Convention" through Ramsar COP10 Resolution X.32.13.

The Main Contents and Meanings of the Changwon Declaration

1. The Changwon Declaration recognizes that "efforts need to be redoubled to halt and reverse present declines of wetlands regarding the vital contribution of wetlands to human well-being, livelihoods and human health, as well as to biodiversity". It also recognizes "the urgent need for governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society to understand more fully the roles they can and should play in securing the future health of wetlands and the maintenance of their ecological character". It emphasizes "the importance of collaboration and partnerships between governments and local communities for the conservation and wise use of wetlands", and highlighted "the shared responsibility of both governments and local communities in the implementation of the Ramsar Convention".

2. It strongly urges "the Contracting Parties and other governments to encourage their heads of state, parliaments, private sector, civil society and all government sectors and agencies responsible for activities affecting wetlands, especially in order to respond to the call for wetlands embodied in the Declaration." It expresses its special gratitude to "the government of Korea for declared intention to champion the dissemination and uptake of this Declaration in future."

3. The Chanagwon Declaration states that "Declarations have been issued from many international environmental conferences. It aims not to cover "standard" ground, but to add value by being directed primarily to audiences beyond the Ramsar Convention itself, and to opportunities for action, offering positive, practical action steps, and defining the ways in which the Declaration’s impact will be assured." It even "instructs the Ramsar Secretariat to consolidate, as necessary, into this Resolution any text language adopted by this Conference of Parties, so as to achieve consistency of terminologies."

4. The Changwon Declaration shows that the degradation and loss of wetlands in turn negatively affects food production, human health, and economic development, and it can increase societal conflict. Also, instead of being demand-driven, which promotes over-allocation of water, we need to recognize that there is often not enough water to meet our direct human needs and to maintain the wetlands we need. Environmental flows, placing upper limits on water allocations (water ‘caps’), and new water management legislation, must be strengthened. In order to close this “water gap”, we need to use our available water more efficiently, stop our wetlands from becoming degraded or lost, and restore our wetlands that are already degraded.

5. It shows that destruction and damage of wetlands contributes to climate changes. The effects of climate changes, such as floods, droughts, and famine, weaken human beings. In order to cope with climate changes, it is necessary to restore wetlands, maintain waters' hydrological circulation, and intelligently use and preserve wetlands.

Not only was the Changwon Declaration proposed and adopted for this purpose, a plan was submitted regarding how to use the Resolution in the future and the Korean government even received special thanks for its initiative in preparing the declaration. The government must set the example for practicing "conservation and wise use of all wetlands not only the local and national levels, but also the international level through international cooperation."

Questions Regarding the Korean Government's Implementation of the Changwon Declaration.

The Korea Wetlands NGO Network Preparation Committee welcomes the First Meeting of Changwon Declaration Implementation Network that will be held in Changwon, the site of the Ramsar Convention 10th Conference of the Parties, on November 18th and 19th, which will be attended by Dr. Nick Davidson, Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, members of the standing committee, international wetland experts, officials from the Korean Ministry of Environment and others. We hope that, through this meeting, there will be close reviews on how the Changwon Declaration has been being implemented in Korea, which is one of the most important results of the Ramsar COP10.

In addition, we ask Korean government to provide sincere answers to the following questions regarding how well the various development projects being carried out by the government, including the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, are keeping the spirit of the Changwon Declaration, and what the government is doing to implement the Declaration.

Question 1) 4 Major Rivers Restoration Project

According to the master plan of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, it is to secure 1.3 billion cubic meters of additional water for the future water shortage, to build more than 16 new dams on the mainstreams of the four rivers and 5 new dams on their tributaries, to reinforce 377km of riverbanks and to dredge 570 million cubic meters of sediments for the flood control due to climate changes.

Dam constructions and extensive dredging works will cause to remove river shallows, sand bars and riparian wetlands. Dozens of endemic freshwater fish species in the country will be threatened by blockage of free flow of river water and maintenance of the 4-6m deep water which lead to changes in character of freshwater habitats.

Many important riparian wetlands along the rivers, which are important habitats for diverse forms of life including internationally endangered bird species, such as White-naped Cranes Grus vipio, using riparian wetlands for staging sites during their migration are predicted to be degraded.

We would like to ask Korean government whether this project is indeed "efforts to halt and reverse the degradation and loss of wetlands" and a work "in securing the future health of wetlands and the maintenance of their ecological character".

Question 2. Please define how well the various development projects below meet the spirit of the Changwon Declaration.

1) Saemangeum reclamation project

Saemangeum reclamation project is "the world's largest reclamation project". The original purpose of the project was to create land for agriculture. However, its original plan of agricultural use has flipped to be only 30% into agricultural use and the rest into either industrial or other purposes.

Reclamations of tidal flats have great negative impacts on ecosystems. From the results of Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP) through 2006 and 2008 by Australian Wader Studies Group and Birds Korea, the number of shorebirds recorded in Saemangeum areas has been greatly decreased more than 70% in two years. Due to the loss of the tidal flats as the single most important shorebird staging area, likewise, the world population of Great Knot has been known to drop down about 20%, which caused big concern from international society.

Please answer whether this Saemangeum reclamation project meet the contents of the Changwon Declaration which urges that "decision-making should, wherever possible, give priority to safeguarding naturally-functioning wetlands" according to 'land use change, biodiversity and wetlands' and "more actions are required to address the root causes of the loss of biodiversity and to reverse these losses."

2) Construction of New International Airport, Eomgung Bridge, and the 2nd Nakdong River Estuarine Barrage as an addition to the Nakdong River Estuary.

The Nakdong River Estuary is one the most important wetlands in Korea in terms of overall wetland characters such as its species diversity and abundance of species.

However, the government of Korea is conducting the feasibility study on construction of the New International Airport which will have a direct impact on the estuary.

Moreover, the Busan city government is planning to build a new bridge dividing a riverside which plays a crucial role as a feeding ground for winter migratory birds in the Nakdong river estuary.

Also, as a part of the Four Major Rivers Project, construction of the 2nd estuarine barrage is scheduled to take place in the western Eulsukdo on the Nakdong river. Along with that, dredging and bank protection works will follow at the upper and lower parts of the river barrage. These ongoing construction plans will cause serious damage to functions as wintering sites for migratory birds and an ecological character of the Nakdong river estuary which are protected as a Wetland Protection Area.

3) Incheon Bay and Ganghwa, Garorim Bay Tidal Power Plants Projects.

The mega tidal power plants will be built in the largest and internationally important tidal flats of Ganghwa Island which overlaps with protected Natural Monument and in Jangbongdo (Jangbong Island) tidal flat, a Wetland Protection Area.

This project will have a significant negative impact on feeding, breeding and staging sites for shorebirds as well as an endangered migratory waterbird, the Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor.

According to a research by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of South Korea in 2005, the tidal flats of Garorim Bay are the most well conserved tidal flats in the country. And according to a research commissioned by the same ministry in 2007, the bay's environmental values were rated as the highest among all the coastal areas of the country.

The bay is one of only two habitats of the Spotted Seal Phoca largha in South Korea. This species, which is protected under Endangered Species Category Ⅱ designated by the Ministry of Environment of Korea, is also under threat by the proposed Garorim Bay Tidal Power Project.

4) Construction of Gyeongin Canal and Development Plan of Han River Estuary

Unlike other major river estuaries in Korea, there is no estuarine barrage at the Han River Estuary. The natural scenery, animals, and plants have been well preserved in its brackish water zone where freshwater meets oceanic water.

But in order for large ships to sail on the lower Han river, Sin-gok submerged weir is to be moved about 14km lower on the river in conjunction with Gyeongin Canal, Han River Renaissance of Seoul City and 6 Projects Linking the Han River of Gyeonggi Province. Massive dredging operations are planned as well. In this case, ecosystem in the brackish water zone on the lower Han river will be mostly desalinized. The Janghang and Sannam Wetlands, which are core areas in the Han River Estuary Wetland Protection Area and wintering sites for waterbirds including internationally endangered bird species such as White-naped Crane Grus vipio, Swan Goose Anser cygnoides, and Bean Goose Anser fabalis will be flooded and ecological character of the estuary will be greatly degraded.

5) Reclamation of Songdo Tidal Flat

7.16 square kilometers of tidal flat reclamation at Songdo Zone 11, the last remaining tidal flat on the Incheon City's mainland part, was approved in last March for the expansion of Incheon Free Economic Zone.

Sondo tidal flat is annually visited by about 40,000 waterbirds and used by 178 species of birds such as Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor, Relict Gull Larus relictus, and Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi, which can meet the criteria to be a wetland of international importance. Last summer, 9 pairs of Black-faced spoonbills bred at a small rock island in the Namdong detention pond and found food at the Songdo tidal flat.

6) Jeju Naval Base Construction in Gangjeong Village.

The soft coral areas off coast the Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island, which is protected as a Natural Monument and is included in the Buffer Zone of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, are under threat by a project to build a new naval base. In order to build the base, important part of the coastal wetland is scheduled to be reclaimed. Therefore, it will have a negative impact on the coastal ecosystems of Gangjeong Village.

 7) Rice Paddies and biodiversity

Though the governments of South Korea and Japan jointly proposed Resolution X.31 'Enhancing biodiversity in rice paddies as wetland systems' which encouraged the "Contracting Parties to promote research on flora, fauna and ecological functions in rice paddies and on the cultures that have evolved within rice-farming communities that have maintained the ecological value of rice paddies as wetland systems" and invited "Contracting Parties to consider offering recognition and/or protection to such sites through, for example, their designation as Wetlands of international Importance". We would like to hear what kind of efforts the government of Korea have given to implement the resolution.

November 18, 2009

Kim Duck-sung, Chairperson
Korea Wetlands NGO Network Preparation Committee

Contact: Park Chung-Rok, Co-Representative of Wetlands and Birds Korea (011-9906-6314, greennd@hanmail.net)

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