The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Edited by Paul Martin, Li Zhiping, Qin Tianbao, Anel Du Plessis, Yves Le Bouthillier and Angela Williams
Chapter 9: The Legal Protection of Ramsar Wetlands: Australian Reforms
Alex Gardner INTRODUCTION: ENVIRONMENTAL WATER FOR WETLANDS AND WATERFOWL The Ramsar Strategic Plan 2009–2015 identifies ‘the inadequate availability of water to wetlands’ as the first of a number of key issues causing continued deterioration and loss of wetlands and their services (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 2008, para. 20). Water that sustains wetlands and their services is termed ‘environmental water’. Frequently, the inadequate flow of such water is the direct result of demands for water abstraction for human consumptive use, particularly for irrigated agriculture. Another key issue is ‘the impacts of a changing and increasingly extreme and unpredictable climate’ (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 2008, para. 20). These issues are testing Australia’s management of wetlands of international importance that it is obliged to protect under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat (1971). Some of the Australian Ramsar listed wetlands are also the habitat of migratory birds that are to be protected under bilateral international legal obligations, such as the China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA 1988). Australia faces huge challenges in implementing these international obligations because of a dramatic decline in the flow of environmental water to a number of wetlands, as was recently acknowledged by the Australian Government (Australian Government, 2008, p. 15). The scale of those challenges is well illustrated by the critical situation facing the ‘Lower Lakes’ of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). The MDB features an extensive network of inland river, wetland and groundwater systems that range over four states and one territory...
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