25 Years of AEWA – Statement by Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary of AEWA

It was 25 years ago that I was in the Netherlands, in Den Haag to be more precise, as a French delegate to finalize the second round of negotiation on the AEWA treaty.

There were 146 participants in all, representatives from 64 Range States plus many observers.  It was a hard week of work, with discussions in plenaries and in the corridors.  Most of us ended up exhausted despite the coffee breaks. The Netherlands hosted this formal meeting after several informal ones. I would like to pay tribute to Gerard Boere, from the Dutch Ministry (also a keen birder) for all his successful efforts. He was later nominated by the Standing Committee as honorary patron of AEWA in recognition of his dedication. Afterwards, I left waterbird conservation for other jobs including forestry, research and as a political advisor on biodiversity to the Government of France, coming back to AEWA as Executive Secretary in June 2014 much to my delight.

My purpose here is not to go over the history of AEWA - you will find it in another article published on this website - but I would like to use the 25th Anniversary as a moment to deliver a more personal view.

The AEWA treaty might appear to be complex one with the Agreement text, its legally binding Action Plan and tables with conservation status data.  But in fact, it is a modern text. Its geographical scope was established based on biological facts, the flyways used by the waterbirds, from storks to shorebirds, encompassing 119 Range States, more than half of the world’s countries. To ensure that the measures taken are relevant, the population level - and not the species level - was taken as the unit for gathering data, providing analysis of their status and acting on the ground through International Species Action Plans for the most endangered ones. Every three years, the Meeting of the Parties revises the legal status of more than 500 populations of the 255 waterbirds species to be able to react quickly to any changes to ensure better conservation and sustainable use. Its implementation is based on the best scientific knowledge and the work of a dedicated Technical Committee.

The primary objective of AEWA is to protect waterbirds all along the African-Eurasian Flyway. Progressively many tools have been developed: guidelines on many issues including renewable energy and monitoring waterbirds, to mention just two; international action plans for endangered species and more recently an Implementation Review Mechanism. The DNA of AEWA is clearly innovation and partnership, bringing together not only governmental authorities but also all stakeholders, from large NGOs to local partners. Even Range States that are not a Party to AEWA yet, are invited not only as observers to Meetings of the Parties, but also, for example, to play an active part in the implementation of the species action plans.

At the request of some Parties and following the Agreement text, AEWA is progressively developing management plans for some species, the first of them being the Pink-footed Goose in 2012, using for the first time in the African-Eurasian flyway, the concept of adaptive management. It is not a shift in the global policy of AEWA but a complementary development. We will continue to work first for the conservation of the most endangered species, but with the experience and the trust built over the years, it is now time to ensure sustainable use and to enter the era of a science-based management of huntable species, some of them still abundant but declining, some of them causing damage not only to crops but also harming habitats such as grasslands or tundra. The sooner we face up to all these issues, the better our chances will be of reaching our objectives.

From 2006 to 2010 AEWA along with a number of partners was involved in one of the largest flyway-scale projects - the Wings over Wetlands (WoW) African-Eurasian Flyways Project, which was funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). This innovative project produced several state-of-the-art tools dedicated to the implementation of AEWA: the Critical Site Network Tool and a Flyway Training Kit, which has been used for capacity-building in numerous training events across Africa and Eurasia.

AEWA is now a partner of the RESSOURCE project led by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and supported by the EU and the French FFEM to increase our knowledge of waterbirds using the large wetlands of the Sahel region, stretching from Senegal to Egypt. RESSOURCE will increase our knowledge not only of waterbird monitoring, of managing wetlands, but also - and this part is new - of the impact of waterbird use by local communities. Multi-disciplinary work is also part of the AEWA DNA. And Africa as well. The Plan of Action for Africa, adopted in 2012 and revised in 2018, provides sound guidelines for the implementation of the treaty on this continent.

The new AEWA Strategic Plan 2019-2027 details our ambitions in five targets:

  • Strengthening species conservation and recovery, and reducing causes of unnecessary mortality;
  • Ensuring that any use or management of migratory waterbird populations is sustainable across their flyways;
  • Establishing and sustaining a coherent and comprehensive flyway network of managed protected areas and other sites;
  • Ensuring sufficient quantity and quality of habitat in the wider environment, and
  • Ensuring and strengthening the knowledge, capacity, recognition, awareness and resources required for the Agreement to achieve its conservation objectives.

The AEWA Secretariat is a small team consisting of a dozen staff members, all of them dedicated and I am proud to lead them. However, nothing would be possible without the support of our Parties and partners. For the first time in 10 years, MOP7 in Durban 2018 adopted an increased budget – albeit a slight increase but a sign of hope in this period where the budgets are so constrained. This increase has already allowed us to do a little more, but I hope it is just a first step. 

The mandate given by Parties clearly requires far more resources. AEWA is a tool in the hands of its Parties. The tool is pertinent, efficient but is highly dependent, as many others, on human and financial resources. We need to increase our support to the AEWA Technical Committee to help the members deliver an ambitious programme of work. We need to replenish the AEWA Small Grant Fund to support implementing partners; we need to review the compliance of national legislation with the Agreement text and the resolutions adopted at each MOP; and we need to increase the support to the Plan of Action of Africa. Some generous donors add to their annual contribution a voluntary one which supports projects which make all the difference. I would like to deeply thank them all and hope to see the list of donors growing. 

The first 25 years of existence were exciting; let us all work together do more during the next 25 years! All Range States not yet a Party are welcome to join this collaborative effort to support waterbird conservation along the African-Eurasian Flyway.

Last updated on 19 June 2020