AEWA - A Short History

A significant date in the development of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is 16 June 1995 – twenty-five years ago – when negotiators representing 54 governments signed the ‘Final Act’.  The rest is – as they say – history …

In the early days of the Convention on Migratory Species, the IUCN proposed a regional agreement covering a range of species across the Western Palearctic.  At the same time, several other initiatives were under way in the field of wildlife conservation, such as in 1979 the EU Birds Directive and the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention.  At CMS COP1 (Bonn, 1985) a working group was established on ducks and geese, and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries (LNV) undertook to take the discussions forward.  

At CMS COP2 (Geneva, 1988) the first steps were taken towards establishing what was then being called the Western Palearctic Waterfowl Agreement (WPWA).  Article 4 of CMS had already paved the way for the development of EUROBATS (Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats) and ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas).  As a result, CMS was considered a more suitable vehicle than Article 5 of the Ramsar Convention for bringing together all the stakeholders across flyway spanning two whole continents.  Therefore, Ramsar COP4 (Montreux, 1990) adopted a recommendation supporting the WPWA and encouraging similar initiatives for other flyways.  

During the early stages of the negotiations proposals for a separate instrument dedicated to the White Stork were subsumed within the broader draft agreement and several alternative names for the treaty were considered with the current title - Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) - eventually being adopted.  

An informal negotiation meeting was convened in conjunction with CMS COP4 in Nairobi.  The formal negotiation meeting, which was held in The Hague was attended by representatives from 64 out of the 119 Range States, one regional economic integration organization and a number of observer organizations.  The “Final Act” was signed on 16 June 1995 by representatives of 54 governments. 

AEWA therefore celebrates 25 years of existence and as of 16 June 2020 counts 38 Contracting Parties from Africa and 42 from Eurasia – a total of 80, including one regional economic integration organization - the European Union.  As the Dutch Government had taken the lead in the negotiation process and had hosted the meeting in The Hague, the Netherlands became the Agreement’s ‘depositary’.  The treaty text entered into force on 1 November 1999 after the required seven signatures from each of the two regions – Africa and Eurasia – had been obtained. The CMS Family was able to welcome a new member!

A significant step forward in the implementation of the Agreement was the adoption of a Strategic Plan to guide and coordinate Parties’ efforts in migratory waterbird conservation across flyways.  The first version adopted by Resolution 4.7 covered the period 2009-2017 and was later extended to 2018 by Resolution 6.14.  The current AEWA Strategic Plan covers the period 2019-2027 and was adopted at the 7th Session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP7), in Durban, South Africa, in 2018.  

The AEWA Strategic Plan 2019-2027 sets a number of ambitious targets. These relate to:

  • 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 Plan of Action for Africa (PoAA) 2019-2027, also adopted by AEWA MOP7, is the operational guideline for the implementation of the AEWA Strategic Plan in the African region. Following a consultative process, the initial plan was adopted at the 5th Session of the Meeting of the Parties and covered the period of 2012 to 2017, later extended to 2018 by Resolution 6.14.  The AEWA PoAA 2019-2027 identifies a range of concrete actions and processes to be conducted at the national or international level and designed to help translate the objectives and targets of the AEWA Strategic Plan into tangible results on the ground.

What is AEWA:

Developed under the framework of the article 4 of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds.  

The Agreement covers 255 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle.  All AEWA species cross international boundaries during their migrations and require good quality habitat for breeding as well as a network of suitable sites to support their annual journeys. International cooperation is therefore essential for the conservation and management of migratory waterbird populations and the habitats on which they depend.

The Agreement area stretches from the northern reaches of Canada and the Russian Federation to the southernmost tip of Africa, covering 119 Range States from Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia and Canada. Currently 79 countries and the European Union (EU) are Contracting Parties to AEWA (as of 16 June 2020). Armenia will accede on 1 July 2020 becoming the 81st Party. The Agreement provides for coordinated and concerted action to be taken by the Range States throughout the migration system of waterbirds to which it applies.

The Agreement has three main bodies: the Meeting of the Parties (MOP), which is the governing entity of AEWA and which last met in Durban, South Africa in December 2018; the Standing Committee (StC) responsible for steering the operations between sessions of the MOP; and Technical Committee (TC), which provides scientific advice.  The UNEP/AEWA Secretariat supports the Parties and provides services to the Agreement.

The Action Plan, which is legally binding for all countries that have joined the Agreement describes the core activities to be carried out under AEWA, specifying the different measures to be undertaken by Contracting Parties to secure the conservation of migratory waterbirds within their national boundaries. The status of each population of the species under the treaty is reviewed at each MOP following as closely as possible the status of those populations and to ensure that appropriate measures are taken. The population level (rather than the species level) and the revision of the status every three years make AEWA unique as a legal text and explain together with the involvement of the Parties the success of the Treaty.

The Agreement’s depositary is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

To find out whether your country is a Range State to AEWA and whether it is a Party and if so when it acceded, please see the Party List on the AEWA website.

Celebrating AEWA:

To mark the 15th anniversary of the signature of the Final Act, Dr Gerard C. Boere, an official of the Dutch Environment Ministry, who was one of the main driving forces behind the Agreement, wrote a book: ‘The History of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds’.  The book covers the Agreement’s development and implementation in the period 1985-2000, within the broader context of waterbird and wetlands conservation.

During MOP6 in Bonn, to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Final Act, a book was published entitled ‘Stories from the Flyway’ (‘Histoires de la voie de migration’).


Last updated on 06 July 2020

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