Outcomes of the Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds

Door: Melissa Lewis | Categorie: International law, Uncategorized, Wildlife
Grey Crowned Crane. Photo by Melissa Lewis.

A Grey Crowned Crane – one of the species for which an International Single Species Action Plan was adopted at AEWA MoP6. (Photo: M. Lewis)

During their annual movements, migratory birds traverse multiple jurisdictions, the conservation laws and policies of which may differ considerably. It is thus unsurprising that, over the past century, a myriad of international instruments have been adopted to facilitate international cooperation in bird conservation. However, a shortfall of many of these instruments is that they have either failed to encompass bird populations’ entire migration routes (‘flyways’) or failed to require that Parties take a flyway approach in implementing their provisions. The first treaty to be explicitly dedicated to flyway conservation was the 1995 Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds[i] (AEWA) – an ancilliary Agreement to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals[ii] (CMS), which attempts to maintain or restore the favourable conservation status of 254 species of migratory waterbirds. Not only is AEWA’s ‘Agreement Area’ designed to encompass entire migration systems, but the Agreement provides for a flyway approach in respect of both habitat conservation (requiring Parties to maintain networks of suitable habitats throughout species’ entire ranges[iii]) and the conservation and management of waterbird populations themselves (requiring, for instance, that, in implementing the principle of sustainable use, Parties take populations’ full geographic ranges into account[iv]). The Agreement’s other distinguising features include, inter alia, its detailed and legally rigorous provisions and its flexibility to evolve over time – these features being facilitated by AEWA’s use of a legally binding ‘Action Plan’, which applies at the population level (allowing for a very directed and nuanced collection of conservation commitments) and is easier to amend than the Agreement text itself.[v]

This November, the sixth session of the AEWA Meeting of the Parties (MoP6) met in Bonn, Germany. With 2015 marking the 20th anniversary of AEWA’s adoption, the theme of the MoP (‘Making Flyway Conservation Happen’) reflected the Agreement’s leading role in promoting and facilitating flyway conservation, and participants both celebrated AEWA’s successes and considered the challenges facing its future implementation. Parties adopted a total of 22 resolutions, addressing a variety of scientific, technical, budgetary and administrative issues. A brief overview of these developments is provided below.

Amendments to AEWA’s Annexes

AEWA’s three annexes define the Agreement Area (Annex 1), list the species to which the Agreement applies (Annex 2), and contain the Agreement’s Action Plan and a Table of categorized populations to which the Action Plan applies (Annex 3). Although it has been suggested that the AEWA Agreement Area might ultimately be expanded to include the Central Asian Flyway,[vi] no proposal to amend Annex 1 was placed before MoP6. The MoP did, however, adopt a new standard reference for waterbird species taxonomy and nomenclature, making it necessary to amend Annex 2’s order of families and species, as well as various species’ scientific and vernacular names, so as to align these with the new standard reference. The Table in Annex 3 was similarly amended, and changes were made to the categorizations of several populations to reflect changes in their conservation status (and thus the protections to which they are entitled under the AEWA Action Plan). [vii] Unfortunately, the mismatch in timetables for AEWA listings and listings on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species[viii] meant that the recent global Red Listing of several AEWA species is not reflected in the amended categorizations and will only be taken into account at MoP7.[ix] Several Parties have also indicated that they will need to enter reservations in respect of certain changes to AEWA’s categorizations – for instance, some of the species with populations that have been up-listed are currently huntable under the EU Birds Directive, with the result that the EU will need to enter reservations in respect thereof.


Since its entry into force, AEWA has facilitated the development of a large body of guidance on the conservation and management of waterbirds and their habitats. Such guidance takes the form of either resolutions or, more detailed, ‘Conservation Guidelines’, both of which are adopted by the MoP and, while not directly binding, inform the interpretation of provisions of the Agreement text and Action Plan. Although MoP6 did not make any amendments to the AEWA Action Plan itself, the MoP did adopt guidance on implementing the Action Plan’s population approach in national legislation, as well as guidance on the meaning of the term ‘disturbance’ (and several terms related thereto) as used in various Action Plan provisions.[x] Resolutions were also adopted regarding waterbird monitoring, sustainable use, control of non-native waterbirds, climate change adaptation, threats in the marine environment, impacts of renewable energy deployment, and the avoidance of additional and unnecessary mortality (such as that resulting from collision with, or electrocution by, power generation infrastructure; poisoning; illegal killing; incidental killing; and pollution).[xi] Rather than competing with existing guidance documents, several of these resolutions encourage AEWA Parties to utilize guidance developed under other fora, such as the CMS, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance,[xii] and various Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. MoP6 further adopted Conservation Guidelines on renewable energy technologies and migratory species (this guidance also having been adopted by the CMS Conference of the Parties[xiii]), and national legislation for AEWA’s implementation; as well as revised Guidelines on sustainable harvest,[xiv] which revisions represent a significant improvement insofar as they attempt to address all of the motivations for harvesting waterbirds within the AEWA region rather than only harvest for recreational purposes. Finally, the MoP adopted a new AEWA Communication Strategy to guide communication efforts in support of the Agreement’s implementation.[xv]

Guidance on the Agreement’s strategic priorities is currently found in the AEWA Strategic Plan[xvi] and Plan of Action for Africa.[xvii] While both of these documents were initially to expire in 2017, the MoP has extended their lifespans until its next session (which will take place in 2018[xviii]) and instructed that revised versions for the period 2019-2027 be presented to MoP7.[xix] Unfortunately, while some progress has been made towards meeting the various objectives identified by AEWA’s current Strategic Plan, Parties are still far from achieving the Plan’s central goal of maintaining migratory waterbird species and their populations at, or restoring them to, a favourable conservation status throughout their flyways.[xx] The Secretariat’s ability to assess progress towards meeting the Strategic Plan’s objectives has also been frustrated by the failure of many Parties to submit national reports on their AEWA-implementation efforts (as is required by Art. V(c) of the Agreement). MoP6 experienced a decline in the submission rate of national reports, with only 55 per cent of the reports due being received.[xxi]

International species action and management plans

A central feature of AEWA’s work is the development and implementation of International Single Species Action and Management Plans (ISSAPs and ISMPs). Although species action and management planning per se aren’t unique to the Agreement, AEWA and the CMS are uniquely positioned to develop plans at the flyway level and, in this way, add value to the planning processes of smaller instruments, such as the EU Birds Directive. AEWA’s plans also fill a significant gap in the frameworks provided by other legal instruments insofar as they have begun (starting with the ISMP for the Svalbard population of Pink-footed Goose, which was adopted at MoP5) to implement internationally coordinated harvest management – something which has not been attempted under any other instrument operating within the Agreement Area. MoP6 adopted five new ISSAPs (adding to the 19 that had previously been adopted under the Agreement) and one revised ISSAP.[xxii] Two of these address intra-African migrants (the Grey Crowned Crane and the Shoebill), helping to dilute the largely European focus of AEWA’s earlier plans; while a further two (those for the Taiga Bean Goose and Eurasian Curlew) envisage the development of adaptive harvest management processes, but differ from the ISMP for the Pink-footed Goose insofar as they address populations which need to be restored to a favourable conservation status. The MoP also adopted AEWA’s first International Multi-species Action Plan (for Benguela upwelling system coastal seabirds), as well as a decision-making process for the revision and retirement of ISSAPs.[xxiii] In addition to instructing the AEWA Secretariat to convene AEWA International Species Working Groups to coordinate the implementation of various species action plans,[xxiv] the MoP requested the Secretariat to ‘facilitate, subject to the availability of financial resources, the establishment of a European multispecies goose management platform and process to address sustainable use of goose populations and to provide for the resolution of human-goose conflicts’, targeting not only goose populations for which ISSAPs/ISMPs are already in place, but also populations of Barnacle and Greylag Geese (for which international management plans have not yet been developed).[xxv]

Resource constraints, prioritization of AEWA’s activities, and enhancing efficiency through synergies

As is the case for many contemporary environmental treaties, resource constraints present one of the most significant hurdles to AEWA’s effectiveness. Although the core budget that MoP6 adopted for the upcoming triennium (which provides for zero nominal growth from the MoP5 budget) allocates some funding for implementing AEWA’s ‘African Initiative’, the budget is dedicated primarily to the Agreement’s administration.[xxvi] As in previous triennia, implementation activities will therefore rely predominantly upon voluntary contributions and external support. In light of this challenge, it is noteworthy that MoP6 adopted a resolution on resource mobilization for AEWA’s implementation.[xxvii]

Given the resource constraints faced by AEWA, prioritization of activities is obviously desirable. This was, to some extent, recognized at MoP6, at which Parties agreed that future lists of International Implementation Tasks (which are adopted at each MoP to guide prospective donors in their allocation of funds) be ‘more limited in extent’, and adopted a shorter list than those adopted at previous MoPs.[xxviii] For the first time, the MoP also adopted a prioritized and costed work plan summarizing the scientific and technical tasks for the AEWA Technical Committee.[xxix] In the future – and especially when the AEWA Strategic Plan is undergoing revision during this triennium – there is arguably a strong need to identify both areas in which AEWA is able to work through other instruments and organizations and areas in which the Agreement is able to make a unique contribution and should be concentrating its efforts. While some of AEWA’s ‘niche’ areas are obvious (such as the promotion of the flyway approach, the development of flyway-level species action and management plans, and sustainable use), there are other areas in which the Agreement’s role and its relationship with other instruments need to be more clearly defined – an example being the conservation of seabirds.[xxx]

In recent years, the desire to improve AEWA’s efficiency and thereby allow resources to be diverted from the Agreement’s administration towards its implementation has also resulted in various suggestions for enhancing synergies between AEWA and the CMS. Although there is a long history of cooperative efforts between AEWA and its parent Convention, the desirability of establishing more formalized synergies has been a point of controversy. Following the establishment of a pilot joint communication and outreach unit in 2014,[xxxi] MoP6 decided to take a ‘stepwise approach’ (under the control of the AEWA and CMS Standing Committees) to strengthening synergies in common service areas, but has taken note that this is not aimed at a merger of Secretariats and confirmed that the appointment of a joint Executive Secretary is not a desired option.[xxxii] This, of course, is a separate issue from whether AEWA itself should be merged with other bird-related instruments in the CMS Family – a question which has yet to be considered by the AEWA MoP, but which might arise in the future in the context of the CMS Future Shape Process.[xxxiii]


This post was written on the basis of the author’s participation at AEWA MoP6, in the capacity of Environmental Law Expert on the Agreement’s Technical Committee. A detailed analysis of AEWA’s evolution, unique features, and challenges is provided in: Melissa Lewis ‘AEWA at Twenty: An Appraisal of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and its Unique Place in International Environmental Law’ 19:1 Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy (2016) 22-61

[i] http://www.unep-aewa.org/.

[ii] http://www.cms.int/.

[iii] AEWA Art. III(2)(d).

[iv] AEWA Action Plan para. 4.1.1.

[v] AEWA Art. X.

[vi] See Doc. UNEP/CMS/CAF3/REPORT, Annex 2.

[vii] AEWA Resolution 6.1.

[viii] http://www.iucnredlist.org/.

[ix] The need to consider these species at MoP7 is, however, is recognized in a preambular paragraph of Resolution 6.1.

[x] AEWA Resolution 6.7.

[xi] AEWA Resolutions 6.3, 6.4, 6.6, 6.9, 6.11 and 6.12.

[xii] http://www.ramsar.org/.

[xiii] CMS Resolution 11.27.

[xiv] AEWA Resolution 6.5.

[xv] AEWA Resolution 6.10.

[xvi] http://www.unep-aewa.org/en/documents/strategic-plan.

[xvii] http://www.unep-aewa.org/en/node/1984.

[xviii] AEWA Resolution 6.19.

[xix] AEWA Resolution 6.14.

[xx] See further Doc. UNEP/AEWA/MOP6.12.

[xxi] See Doc. UNEP/AEWA/MOP6.13.

[xxii] AEWA Resolution 6.8.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] AEWA Resolution 6.4.

[xxvi] AEWA Resolution 6.18.

[xxvii] AEWA Resolution 6.21.

[xxviii] AEWA Resolution 6.13.

[xxix] AEWA Resolution 6.17.

[xxx] See AEWA Resolution 6.9.

[xxxi] See Doc. UNEP/AEWA/MOP6.10Rev.1.

[xxxii] AEWA Resolution 6.22.

[xxxiii] CMS Resolution 10.9, Annex 1, action 15, read with CMS Resolution 11.14, Annex 1, action 19.

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