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The Lower Mekong River Region


First regional workshop

7 May 2002

Closing speech by Joern Kristensen, Chief Executive Officer, Mekong River Commission


Distinguished participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

This has been an intensive and rich meeting, reporting on six months of work. The presentations of the field studies and national assessments of experience have been very impressive indeed. The discussions and working groups have produced a wide range of useful ideas and suggestions, which will add greatly to the review outputs.

In fact, so much ground has been covered that it is difficult to summarise all issues. However, I have identified some points, which stood out in the discussions.

As I mentioned in my opening speech, this meeting on protected areas is as much about development as it is about conservation, and it is clear that protected areas, already recognised as conservation assets, are becoming a part of the development strategies for all countries in the region. A fundamental shift is taking place from viewing these areas as isolated pockets of rare and endangered species, to see them as centres of development - which provide services and products essential to the growing economies.

A second point is that we need to understand and express these values in economic terms. They need to be promoted and marketed, since this is the only way they can effectively be integrated in the national accounts and socio-economic development plans.

While we want to increase demand for protected areas products and services, we need to ensure that the uses of them are sustainable and appropriate. To do this we must conserve, maintain and enhance the natural capital held in protected areas, as this will bring the greatest development returns over the long term.

To achieve this, higher levels of investment are needed following the guiding principle of "let the user pay". Whether users are government sector, private sector or even local communities - if they use protected area services or products, they should pay for the privilege.

Distinguished participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

The Vision for the development of the Mekong River Basin is an "Economically Prosperous, Socially Just and Environmentally Sound Basin". Considering this goal we are rightly worried about what happens to local communities in this new business of protected areas management. We must avoid a situation in which those least able to compete become the losers. We need to have systems of support, subsidies and compensation to local communities living around protected areas. Revenue going to manage and safeguard protected areas must also safeguard and enhance the well being of the people in local communities.

It was concluded that it is especially difficult to apply the "user pays" principle in upstream - downstream relationships between those managing natural assets and users. For example, where rural communities conserve watersheds so urban centres downstream are supplied with clean and reliable water. The further away from a protected area the user is, the more difficult it is to get them to pay up for the benefits they receive. But, this is changing and it requires both regulation and economic incentives to work. In international situations, it requires commitment to international agreements. The Kyoto Protocol on climate changes was mentioned as an example, and the potential for trading in carbon storage.

Finally, the existing protected areas systems require comprehensive national policy and legal frameworks that clearly define responsibilities, categories and uses, and the linkages with development sectors. Equally important is the need to adjust those systems to ensure they fulfil their purpose in covering representative and viable samples of all our natural systems and habitats. This will require all sectors embracing regimes of protection as an essential part of their own development strategies.

These were but a few of the many important issues, which I gained from your presentations and discussion. They provide a framework and philosophy to guide the review.

Where do we go from here? As explained this morning, the next steps involve the preparation of national reports setting out policy options for consideration by governments; a second round of national meetings, and a second regional workshop. As I mentioned when opening this meeting, the analysis and the final regional report will feed into the MRC Basin Development Planning process, and will be important in helping to shape Basin Development Plan.

Distinguished Participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

I can say without hesitation that this first regional workshop has been a success. I thank you for your hard work and congratulate you on such a productive outcome. I look forward with great interest to the national review consultations, but most important, I look forward with pleasure to seeing you again at the second regional workshop to consider the regional report.

On this note I have the honour to close this first regional workshop on "Review of Protected areas and development in the Lower Mekong Basin".

Thank you for your kind attention.