Subnational governments can play a significant role in protecting and enhancing the benefits from urban wetlands. Recognising this, the Ramsar Convention introduced a Wetland City Accreditation Scheme in 2015. This voluntary scheme provides an opportunity for cities that value their natural or human-made wetlands to gain international recognition and positive publicity for their efforts. Read here about how cities can get involved and about ICLEI’s Cities Biodiversity Center’s role in this Scheme.

What is the Ramsar Convention?

The Ramsar Convention is a Convention on wetlands. It is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of all wetlands. 170 countries are signatories of the Ramsar Convention and agree to work towards wise use of all their wetlands, designate suitable wetlands as Wetlands of International Importance, known as Ramsar sites, and cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands. Globally, there are 2 372 Ramsar Sites, covering 252 565 074 ha.

The Ramsar Convention has a long history. The Ramsar Treaty was negotiated through the 1960s by countries and non-governmental organisations concerned about the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat. The Treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. This means that in 2021, the year that coincides with the Ramsar Conference of the Parties, COP14, the Ramsar Treaty will celebrate its 50th birthday.

Wetlands and cities

Urbanization is a globally important phenomenon. By 2050, an estimated 6.3 billion people will inhabit the world’s towns and cities. The planet will have undergone the largest and fastest period of urban expansion in human history. The growth of cities will reshape most landscapes, both built and natural. If poorly planned, urban growth can destroy natural habitat and greatly impact biodiversity and human wellbeing. Urban wetlands are particularly vulnerable to urban growth as they tend to be undervalued and therefore often converted or used as dumping grounds.

The challenges of urbanization are profound, but so too are the opportunities. Wetlands can enhance urban life by the multitude of benefits they provide, and their ability to address certain urban problems. Wetlands sustain ground water and regulate soil moisture, support biodiversity, regulate floods, regulate climate by cooling cities, and retain contamination and nutrients. Property owners value proximity to wetlands in urban areas, and studies have also shown positive values for recreation and commercial fishing. Urban wetlands are precious assets and therefore should be integrated into the development, spatial and management plans of towns and cities.

The Ramsar Wetland City Accreditation

Recognising the important role of cities in protecting and enhancing the benefits from urban wetlands, the Convention introduced a Wetland City accreditation scheme (Resolution XII.10 of 2015). This voluntary scheme provides an opportunity for cities that value their natural or human-made wetlands to gain international recognition and positive publicity for their efforts.

The Wetland City Accreditation scheme will encourage cities to highlight and strengthen the positive relationship with their wetlands, with emphasis on creating public awareness of wetland benefits, incorporation of wetland protection into municipal planning and decision-making, and promoting wetland benefits for local people. This scheme provides positive branding opportunities for cities that demonstrate strong and positive relationships with their wetlands.

How can cities apply?


  • Parties are eligible if they are contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention. Check here to see whether your country is a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention;
  • To be eligible, cities must be close to and depend on wetlands, primarily Wetlands of International Importance, but also other wetlands. To qualify, a city must have one or more Ramsar Sites or other significant wetlands, fully or partly situated in its territory or in its close vicinity, which provide(s) a range of ecosystem services to the city. Look under the Country Profiles to view Ramsar sites within each Contracting Party Profile.
  • Detailed criteria for accreditation are listed in Resolution XII.10 – see Featured Documents on the Ramsar web page.
  • A ‘city’ means a city or any other type of human settlement according to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements.

The first round of applications and accredited cities is complete and the second round of applications in currently under review. If you are interested in applying for Ramsar Wetland City Accreditation, keep an eye on the Ramsar Wetland City web page for an announcement and opening of the third round.

Important documents

For your application, the following documents are important and are downloadable from the Ramsar web site: Wetland City Accreditation Section:

  • Resolution XII.10: Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention
  • Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention – Call for Applications
  • Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention – Nomination Form
  • Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention – Guidance Note for Administrative Authorities
  • Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention – Guidance Note for Cities

When you have a query

The Head of Ramsar Administrative Authority for each country that is signatory to the Ramsar Convention, is the go-to office, and persons for each city wishing to apply for Ramsar accreditation. Kindly direct all Wetland City Accreditation queries to your Country Ramsar Administrative Authority. Their details can be found under the Country Profiles section of the Ramsar web page.

Be inspired by the pioneer cities

During COP13 the Ramsar Convention recognized 18 cities that have taken exceptional steps to safeguard their urban wetlands. These pioneer cities received Ramsar Wetland City Accreditation and will serve as examples and inspire purposeful actions for other cities towards sustainable urbanization.

The 18 accredited cities are:

China: Changde, Changshu, Dongying, Haerbin, Haikou, Yinchuan

France: Amiens, Courteranges, Pont Audemer, Saint Omer

Hungary: Lakes by Tata

Republic of Korea: Changnyeong, Inje, Jeju, Suncheon

Madagascar: Mitsinjo

Sri Lanka: Colombo

Tunisia: Ghar el Melh

ICLEI’s role in the Ramsar Wetland City Accreditation

Representation on the Independent Advisory Committee (IAC)

The Independent Advisory Committee reviews the Wetland City Accreditation applications and reports its decision to the Standing Committee.

ICLEI, along with UN-Habitat, the Ramsar Convention’s International Organization Partners, a Standing Committee representative, a representative of the Scientific and Technical Review panel, a representative of the Communication, Education, Participation and Awareness (CEPA) Oversight Panel of the Ramsar Convention, a representative from the Ramsar Secretary General, and a Ramsar Senior Advisor for each Region, serve on the Independent Advisory Committee (IAC).

Since 2019, ICLEI was nominated as co-chair of the IAC, in support of Austria, the new chair (previously held by Korea), for the 2019 – 2021 triennium.


Nature in the Urban Century: A global assessment of where and how to conserve nature for biodiversity and human wellbeing (2018). The Nature Conservancy.

Ramsar Resolution XII.10. Available at:

Ramsar web site:

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Cities and Biodiversity Outlook (2012). (ISBN 92-9225-432-2) Available online:

Wetland Management Guidelines: Building Capacity and Supporting Effective Management of Wetlands within South African Municipalities. Available at: