With 14.7 percent of the Earth’s land and 10 percent of its territorial waters under protection, the world is on track to meet a major global conservation target, according to a new report by UN Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), launched today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaiʻi.
But the 2016 Protected Planet report also shows that crucial biodiversity areas are being left out, key species and habitats are underrepresented, and inadequate management is limiting the effectiveness of protected areas.
“The huge gains in the number and size of protected areas made in the last decade have to be matched by improvements in their quality,” said UN Environment Head Erik Solheim.
“The world needs to do more to effectively protect our most biologically diverse spaces. Protected areas need to be better connected, to allow populations of animals and plants to mix and spread. Also important is ensuring local communities are involved in protection efforts. Their support is fundamental to long-term conservation.”
“Today, the world is facing critical environmental and societal challenges, such as climate change, food and water security,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “Protected areas play a major role in conserving species and ecosystems that help us confront these challenges. Ensuring that they are carefully mapped and effectively managed is crucial if we want to continue to prosper on this planet.”
According to scientists at IUCN and UN Environment’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, there are 202,467 protected areas today, covering almost 20 million square kilometres or 14.7 per cent of the world’s land, excluding Antarctica. That falls just short of the 17 per cent target set for 2020 by the Convention on Biological Diversity under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
Land coverage of protected areas has decreased by 0.7 per cent since the last Protected Planet report. Scientists attribute the decline to fluxes in data, such as changes in boundaries, removal of some large sites from the World Database on Protected Areas and improved data quality, rather than an actual decrease in coverage on the ground.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean protect the largest portion of their land, amounting to nearly 5 million square kilometres. About half of that is in Brazil, which boasts the world’s largest protected land area system of 2.47 million square kilometres.
Middle East has the lowest land protection rate of around 3 per cent, equal to around 119,000 square kilometres.
The last decade has seen remarkable progress in protecting the world’s oceans. The size of marine protected areas has increased from just over 4 million in 2006 to nearly 15 million square kilometres today, covering four per cent of the Earth’s oceans, an area almost the size of Russia.
But for all the growth in coverage, much remains to be done to improve the quality of protected areas.
Areas of importance for biodiversity
Currently less than 20 per cent of the world’s key biodiversity areas are completely covered by protected areas.
Lack of effective management
Less than 20 per cent of countries have met their commitments to assess the management of their protected areas, raising questions about the quality and effectiveness of existing conservation measures.
Protected areas are fundamental for sustainable development
The report recommends investing in protected areas to strengthen sustainable management of fisheries, control invasive species, cope with climate change and reduce harmful incentives, such as subsidies, which threaten biodiversity.
Adoption of these recommendations would help to halt biodiversity loss, improve food and water security, enable vulnerable human communities to better cope with natural disasters and conserve traditional knowledge.