A new UNDP report highlights the importance of protected areas in

Image credit: Alex Fine

A new UNDP report highlights the importance of protected areas in

We are facing a global biodiversity crisis.

It is estimated that 1 million species are threatened with extinction due to the direct or indirect results of unsustainable human activity. Under current policies, one in six species will be at risk of extinction due to the impacts of climate change.

Global biodiversity loss is inextricably linked to climate change. Under all emission scenarios, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report finds that global surface temperature will continue increasing until at least mid-century, with warming of 1.5–2°C exceeded during this century, unless there is a rapid and significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Transformative change is urgently needed if we are to combat both biodiversity loss and the climate crisis.

Investing in our future

Investing in effective protected and conserved areas is essential to protect nature, through biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. In our Creating a Nature-Positive Future report we present a path to enhance protected and conserved areas coverage and quality to secure global nature, with many benefits for people.

The report builds on the findings of the Protected Planet Report 2020, summarizing progress towards the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Target 11. Currently, protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, (OECMs) cover 16.79 percent of non-Antarctic land and 8.0 percent of the ocean, with 43.7 percent of terrestrial ecoregions and 47.4 percent of marine ecoregions. Protected and conserved areas provide essential protection of Key Biodiversity Areas and Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas, with 43.3 percent and 8.3 percent global coverage respectively.

Recent political and financial commitment to expand the coverage and quality of protected and conserved areas could be transformative. The benefits extend beyond biodiversity conservation to support the Sustainable Development Goals through improved water and food security, livelihoods, health, climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as goals under other Multilateral Environmental Agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction:

  • Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population live downstream of protected areas, which provide them with fresh water. Increasing protection, restoration, and sustainable management of ecosystems, such as wetlands and forests, can improve water security.
  • Protection of fish populations, pollinators, and crop wild relatives (wild plants closely related to domestic crops) will provide significant contributions to global food security. Global fisheries provide one-sixth of the global population's intake of animal proteins, but one-third of commercial fish stocks are fished at unsustainable levels and 90 percent were fully exploited as of 2018. Marine protected areas provide significant benefits to food security, with the average fish biomass more than 670 percent higher in fully protected areas than in surrounding unprotected areas.
  • The benefits for climate change mitigation are also vast. Intact ecosystems sequester approximately 5.6 Gt CO2 or 60 percent of global anthropogenic emissions each year. Protected and conserved areas contain 23.9 percent of global total biomass carbon, 15.4 percent of global soil organic carbon, and 7.1percent of global marine sediment carbon. Land conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities is estimated to store around 13 percent of all carbon. 
  • Protected and conserved areas contribute to disaster risk reduction. Intact ecosystems such as mangroves can reduce damage from extreme weather, and coral reefs can support coastal hazard risk reduction. A new report, Creating a Nature-Positive Future: The contribution of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, presents the global status of protected areas (PAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) and opportunities for action. The joint report was released by the UNDP, the Secretariat of the CBD, and UNEP-WCMC.

Read the full report.

Benefits and co-benefits of conservation

Shifting the focus to quality

Despite these extensive benefits, the loss of biodiversity continues largely unabated. Therefore, to be effective, investments must also emphasize the quality of protection rather than simply the coverage or quantity of protection.

This report proposes three main considerations for protected and conserved area targets in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, to be adopted at the next CBD Conference of the Parties (COP 15):

  • The need for protected and conserved areas to prioritize representativeness, connectivity, and conservation of areas important for biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, equitable governance, and effective management. Evidence suggests sites with higher social equity have more positive conservation outcomes. This requires the recognition of various stakeholders, and their rights, their involvement in decision-making, and the equitable distribution of costs and benefits.
  • The importance of recognizing the contribution of Indigenous peoples and respecting their rights to their lands, territories, and waters. This involves ensuring tenure rights. Full recognition of rights is essential if these areas are to contribute to national and international targets. Several countries and territories have now reported on OECMs in the recently launched World Database on OECMs, with many more in the process of recognizing and reporting on these important sites.
  • The need to embed protected and conserved areas into national policies and decision-making frameworks. Only through mainstreaming biodiversity conservation strategies, such as protected and conserved areas, will we be able to achieve sustainable development and climate actions and unlock their full benefits.

The urgency of the global biodiversity crisis is galvanizing world leaders. The Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and the adoption of the Kunming Declaration by Parties to the CBD during the first part of CBD COP-15 report calls for an essential focus on the quality aspects of protected and conserved areas. If these qualifying aspects are highlighted in investments and championed by political will, a nature-positive future for people and planet can be within reach.

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