The current global financial crisis provides an opportunity to develop a new economic system that is harmonious with the earth’s natural capital. To do so, a suite of changes to global markets are required to recognize the full and true costs and economic value of the goods and services delivered by protected areas. Comprehensive investment in the global network of protected areas is not only critical to safeguard the future of the planet’s biodiversity but also provides a demonstrably significant return on investment. Protected areas are cornerstones for biodiversity conservation and are both powerful tools for addressing climate change, and providing sustainable economic development. Protected areas address climate change through ecosystem-based adaptation and as a means of maximising carbon sequestration and minimising further losses of stored carbon. Here are just a few examples:
- 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from deforestation and forest degradation.
- Protected areas provide a critical wealth of ecosystem services, including freshwater and food security, storm protection, regulating spread of diseases, cultural and spiritual access, and others.
- Nearly 1.1 billion people depend on forest protected areas for their livelihoods.
- Potential fishing benefits from healthy coral reefs are estimated to be US$5.7 billion annually.
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The fact that 12.2% of the earth's terrestrial surface is under some form of government designated protected area status is a significant cause for hope. This percentage has been estimated to be as high as 20%, if community conserved areas are included. However, an unfortunate reality is that only a fraction of these areas are being effectively managed and many habitat types are severely underrepresented, particularly freshwater and marine areas.
The cost of establishing and maintaining a global protected area system has been estimated at US$30 billion per year while current expenditures are estimated at only US$6.5 billion per year. A shocking portion of protected areas, often in high biodiversity regions, are essentially paper parks without any active regulation or management to ensure the aforementioned wealth of services is intact and continues to benefit people.
The Programme of Work on Protected Areas of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) constitutes the major reference framework in the worldwide effort to establish a global network of biologically representative and effectively managed protected areas. This Programme of Work came into effect at the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD in 2004. 192 countries have committed themselves to implementing this historic framework of 4 elements, 16 targets, and 92 time-bound actions.