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Protected Areas – an overview

“Protected areas provide livelihoods for nearly 1.1 billion people.”
“Protected areas are the primary source of drinking water for over a third of the world’s largest cities.”
“The value of mangroves as coastal protection has been estimated to be as much as US$ 300,000 per kilometer of coastline.”
“Protected areas provide a critical safety net for the one billion people living on less than a dollar a day.”
“Protected areas ensure global food security by protecting fisheries, wild crop relatives, and the ecosystems services upon which agriculture depends.”
“Protected areas are a key strategy in climate change adaptation and mitigation.”
“Protected areas store more than 15% of all terrestrial carbon.”
“Protected areas yield an economic return on societal investments on the order of between 25: 1 and 100:1.”

The value of protected areas

Protected areas are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation; they maintain key habitats, provide refugia, allow for species migration and movement, and ensure the maintenance of natural processes across the landscape. Not only do protected areas secure biodiversity conservation, they also secure the well-being of humanity itself. Protected areas provide livelihoods for nearly 1.1 billion people, are the primary source of drinking water for over a third of the world’s largest cities and are a major factor in ensuring global food security. Well managed protected areas harbouring participatory and equitable governance mechanisms yield significant benefits far beyond their boundaries, which can be translated into cumulative advantages across a national economy and contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable development including achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. As the detrimental impact of climate change threatens the planet, protected areas provide a convenient solution to an inconvenient truth. Better managed, better connected, better governed and better financed protected areas are recognized as the key to both mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change.

The CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas and progress in its implementation

In February 2004, the CBD Parties made the most comprehensive and specific protected area commitments ever made by the international community by adopting the Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA). The PoWPA enshrines development of participatory, ecologically representative and effectively managed national and regional systems of protected areas, where necessary stretching across national boundaries. From designation to management, the PoWPA can be considered as a defining framework or “blueprint” for protected areas for the coming decades. It is a framework for cooperation between Governments, donors, NGOs and local communities, for without such collaboration, programmes cannot be successful and sustainable over the long-term.

To date, there are many good signs of progress and there is much to celebrate. Political will and commitments are clearly being catalyzed. A recent summary of global implementation of the Programme of Work found that since 2004, nearly 6,000 new protected areas have been established, covering more than 60 million hectares. There are now about 130,000 protected areas, covering nearly 13% of the world’s terrestrial surface, and over 6% of territorial marine areas. Many of these are embedded in comprehensive national and regional networks of connected protected areas and corridors.

While these are commendable achievements, there are still some areas that are lagging behind. The social costs and benefits, the effective participation of indigenous and local communities and the diversification of various governance types need more commitment and resolute actions. The evaluation and improvement of management effectiveness, and the development and implementation of sustainable finance plans with diversified portfolios of traditional and innovative financial mechanisms need enhanced measures. Climate change considerations for both mitigation and adaptation responses need to be incorporated. Strengthening implementation of PoWPA will require concerted efforts and the combined strength of all sectors of society, as well as alliances at national, regional and international levels between policy makers, civil society, indigenous and local communities and business and the private sector.

Looking ahead

Governments are increasingly likely to consider protected areas as a strategic investment in their national economies -- a recent report estimates that investments in creating and managing protected areas will yield returns in societal benefits on the order of 25:1 to 100:1. Governments are also likely to view protected areas as a fundamental strategy to not only conserve biodiversity, but also to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, secure vital ecosystem services, support local livelihoods, and enable humans and nature alike to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Learn more about protected areas, the CBD and UN Conventions

Protected areas are an integral part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and are a central element in a number of thematic areas and cross-cutting issues addressed by the Convention. To learn more about how protected areas are linked to major decisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as to major decisions of the other six UN conventions, visit Tematea, a tool that provides a logical, framework for organizing national commitments and obligations to the seven UN conventions.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme