Protected areas strategy needs overhaul, report finds

The globally used protected area estate, currently accepted by 190 countries to maintain global biodiversity, is systematically failing, according to a new report published in the journal Science.

The study identified four major flaws in the United Nation’s Aichi Target 11 – which calls for the protection of at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas.

The report reserves particular criticism for the ‘simple use of percentage targets’ which have lead to perverse outcomes that incentivise creation of protected areas that have little to no conservation and biodiversity value.

“While there has been a significant increase in the overall extent of the global protected area estate over the past 10 years, many of the new protected areas are being placed in sites that are not as important for biodiversity,” Lead author Dr. Piero Visconti of the International Institute for Applied Synthesis Analysis, said

Other, more important sites are left unprotected and are vanishing before our eyes. There is also clear evidence that the vast majority of protected areas are not being funded and managed in ways that stop damaging human activities.”

The study’s authors argue for an outcome-based approach to conservation for protected areas, arguing that the value of all sites of global significance for biodiversity including key biodiversity areas should be documented, retained and restored through protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

Despite the calls for a new protected area target, a co-author in the study, Dr. James Watson of University of Queensland, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), emphasized the critical importance of existing protected areas for safeguarding imperiled biodiversity.

“We know protected areas work - when well-funded, well-managed and well placed, they are extremely effective in halting the threats that cause biodiversity loss and ensure species return from the brink of extinction,” Dr Watson said.

The paper is available here.

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