But in their Protected Planet Report 2016, launched yesterday at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, UN Environment and IUCN also showed 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. It is also important to ensure that 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% of the world’s land, excluding Antarctica.
That falls just short of the 17% 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% 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.
The last decade has seen remarkable progress in protecting the world’s oceans. The size of marine protected areas has increased from just over four million in 2006 to nearly 17 million square kilometres today, covering four percent 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.
Currently less than 20% of the world’s key biodiversity areas are completely covered by protected areas.
Less than 20% 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.
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.