European Wilderness Society

Fantastic achievements, but are we staying on the right track?

According recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) statistic, close to 15% of the Earth’s land and 7% of its territorial waters are covered by protected areas. Particularly remarkable is that the coverage of marine protected areas increased by almost 300% in the last decade. With these achievements the world seems to be on track to meet a major global conservation targets formulate by UN Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

However, the Protected Planet report also shows that crucial biodiversity areas are still being left out, key species and habitats are under represented and inadequate management is limiting the effectiveness of already designated protected areas. These documents also show that 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.

Conclusion of these reports could be that the world is on track to meet a major global conservation target, however not likely only with network of protected areas!

Global commitment

The 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity, signed by 168 countries, has mandated 17 percent of land be contained in “effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected” protected areas by 2020. It seems that great progress was achieved but reports shows that still eight in 10 key biodiversity areas worldwide lack complete protection.

How much land is actually protected?

Ongoing research and monitoring constantly confirming that intense human pressure on areas set aside for preservation is still threatening biodiversity and protected status.

A report published by Scientific American shows that about one third of the world’s protected land faces intense pressure from human-related factors such as buildings, agriculture, roads, extractive use and nighttime lighting. This intense human pressure is linked to the dramatic decline of biodiversity, the feature that protected areas are meant to preserve.

The percentage is not high enough

It seems that long-term conservation objectives are gradually fulfilled but the statistics simultaneously revealed that even with a growing percentage of protected areas the overall conservation objective will not likely be achieved. We are daily witnesses of new reports that communicate that more and more species either already extinct or are on the edge of extinction. Moreover, that global warming is very soon going to dramatically change the distribution of the bioms, ecosystems and species.

We are hearing again and again that 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. Also important is ensuring that besides strictly and well-managed protected areas, principles of biodiversity conservation are implemented in the daily life of the local communities and these are involved in protection efforts. Their support is fundamental to long-term conservation.

Protected area network is not panacea

The fundament of the global protected area network was set up more than century ago. In that time it was considered as a major tool to protect endangered species, their threaten habitats and also to create opportunity to educate people in the context of nature conservation. Later on protected area network became a crucial tool to protect biodiversity with the belief that a certain percentage of land and sea can become a universal tool to protect at least representative examples of the Earth’s biodiversity.

Biodiversity we have, we inherited from the previous generations, which very intensively managed and impacted earth surface in the previous centuries. In that time biodiversity was pretty much considered as natural heritage humans are supposed to protect and not as a fundament of human survival.

Gradually, after decades of enormous successes to expand the protected area network, society got a temptation that certain percentage of land/sea (8-10 %) could be allocated to protect global biodiversity. That percentage was considered as a kind of compromise between demands of the developers and recommendation of the ecologists. The argument was simple: materialistic development of human society versus responsibility to protect at least examples of functioning global ecosystems and spontaneous nature processes.

Fatal misinterpretation

In the following decades, during the expansion of the protected area network, a few major mistakes of this concept popped up. The purpose of the protected area network was subject to two major misinterpretations: 1/ protected areas themselves will protect in-situ biodiversity 2/ everything beyond protected area boundary can be human domain for commercial purposes (either to grow food, build cities and highways or simply just to do whatever man wants). Further on, frequently occurred mismanagement of existing protected areas caused that these not always fulfilled their objectives.

This attitude nevertheless, started very fast changing in recent decades, in a period of enormous pressure and degradation of the natural environment. Society suddenly recognised that besides the protected area network with a focus to protect biodiversity, all land around shouldn’t be just playground for commercial purposes but carefully maintained land, which guarantee protection of the biodiversity and also providing benefit for humans in a massive scale (kind of IUCN category IV Habitat/Species Management Area, V Protected Landscape/Seascape and VI Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources).

Today fantasy – tomorrow reality?

The Global Biological Diversity forum, has agreed, that

  • 15% of the Earth’s land and 7% of its territorial waters will be used and developed for the purpose of human society (cities, industry, transport corridors, intensive food production)
  • 85% of the land and sea on Earth will be allocated to strict nature protection and non-intensive land use in synergy with nature (combination land sparing and land sharing).

What do you think, can this come true?

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