Protected areas are some of the most important places on earth when it comes to biodiversity conservation. Aside from sheltering biodiversity, they provide food, clean water supply, medicines and protection from the impacts of natural disasters, and also contribute to people’s livelihoods. Protected areas are therefore at the core of efforts towards conserving nature and its services.
Asia is a large and diverse continent with over 10,900 protected areas. But many countries in the region are falling short of meeting their commitments to set aside a portion of their territories for protection. Based on agreements made under the Convention on Biological Diversity, countries are supposed to protect 17.5% of their terrestrial areas, and 10% of their marine areas.
Strengthening protected area management in Asia is essential. One way to help countries meet their protected area targets is to promote collaboration. This was the reason the Asia Protected Area Partnership (APAP) was established in 2013.
Last August, this partnership was featured in a side event of the 6th Asia Regional Conservation Forum of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) to promote APAP to IUCN Members and to gain feedback on its future activities.
The event, attended by representatives from governments and civil society, was successful. Audiences were engaged during the introduction and presentation, and a lively discussion about different aspects related to protected area management followed during the open forum.
“APAP’s objective is to share the best experiences on protected area (PA) management in Asia,” said Ambassador Masahiko Horie, IUCN Regional Councillor for South and East Asia, who introduced the partnership to the audience. “It does this through facilitating collaboration and awareness-raising on the benefits of PAs.”
The key is collaboration, as more government agencies join, more experiences and best practice are exchanged, enabling better learning and application on the ground.
Better management of protected areas are particularly relevant given the many challenges Asian countries face today. Experts recognise this will be crucial in helping meet Sustainable Development Goals.
“Our commitments to SDGs are highly dependent on protected areas in many ways,” explained Prof. Yoshitaka Kumagai, Regional Vice Chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas, in his presentation. “Protected area management is one of the most effective approaches for conserving biodiversity and ecosystems functioning. They are the source of drinking water for over 33% of the world’s cities. They also provide essential natural services, homes, jobs and livelihoods to millions of people.”
Insightful discussions followed in the open forum. Ms Hasna Waldoud, Chairperson of the Bangladesh National Committee of IUCN Members, stressed the need for trans-boundary partnerships, and the recognition of the shared ownership of protected areas.
“While the role of states in conserving natural areas is very important, we also need to develop proper guidelines on protected area management ensuring that indigenous communities are not dispossessed of their traditional rights in the name of conservation,” she said. “By definition, protection could undermine current local resource use pattern, and protectors can facilitate abuse of the guidelines in the name of conservation. We need true trans-boundary partnerships, where government agencies realise that PAs are shared resources.”
The discussions also highlighted how present-day guidelines on protected area management can benefit from the traditional knowledge and practices of resource management which have long existed in Asia.
APAP intends to promote the recognition of new kinds of protected areas which acknowledge indigenous inhabitants and multiple land use types. As part of its activities in 2016, APAP plans to organise a technical forum on collaborative management of marine protected areas, particularly in relation to participation of local communities.
The side event ended with various expressions of interest from different parties, including countries such as China. APAP is mainly platform of collaboration between for government agencies. Individuals working on protected area management and who are interested in APAP are encouraged to join the World Commission of Protected Areas which works closely with the partnership. But with all the keen engagement participants showed during the event, Asia will hopefully be on track to meet its protected area commitments.