Protect nature – and let it protect us!

Protected areas are one of the most effective tools for conserving biodiversity and offer natural solutions to some of today’s major challenges: water quality and shortages, climate change, natural disasters, health and sustainable livelihoods. But will those taking part in the meeting in Nagoya recognize their value and the urgent need to increase most needed investments in them?

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador Photo: Pedro Rosabal

The Programme of Work on Protected Areas (POWPA) is one of the notable successes of the Convention on Biological Diversity and IUCN has been a key player in its development. With POWPA, there has been a significant increase in the number and effectiveness of protected areas around the world. But these important places are currently under enormous pressure: under-resourced and undervalued by industry and governments. Without further investment and improved management, they will soon not be able to provide the benefits which we have depended on until now.

What is a protected area?

IUCN defines a protected area as a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

Protected areas cover only 12.9% of land and just over 1 % of the oceans. And yet, they provide us with fresh water, food, protection against natural disasters, carbon storage, health and employment - services that are crucial for our well-being and in our fight with today’s changing climate. But how is this all possible?

Protected areas such as tropical forests, seagrass beds, mangroves, and salt marshes are extremely efficient carbon sinks: globally they store more than 15% of terrestrial carbon stocks. This can help us minimize climate change effects – and save money by allowing us to use solutions offered by nature instead of expensive infrastructure. Protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon store more than 4.5 billion tones of carbon, worth an estimated US$39-87 billion!

Did you know?
  • Although peat covers only 3% of the earth’s surface it is the largest terrestrial carbon store, with huge deposits in Russia, Canada and Indonesia.

These precious areas also offer us food and water security. A third of the 105 world’s largest cities derive drinking water from forested protected area. A number of assessments in 80 marine protected areas found significantly higher fish populations inside reserves compared with surrounding areas.

Did you know?
  • 8 million people in Bogota and neighboring cities get water from Chingaza National Park.
  • 80% of Melbourne’s drinking water comes from closed water catchments in the Yarra Ranges which are largely in protected areas.

Economic losses from natural disasters have increased ten-fold over the last 50 years. Protected areas can reduce the occurrence and impacts of natural disasters, such as floods, landslides, typhoons and storms, drought and desertification.

Global warming and lack of clean water are expected to lead to increased health risks and epidemics. But here too, protected areas come to our rescue. They protect watersheds ensuring a clean and reliable water flow and supply medicinal plants on which many people around the world rely. They also offer us recreational opportunities that enhance our health. Many protected areas contain sacred sites which reinforce cultural values that are important to so many of us.

But all this can only happen if we continue to improve the management of protected areas and expand their networks, and urgent action is needed now. At the conference in Nagoya, IUCN is calling for at least 25% of terrestrial and inland water and 15% of coastal and marine areas, to be conserved through systems of effectively managed and well-governed protected areas by 2020 at the latest.

To raise awareness of the crucial role that protected areas play in conserving biodiversity, supporting livelihoods, maintaining ecosystem services and responding to climate change, IUCN is organizing a number of events during the conference in Nagoya, including the Protected Areas Day on 19th October

For more information, please contact:

Zoe Wilkinson, Protected Areas Programme Officer, e-mail:

Work area: 
Protected Areas
Protected Areas
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