Article | 01 Nov, 2021

Understanding the multiple benefits of area-based conservation

CEESP News: by Nigel Dudley and Sue Stolton, Equilibrium Research *

Under current proposals from the Convention on Biological Diversity, a target is likely to be set for 30% of the world’s land surface to be set aside into protected and conserved areas. Over 60 countries have pledged to meet this even ahead of the CBD Conference of Parties, and a significant number are already at or above this level. What are the wider implications of setting aside such a huge area for conservation? Two new reports look at some of the possible wider benefits.

Building on Nature: Area-based conservation as a key tool for delivering SDGs is a multi-organisational report, including IUCN, which assesses the role of area-based conservation in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and provides guidance on maximising associated benefits. It examines a dozen of the SDGs in turn, looking at the challenges to be met in their achievement, the potential role of protected and conserved areas, some case studies to provide real life examples, and guidance on how governments, protected area managers and other stakeholders can make best use of the opportunities.

Benefits include disaster risk reduction, water provision, food security, ecotourism and support for local communities, but also range wider into support for gender equality and peace building. A key recommendation of the authors is that those responsible for protected and conserved areas – whether the managers of state-run national parks or the communities running local reserves and ICCAs – can all help build long-term security and support by reporting their contributions to the SDGs. Some simple ways of doing this are described.

One particular – and rather controversial – type of benefit is the financial benefits from nature. Some people believe the whole idea of putting a dollar value on a species or ecosystem is unethical, others see it as a way of convincing sceptics of the importance of conservation.

Understanding the multiple benefits of area-based conservationPhoto: Report cover
Economic assessments have become increasingly popular in the last few years, but most include both immediate values (like tourist income) with more theoretical values (like the potential value of medicinal products likely to be found in a rainforest). Both are valid, but the first is much more likely to convince governments and civil society than the second.

In a technical report for the Convention on Biological Diversity, Making Money Local:
Can Protected Areas Deliver Both Economic Benefits and Conservation Objectives?
, 37 case studies looked at the concrete economic benefits from protected areas around the world, ranging from ecotourism, through support for local fishing communities, small-scale businesses, collection of medicinal plants and support for Indigenous peoples.

The report was challenging to compile; data are scarce, reporting systems erratic and one of the main recommendations is that such information needs to be collected much more systematically in the future.

Together, the two reports provide a framework for looking at conservation from a number of different angles. Much more work is needed now to bring these perspectives into mainstream of government thinking.

Understanding the multiple benefits of area-based conservation       Photo: Equilibrium Research
* Photo: Nigel Dudley and Sue Stolton, of Equilibrium Research

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