Protected and Conserved Areas

Over the years, the number of Protected and Conserved Areas (PCAs) has increased and today 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and about 10% of the global ocean are protected. The area of protected land on Earth has increased to seven times the size of India over the last decade. PCAs are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation and one of the most important tools to help promote climate change mitigation and adaptation, and strengthen social, economic and environmental benefits of PCAs.

parkPhoto: © IUCN

Presently IUCN’s spread of work globally across terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine PCAs has expanded over the years and so has the global engagements and linkages that contribute to the protection of biodiversity and PCAs through processes, conventions and global commitments.  Protected and Conserved Areas are central to delivering IUCN’s goals and outcomes based on global IUCN Programme, Nature 2030 – One Nature, One Future. For more than 50 years, IUCN and WCPA have been at the forefront of global action on PCAs, leading to the conservation of priority places and species and protection of high value biodiversity areas and ecosystem services including climate adaptation.

Building an Asia vision for PCAs is a step forward for consolidating the investments that IUCN can make for contributing to the benefit of global biodiversity and sustainable development, to strengthen and strategize the desired conservation outcomes and outputs. Therefore, we need stronger support for PCAs than before within the network and spin the positive impacts through our work on PCAs in Asia. 

Asia has an extensive system of PCAs, covering both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. According to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), there are now more than 12,300 protected areas in Asia, including 49 natural World Heritage Sites and 298 Ramsar Sites. Although the pace of establishment is slowing, more than 1,000 new protected areas have been created in the last six years.

For centuries, protected areas have been an integral part of Asian landscapes and seascapes and have played a vital role in conserving biodiversity and the ecosystem services on which many communities depend. Besides protecting biodiversity, they protect watersheds, control erosion, reduce the impacts of disasters such as floods and landslides, and play a significant role in carbon sequestration. They additionally assist to enhance food security, provide medicines and income for local communities, and are often of great cultural and spiritual significance to tens of thousands of people throughout Asia.

Asia is the most populous region in the world, with a remarkable cultural and natural heritage. It includes several megadiverse countries and is home to a number of global biodiversity “hotspots.”

Protected and conserved areas system across Asia are integral to securing these biodiversity “hotspots”, however, are increasingly under threat. As Asia's economy and populations have grown, so too have the pressures on the region's natural environment. Habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive alien species, pollution, over exploitation and climate change all threaten Asia's protected areas and the many benefits they provide.

Though, despite the rapid progress that has been made in developing the region’s PCA systems, many challenges remain. For example; Many sites of critical importance for the long-term perseverance of biodiversity still remain outside protected and conserved areas; numerous important ecosystem types remain inadequately represented; a wide number of PCAs are poorly connected to their wider ecological landscapes; a large number of PCAs are poorly resourced, inadequately managed or lack management altogether. Common problems faced by PCAs across the region include land encroachment, poaching, poorly controlled tourism, invasive alien species, conflicts with local communities and Indigenous peoples, unmanaged climate change impacts and escalating human-wildlife conflict. In order to address these concerns, there is a pressing need both to expand Asia’s PCA systems in order to address gaps in biodiversity coverage, ecosystem representation and ecological connectivity, and to strengthen their governance and management effectiveness.

There are multiple ways in which the PCA programme can be designed and described. One could take a biogeographic approach, or an ecosystems approach or a species and biodiversity-based approach. Given the complex and cross cutting nature of the work spread across the PCAs, what would be a simple yet strategic architecture to define the PCAs programme in the order that it reflects and caters to the national and regional wildlife thematic areas and conservation needs as well as aligns internally within IUCN, connected to the Impact Targets contained in the global IUCN Programme, Nature 2030 – One Nature, One Future. Besides this the programme will also play an important role in securing the environmental basis of development as recognized in multilateral commitments such as the Aichi Targets (CBD), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Forum (GBF) under target-3 and other area-based conservation measures. Ensuring that it helps in an integrated way in delivering the area-based conservation global targets and goals.

IUCN provides a neutral space in which diverse stakeholders including governments, NGOs, scientists, businesses, local communities, indigenous people organisations and others who can work together to forge and implement solutions to environmental challenges and achieve sustainable development, through its work on PCAs across the region.

Working with many partners and supporters, IUCN can implement a large and diverse portfolio of conservation projects regionally and in alignment with other projects worldwide. Combining the latest science with the traditional knowledge of local communities, these projects work to reverse habitat loss, restore ecosystems and improve people’s well-being. By promoting adaptive governance, effective management and equitable benefit-sharing mechanisms, the work can be scaled up to drive this transformative change for all PCAs regionally.

The Asia Vision 2030 for PCAs is based on a comprehensive framework that has been redefined and divided into 4 key interlinked and 1 cross-cutting Strategic Directions, related Strategic Engagements that will contribute either in parallel or sequentially as required. For each Strategic Direction, some Strategic Engagements are highlighted with key Flagship Initiative/s, for the ability to raise the profile and to influence change across the PCAs in Asia (please refer to Fig. 1). All of this together defines the nuts and bolts of PCA programme, with nature and people at the very heart of its delivery.

The 4 main and 1 cross-cutting Strategic Directions are listed and described below:

  • Governance and Sustainable Financing: During recent years, however, the range of actors involved in protected area governance and management has broadened through increasing numbers of co-management arrangements, indigenous peoples’ and community conserved areas and protected areas initi­ated by private actors. Resource mobilization for Protected and Conserved Areas is a long-running and critical gap in efforts to protect biodiversity. Investing in PCAs will further support and guide resource investments for IUCN and ’s Partnership on quality and governance PCA. This sign of growing ownership is encouraging and gives hope for more acceptance and sustainability of protected areas. Nevertheless, a great deal remains to be done both to enhance good and equitable governance and management effectiveness of protected areas and to expand and increase efforts in protecting key biodiversity areas and in areas that are important for ecosystem services that are not categories under the IUCN PCA categories.


  • Standards and Tools: Over the last 20 years, our understanding of what constitutes good management of protected areas has increased considerably. More than 40 management effectiveness evaluation (MEE) data collection tools have been developed. These have been based largely on principles from the IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas. MEE tools identify when things are going wrong, but they do not necessarily provide concrete steps for improvement, nor do they set standards against which to measure results and document change. The CBD identified the need for such standards in its 2004 Programme of Work on Protected Areas (CBD, 2004). Standards can, among other things, define key terminology; determine which data, methods and approaches are most favourable; and specify monitoring needs and the reporting format. They provide clear guidance on minimum requirements for effective management. There is good evidence that standards improve adoption of best practices, learning, performance-based awards, and the quality of results. Standards also help donors to assess if investments are used for both institutional and private donors. At the heart of the IUCN Green List initiative is a globally applicable Standard. It provides an international benchmark for quality that motivates improved performance and achievement of conservation objectives. By committing to meet the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas Standard, site managers must demonstrate and maintain performance and deliver real nature conservation results. 

The IUCN Green List Standard is organised into four components. Each component is supported by criteria and indicators to measure achievement. There are 17 criteria covering all four components. The 17 criteria collectively describe the efforts needed to fully achieve the global Sustainability Standard and all must be achieved for green-listing. The indicators can be adapted to suit the local context. The IUCN Green List Standard are also aligned to other Standards in operation for PCAs and forms the umbrella framework for all associated tools and guidance that PCA would need to be effectively managed.


  • Capacity and Networking: Capacity building of PCAs is a vital component enabling the governance and management of PCAs. Investing in capacity of the management of PCAs along with other resources leads to successful and effective PCAs.  Adapting to the various roles that PCAs play to cater to the diverse stakeholders that engage with them, it is necessary to ensure that institutions and individuals are capable of delivering what is needed. This requires, enabling management to develop and use the competences required to do their jobs and strengthen individual capacity, establishing and sustaining entities of all types that take responsibility for protected areas by building organisational capacity, creating an ‘enabling environment’ that politically, economically, and culturally recognises the values of PCAs and enables them to thrive, builds societal capacity.

It will be important to talk about two key institutions within IUCN, the World Commission of Protected Areas (WCPA). It is the world's premier network of protected area expertise. It is administered by IUCN's Global Programme on Protected Areas and has over 2,500 members, spanning 140 countries. The WCPA develops knowledge-based policy, advice and guidance on the full suite of issues surrounding protected areas through the establishment of Specialist Groups and Task Forces. It brings together global experts to find solutions for programme priorities, including global protected area standards and Best Practice Guidelines.  WCPA provides a huge impetus in building the technical capacity through its advisory role and the knowledge products. In context to Asia, the Asia Protected Area Partnership (APAP) is important and needs mention here. Since its formal establishment in 2014, APAP has grown rapidly and now has a membership of 23 organisations from 17 countries. It has become an increasingly successful regional platform for sharing information among government protected area agencies, promoting best practices and building capacity.

Under the auspices of APAP, numerous technical workshops have been held to enhance the capacity of protected area practitioners and encourage regional exchange of experience, on topics such as collaborative management, human-wildlife conflict, management effectiveness and sustainable tourism. APAP has also facilitated the translation of selected IUCN Best Practice Guidelines into Asian languages.

Further to this the networking plays and important role in fostering the PCA agenda and mobilizing resources for financing and capacity of PCAs. Important institutional partners within the region include: the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB); the Korea National Park Service (KNPS); the Ministry of Environment, Korea; the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Korea (MOF); and the Ministry of the Environment, Japan (MoEJ). It is anticipated that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India, will become an increasingly important partner as it takes up the reins as the new APAP co-chair. The possibility of developing partnerships with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) will also be explored.

Key implementation partners within the IUCN global “family” include the Conservation Action Centre, the Global Protected and Conserved Areas Team, the Global World Heritage Team and the WCPA and its various specialist groups and task forces (e.g., on tourism, human-wildlife conflict, and COVID-19) and other Commissions especially the Species Survival Commission (SSC). Linkages with the IUCN Urban Alliance also will need to be build, given the rapid linear infrastructure development across the region that threatens the future of many PCAs.

A PCA Community of Practice (CoP) has been established, composed of focal points from each country and programme office in the region. The members of the CoP will meet on a regular basis to exchange information about protected and conserved area initiatives and priorities in their respective countries, review funding opportunities, explore the potential for regional collaboration. This will further strengthen the capacity and networking of the PCA programme nationally and regionally.

Policy and Advocacy: PCAs will continue to play an important role in conservation and protection of biodiversity and wild habitats, particularly in countries where population pressure and habitat loss are high. Regular intervention, political commitment, and effective governance are essential for the sustainability of PAs across the globe. The aim of creating a national PCA System is unlikely to be achieved unless the policy and legislative environment is supportive. Policy commitments framed in terms of high-level international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity or other treaties and Conventions will be meaningless unless, these international agreements have not been translated into domestic policy. Otherwise they just lead to the creation of only paper parks hence have had little or no impact on the behaviour of Governments or commitment to biodiversity conservation.

One of the key institutions within IUCN is WCPA, which works by helping governments and others plan PCAs and integrate them into all sectors; by providing strategic advice to policy makers; by strengthening capacity and investment in protected areas; and by convening the diverse constituency of protected area stakeholders to address challenging issues.


  • Outreach and Communication: This is a cross cutting Strategic Direction, that assist in building further constituency for PCAs. Faced with the need to involve a greater number of stakeholders in conservation and management of PCAs in Asia, the relevance of communication and outreach is clear. Used strategically and efficiently, communication supports the right to information and ensures that participation can be founded on the knowledge required to make decisions and take day-to-day actions. Thus, communication is not simply a tool for disseminating information. Applied strategically it also facilitates a dialogue that generates new information and knowledge, helping to maintain the individual and collective motivation necessary to maintain agreed actions. As such, communication and outreach can be seen as an instrument for PCA management, assisting socio-ecological and management actions through wide stakeholder engagement and outreach.