Protected and Conserved Areas

parkPhoto: © IUCN


Asia has an extensive system of protected and conserved areas (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.

These protected areas provide a wide range of services and benefits to society. They conserve biodiversity; protect watersheds; control erosion; reduce the risk of disasters such as floods and landslides; and sequester large amounts of carbon. They provide food, fibre, medicines and income for local communities, and are often of great cultural and spiritual significance.

However, despite the rapid progress that has been made in developing the region’s protected area systems, many challenges remain. For example:

  • Many sites of critical importance for the longterm perseverance of biodiversity remain outside protected and conserved areas;
  • Many important ecosystem types remain inadequately represented;
  • Many protected and conserved areas are poorly connected to their wider ecological landscapes;
  • Many protected and conserved areas are inadequately managed or lack management altogether. Common problems across the region include encroachment, poaching, poorly controlled tourism, invasive alien species, conflicts with local communities and Indigenous peoples, climate change impacts, and escalating humanwildlife conflict.

In order to address these concerns, there is now a pressing need both to expand Asia’s protected and conserved area systems to address gaps in biodiversity coverage, ecosystem representation and ecological connectivity, and to strengthen the effectiveness of their governance and management.

Strategic Objectives and Priority Intervention Areas, 2021-2024 

Objective 1. Equitable and effective governance of natural resources at all levels to benefit people and nature

  • IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas: The Green List Standard distills over 70 years of IUCN’s area-based conservation area experience into a powerful tool for promoting the fair and effective management of protected and conserved areas. One of the Programme’s highest priorities will be to promote the IUCN Green List Standard as a key strategy for enhancing management effectiveness and the quality of protected areas across the region. A Regional Green List Development Strategy for Asia is currently being finalised.

Objective 2. Terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems are retained and restored, species are conserved and recovered, and key biodiversity areas are safeguarded

  • Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs): In many countries in Asia, the appetite for expanding the formal protected area system is waning; land-use pressures are too high and government resources are too stretched. If countries are to meet the ambitious new targets contained in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), new approaches to area-based conservation will need to be found. OECMs are a particularly promising option, in which there is growing interest across the region. The PCA Programme will accord priority to promoting understanding of the OECM approach, building capacity in its application, and piloting the identification, recognition and reporting of OECMs in a number of selected countries. 

Objective 3. Nature and people thrive in cities while delivering solutions for urban challenges and a sustainable ecological footprint

  • Urban Protected Areas: Asia is one of the most rapidly urbanising regions of the world. There is enormous potential to create urban protected areas, and in doing so, to conserve biodiversity, promote the health and wellbeing of urban residents and address issues such as flooding and urban heat effects. The PCA Programme will implement an integrated package of activities to promote urban protected areas, including awareness raising, the translation of the IUCN WCPA Best Practice Guidelines into Asian languages, the organisation of training and capacity building programmes, and the piloting of urban protected areas in selected countries. The PCA Programme will also provide technical support to URBAN (Urban Resilience Building and Nature), an IKI-funded project being implemented by the Thailand Country Programme.

Objective 4. Countries use Nature-based Solutions to scale up effective adaptation to the impacts of climate change and to reach climate mitigation targets

  • Protected and Conserved Areas as Nature-based Solutions to Climate Change: Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change. However, the potential role of protected and conserved areas to contribute to both adaptation and mitigation remains poorly recognised. The PCA programme will work to raise awareness of the way in which protected and conserved areas can serve as Nature-based solutions to climate change. This will include seeking funding for the production of new WCPA Best Practice Guidelines on creating/managing protected areas to maximise their climate mitigation benefits.

As an overarching priority intervention area, the PCA Programme will continue to support the Asia Protected Areas Partnership (APAP): 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. In the 2021-2024 period, priority will be accorded to building on these foundations and to strengthening APAP, e.g., by expanding its membership, making greater use of its potential to foster regional collaboration and transboundary conservation, and exploring new initiatives such as a staff exchange/secondment programme.