Protected Areas

Governance, equity and rights

Governance is a hot topic in conservation. However, the 'governance of protected areas' is not new. Ever since protected areas and conservation existed, someone, somewhere, has been taking decisions about them. What is new is that we are paying attention to it and articulating the concept and practice to understand it better. Take a look at this video in which different actors fully illustrate the governance concept.

Governance vs management

Governance of protected areas is a powerful concept that people concerned with protected areas should understand and clearly distinguish from management. Management usually concerns what activities are being carried out in a given situation or area, while governance concerns who decides what those activities are, how that is decided and how those decisions are implemented.  Viewing protected areas through a governance lens opens up key information about not only power, authority and responsibility but also history, culture, traditions, people and political context.  Before 2003, protected areas management and management effectiveness were the central focus of protected area analysis.  Since 2003, however, the centrality of governance has emerged… and has never ceased to grow.    


Background and paradigm shift

The mission of the IUCN is the vision of a just world that values and conserves nature.   Unpacking the word ‘just’ allows us to address issues of justice, fairness, equity and rights-based approaches in conservation.  The governance of protected areas plays a key role in helping us to better understand how to create a just world that values and conserves nature. 

The 5th IUCN World Parks Congress, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2003, dedicated for the first time an entire stream of events to the concept of governance. Since those pioneering efforts, the topic has evolved into an expanding field of enquiry. In parallel, governance models in the field also keep evolving in dynamic and innovative practice. Government-established protected areas are now often governed and/or advised by multi-party Boards. Many conserved and protected areas are established and run by indigenous peoples, local communities, NGOs and family or corporate landowners. And the World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, Australia, November 2014, again dedicated an entire stream of events to the concept, namely Stream 6 entitled 'Enhancing the diversity and quality of governance of protected area'.

See here two short movies: the first fully recounts the Stream and the second explains the agenda for action. The Proceedings of the Stream and its Summary conclusions can also be downloaded at these links.

The concept of governance has received international recognition by the Convention on Biological Diversity in its Programme of Work on Protected Areas (POWPA), in Decisions at COP 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 & in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.  Together, these pronouncements call CBD Parties:

  • To support innovative types of governance for protected areas… to be acknowledged in national legislation or via other effective means…
  • To seek equity and effectiveness in conservation while expanding coverage, intensifying restoration and engaging indigenous & traditional knowledge, skills and institutions.

An analysis of how to respond to the CBD call has been carried out, with CBD Secretariat’s encouragement,  by the IUCN, the ICCA Consortium, to address component two of the POWPA (”Governance, participation, equity and benefit sharing”) but also to pursue the 2010-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and Targets 11, 14 and 18 in particular.


If you are a protected areas manager or are involved in protected areas governance, and need further information, then please get in touch


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