But assessing management effectiveness using these methods is not enough to address the core question: Are protected areas achieving a sufficient quality of management that they actually meet their objectives? Many governments and agencies are asking IUCN to provide the basis for an independent measure of whether protected areas are achieving quality standards, that can be used for rewarding effective management or for stimulating further investment in addressing the weaknesses that have been identified.
This the focus of GPAP’s priority, to facilitate the development of a new international standard for the minimum level of achievement that all protected areas should attain in order to meet their objectives. This standard is being referred to as the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas. Realising that this standard needs to meet the needs of users and be built from the ground up, IUCN WCPA, together with some national partners and other agencies is currently piloting the application of the IUCN Green List, with a view to being able to provide more concrete proposals for its launch at the 2014 6th World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.
Protected areas are widely regarded as one of the most successful measures implemented for the conservation of biodiversity, drawing upon traditional and community-based approaches, governance regimes, scientific and traditional knowledge and contemporary practices of governments and conservation agencies. This is reflected in the Global Biodiversity Outlook (CBD 2010), where protected areas are one of the few measures that can be rated as improving at the global scale, and indeed one of the few measures of conservation success at any scale. Funding for strengthening PA systems and supporting capacity development for their effective management is at an all-time high, reflecting both the need and the cost-effectiveness of protected areas as a primary conservation measure by governments and donors. Decisions on protected areas reached at CBD COP10 in 2010 and that now form part of the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 are widely considered to be the most far-reaching and important in decades.
IUCN together with UNEP-WCMC jointly manages the World Database on Protected Areas, mandated by the UN, to report on and communicate the progress that the global community is making on establishing and managing protected areas. This is the authoritative source of information on protected areas, and can be used effectively to position IUCN and UNEP-WCMC as measuring progress against the CBD Strategic Plan on Biodiversity. The World Database on Protected Areas has now been fully incorporated into a new web-based platform known as Protected Planet, that provides a more user-friendly interface for a range of stakeholders to obtain information and provide information on protected areas worldwide. Everyone involved with protected areas is encouraged to register on Protected Planet and to join this worldwide network of places and the people who ensure that they remain effectively managed and achieving their purpose in perpetuity.
Yet, protected areas also suffer from the perception that they are outmoded, or at worst, do not benefit, but cause negative impacts on people. While there may be instances where practice has been less than optimal, and these should be addressed, there is an increasing body of evidence of the significant contributions of protected areas to economy and society. Communicating this value of protected area systems is crucial for securing investment by governments, the avoidance of impacts through development and for raising and sustaining awareness and support by communities and the public at large. As many nature conservation agencies have attempted to communicate the relevance of nature conservation for human needs, they have failed to draw attention to protected areas as one of the few effective measures to achieve this. There remains a real niche and opportunity for IUCN to develop, assert and promote a 21st Century concept of protected areas as part of natural solutions to address some of the most complex problems the world faces. IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication is working together with the World Commission on Protected Areas, GPAP and the IUCN Communications Division to develop an overall communications strategy, define key messages and audiences, and to brand and develop appropriate products.