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More numerous but insufficiently efficient protected areas

During the last decade, protected areas have progressed in terms of areas of the planet covered from 14.1% to 15.3% for land and from 2.9% to 7.5% for the sea, providing greater protection for corals and many other marine species. It’s good news but efforts remain to be made.



The findings are mixed: major advances have indeed been made in terms of the expansion of protected areas but the targets have not been reached. By signing the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB) at Nagoya (Japan) in 2010, the 195 member States of the UN committed themselves to according protected status to 17% of global land surface and 10% of coastal marine zones, identified in the green list of the IUCN. The actual figures don’t match, despite a considerable acceleration during the past decade. The task of setting the targets for 2030 has been put off for a year, with the postponement until 2021 of the next session of the CDB (COP15) in China, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Better identification of the zones to be protected

Above all, the protection accorded has not proven to be very efficient. The areas created do not always cover the most critical sites for biodiversity conservation and ecosystemic services at the global scale. This is the conclusion of the analysis performed by the members of the World Commission on Protected Areas on the protected areas of the IUCN and published in the scientific journal Nature on 7 October 2020. They report that more than half the terrestrial and marine ecosystems and a third of the key biodiversity zones remained without adequate protection in 2019, leaving 78% of known species threatened with extinction bereft of any protection. According to the Fondation pour la Recherche sur la Biodiversité,  which, at the beginning of November, organised a thematic day on protected areas . 1,062 protected areas exist in the Mediterranean, i.e. 6% of its surface area, though only 0.23% is given efficient protection. Simply increasing the surface area managed and conserved is not sufficient unless it targets the areas with the greatest wealth of animal and plant species.


Efficiency of protection and management

Lastly, the efficiency of protection must be associated with that of management. Although all governments agree on acknowledging the essential role of these protected and conserved areas in the combat to maintain biodiversity, the means implemented to significantly reduce anthropic pressure remain inconsistent. The lack of human and financial resources allocated and weak political will to ensure conformity with the regulations feature among the difficulties encountered. Another is the lack of consensus at the international level on the definition of a protected area and what can and cannot be done by humans within it.

 Speaking for the UICN, Dr Kathy MacKinnon, chairwoman of the World Commission on Protected Areas, asked for “new ambitious global conservation targets for biodiversity for beyond 2020”. This entails more investment, legal support and shared recognition of what a protected area is supposed to be, whether it is managed by a State, the private sector or indigenous and local communities, and the place given in it to the inhabitants.



The COP15 summit will be crucial. A large number of environmental organisations and States – foremost of which France and Costa Rica – hope to obtain the generalisation of the objective of 30% of terrestrial zones protected from now to 2030, with at least 10% of this objective being given “strong protection” status.


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