Crucial biodiversity zones lack protection

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National Broadcasting Corporation of Papua New Guinea, Papua New Guinea

A new report by UN Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), launched today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai‘i revealed that crucial biodiversity areas are being left out, key species and habitats are underrepresented and inadequate management is limiting the effectiveness of protected areas.

Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim while presenting the report said that huge gains in the number and size of protected areas made in the last decade have to be matched by improvements in their quality.

"The world needs to do more to effectively protect our most biologically diverse spaces. Protected areas need to be better connected, to allow populations of animals and plants to mix and spread. Also important is ensuring local communities are involved in protection efforts. Their support is fundamental to long-term conservation," he said.

IUCN Director General Inger Andersen added by saying that the world is facing critical environmental and societal challenges, such as climate change, food and water security. This is another burden.

”Protected areas play a major role in conserving species and ecosystems that help us confront these challenges," he said. "Ensuring that they are carefully mapped and effectively managed is crucial if we want to continue to prosper on this planet."

According to scientists at IUCN and UN Environment's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, there are 202,467 protected areas today, covering almost 20 million square kilometers or 14.7 per cent of the world’s land, excluding Antarctica. That falls just short of the 17 per cent target set for 2020 by the Convention on Biological Diversity under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Land coverage of protected areas has decreased by 0.7 per cent since the last Protected Planet report. Scientists attribute the decline to fluxes in data, such as changes in boundaries, removal of some large sites from the World Database on Protected Areas and improved data quality, rather than an actual decrease in coverage on the ground.

While bigger countries in Latin America and the Caribbean protect the largest portion of their land, amounting to nearly 5 million square kilometers. The Pacific region has little land to do so, in contributing to that island states like Palau, French Polynesia and Hawaii have gone into conversing large parts of marine ecosystems.

The size of marine protected areas has increased from just over 4 million in 2006 to nearly 15 million square kilometers today. The report recommends investing in protected areas to strengthen sustainable management of fisheries, control invasive species, cope with climate change and reduce harmful incentives, such as subsidies, which threaten biodiversity.

It says recommendations would help to halt biodiversity loss, improve food and water security, enable vulnerable human communities to better cope with natural disasters and conserve traditional knowledge.