World Parks Congress: Greater Protected Area Commitments Needed to Meet Global Demands on Nature

Sydney, Australia (PRWEB) November 19, 2014

At the close of the sixth IUCN World Parks Congress, Conservation International (CI) is calling for nations to focus on and invest in the creation and effective management of protected areas to ensure that nature can provide for humanity’s needs. The Congress saw many nations make ambitious commitments to protect vital ecosystems. The unprecedented stress society is placing on nature worldwide; however, make it imperative not just to celebrate this momentum, but to expand upon it.

These commitments include:

    Madagascar reiterated its commitment to triple protected area coverage on land, added a commitment to triple marine protected area, and promised to bring an end to the illegal rosewood trade and ensure effective management of all its protected areas.
    Comoros committed to a 11-fold increase in protected areas and to make the entire island of Moheli a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve.
    South Africa stated its intention to increase marine protected areas by ten times,
    Russia said it would increase its protected area coverage by 22% and offered to host the next Congress in 2024.
    Australia announced its intention to create of the Rainforest Recovery Program, increased financial support for the Coral Triangle Initiative, ramped up efforts to curb the illegal wildlife trade, and a permanent ban on dumping in the Great Barrier Reef.

Russ Mittermeier, executive vice chair of CI said, “Nature’s message to humanity couldn’t be plainer: Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature. We must do more to meet the tremendous demand that the seven billion of us are placing on nature right now, let alone the nine and a half billion we expect by 2050.”

Since the previous World Parks Congress, held in Durban, South Africa in 2003, many critically important areas have achieved protected status. Today, more than 15% of Earth’s terrestrial areas are under some type of formal protection and more than 12% are committed to Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Areas and Territories. Combining these amounts roughly 27-28% of land is under some form of protection. This is much greater than the 17% goal of Aichi.

“The momentum is great, but we must now move quickly to take advantage of it to meet pressing demands in some of the highest priority countries. Since its founding in 1987, CI has been involved in many efforts to change the scale of protected areas with great success,” said Mittermeier. “Now is the time to step up global commitments to protected areas to ensure that nature can continue to protect biodiversity and provide the essential services that we all depend for our own survival and well-being, among them fresh water, food, clean air, climate regulation and natural disaster prevention.

The question of scale was a popular topic at the Congress and the 50% target implied in “Nature Needs Half”, received a lot of attention. This holds that half the natural world needs to be protected to maintain the biodiversity and ecological processes needed for human wellbeing. “While we do not know exactly how much needs to be protected to support our needs, it is certainly more than we currently have – and we urgently need research to determine how much is essential.” said Mittermeier. “In the meantime, we should continue to protect more in the highest priority areas, and ensure that effective management is in place everywhere.”

Marine protected areas were a major highlight, with leaders from the vast, nearly 40 million square kilometers Pacific Oceanscape being active participants in the Congress. Particularly noteworthy was the presence of President Anote Kong of Kiribati, Prime Minister Henry Puna of the Cook Islands, and President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, whose commitments total nearly 2 million square kilometers, an area the size of Alaska and California combined. Previously known as Small Island Developing States, these countries are well on their way to becoming Large Marine States. Thanks to the efforts of these and other countries, marine protected areas have seen a substantial increase since Durban, particularly in recent years, going from less than 1% in 2010 to around 3% of the world’s oceans protected today. It is still short of the 10% Aichi Biodiversity Target for coastal and marine areas, but it is progress nonetheless

Another important consideration is the upholding of already established protected areas. CI has uncovered an alarming trend for protected areas to be eliminated outright, either through downsizing or degazettement by the country that created them. With the use of the Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing and Degazettement (PADDD) Tracker, created by CI’s Mike Mascia, two thousand such cases have been identified in 74 countries due to extractive concessions and agricultural expansion. Protected areas need ongoing management and long term financial support to ensure that they are effective and can provide ecosystem services into the long term.

Protected areas are essential to sustainable development and human wellbeing

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, vice president for conservation policy at CI said, “Meeting the major challenges facing our planet, from putting society on a sustainable development path to adapting to climate change, depends on a dramatic increase in protected areas and improved management. We know, from our projects around the world, that protected areas can provide significant environmental, social and economic benefits without great cost.” Rodriguez noted a report from this year’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that showed that every dollar invested in biodiversity conservation yields a $ 7 dollar return in environmental services, like clean air, food and fresh water provision.

Kristen Walker Painemilla, managing director and senior vice president of CI’s Policy Center said. “Some of the worlds poorest people depend directly on protected areas. At the World Parks Congress, CI released five case studies on how protected areas can safeguard biodiversity and build peace in conflict hotspots.”

Indigenous and Community Owned Areas

CI also noted the need for greater support for the development and recognition of Indigenous protected areas and Community Owned Areas. These areas are being created and run by indigenous peoples and local communities around the world; through empowerment, these important traditional lands, natural resources and unique cultures have been safeguarded by those that hold great personal value for these areas. Innovative financing mechanisms need to be developed to support indigenous peoples and local communities in their efforts to promote indigenous economies and implement enduring, effective territorial management using traditional knowledge.

Partnership support for protected areas

“Working with committed corporate partners, CI is demonstrating the important role the private sector can have in financing the creation and long-term financing of protected areas which benefit people,” said Jennifer Morris, CI’s Chief Operating Officer. CI’s partnership with BHP Billiton has protected and financed over 60,000 hectares of habitat for 16 globally threatened species, and generated nearly 900 million cubic meters of high-quality fresh water while avoiding the release of 75,000 tons of CO2-e per annum. Through CI’s partnership with HP and the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, a first-of-its-kind monitoring system that provides data-driven insight into the status of wildlife in protected areas was released at the Congress. Also through our partnership with the World Resources Institute, Firecast, an innovative satellite-based system announced its expansion into Indonesia, at the Congress. This will provide a forest flammability risk index through the Global Forest Watch Fires (GFW-Fires) platform.

Mittermier added finally: “Coming out of Sydney, we need the global community to understand the urgent need to increase the scale of protection, the essential role that indigenous and local communities must play in this process, and the importance of effective management for protected areas, as well as a long-term commitment to maintaining them once created.”

The closing session of the Congress was marked by several historic announcements from participating countries. The President of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, reiterated the commitment made by one of his predecessors at the 2003 World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa to triple protected area coverage in his critically important country. He also made a new commitment to triple marine protected area coverage in Madagascar, promised to end the illegal rosewood trade, to ensure effective management of all existing protected areas by mid-2015, and to make nature central to his country’s long-term development strategy. Following those announcements, Fouad Mohadji, the Vice-President of Madagascar’s neighbor, the Comoros, committed to a 11-fold increase in protected areas, both marine and terrestrial, from 2% to 22%, and to make the entire island of Moheli a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve. South Africa stated its intention to increase marine protected areas 10-fold as well, and Russia said it would increase its protected area coverage by 22% and also offered to host the next World Parks Congress in 2024.

The host nation Australia reiterated several commitments made during the week of the Congress, including the creation of a Rainforest Recovery Program for the region, increased financial support for the Coral Triangle Initiative, ramped up efforts to curb the illegal wildlife trade, and a permanent ban on dumping in the Great Barrier Reef. Of particular note was the creation of an Indigenous Peoples Commissioner position, with aboriginal leader Melissa George becoming the first to fill this position, and a strong focus on the importance of indigenous territories for the aboriginal peoples of Australia.    

This year’s World Parks Congress, which concluded yesterday, was like its predecessors a landmark event that will be remembered as a turning point in the way we view the natural world. Through its Promise of Sydney, it set an ambitious agenda for the critically important next decade.

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Related Blog: What We Need from the World Parks Congress, November 12, 2014 by Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier

For more information, contact:

Kevin Connor, Media Manager, Conservation International

Office +1 703 341 2405/ mobile +1 571 232 0455/email kconnor(at)conservation(dot)org

About Conservation International (CI)

Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity for the well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area and employs more than 800 staff in 30 countries on six continents, and has nearly 1,000 partners around the world. For more information, please visit our website: or visit us on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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