An international team of scientists has issued a global report card for the countries of the world on their conservation commitments made under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ten years ago.

Many are failing.

Reporting their results in the journal Nature, the team led by the University of Queensland, WCS and 14 other international organizations, conducted a global review of area-based conservation efforts, including both protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

The team found that while many countries have outstanding protected area estates, such as Botswana and Thailand, when it comes to ensuring the right types of environments and species are protected, many others including species-rich countries such as Madagascar and Papua New Guinea, are falling well short on their targets

In 2010, nearly every country on Earth—all members of the Convention on Biological Diversity--agreed that area-based conservation efforts must cover at least 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of the ocean and, critically, also be placed in areas that are important for biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020.

The researchers reviewed progress toward this target by overlaying maps of protected areas on natural ecosystems, threatened species, carbon services on land and sea, and fisheries productivity in the world’s oceans.

They found that the 17 percent area target was nowhere near high enough to achieve full ecological representation and coverage of threatened species. In addition, 78 percent of known threatened species, and more than half of all ecosystems on land and sea, remain without adequate protection.

In addition, they found that seven of the most productive regions for fisheries have no formal protected area coverage at all.

The authors note that the current financial shortfall for area-based conservation likely exceeds the multi-billion dollar mark, and as much as 90 per cent have on-site staff capacity that is inadequate or below optimum.

Said the study’s lead author, Dr Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland: “Our evidence makes a powerful case for much better implementation and ambition after 2020. Adequately funded and equitably managed protected areas are one of our best tools for reducing threats to biodiversity.”

The researchers also reviewed how effective and equitable protected area management has been, given these criteria also featured in area-based conservation targets agreed in 2010, and subsequently adopted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They found that decision-making is often not equitable and local stakeholders can perceive a general loss of rights over natural resources in many cases, after the establishment of a protected area.

Professor James Watson, of UQ and the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the next round of conservation targets are fundamental to the future of life on the planet.

Said Watson: “We’re in a global biodiversity crisis that threatens our collective future. We understand what needs to be done to effectively and equitably manage this biodiversity crisis, but governments have dramatically underinvested in protected areas and have been weak in legally protecting them.”

The authors say that for biodiversity to have any chance, governments, multilateral donors, and other funders must invest far more resources in consolidating and supporting area-based conservation efforts. There are also significant opportunities to better recognize and support the biodiversity benefits of land and sea areas managed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, as well as privately protected areas. In addition, new models are needed for area-based conservation that rewards equitable and conservation-positive actions by miners, farmers and developers.

Said Watson: “To be more successful after 2020, strong action must be taken to ensure that area-based conservation contributes more effectively to meeting global biodiversity goals—ranging from preventing extinctions to retaining the most-intact ecosystems on our planet—and ensures better collaboration with the many Indigenous Peoples, community groups and private initiatives that are central to the successful conservation of biodiversity.”

The authors say that the long-term success of area-based conservation requires Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to secure adequate financing, plan for climate change and make biodiversity conservation a far stronger part of land, water and sea management policies.

In the last 100 years, WCS has helped governments and Indigenous Peoples to establish, recognize, and manage 245 parks and reserves protecting nature, securing local economies, and strengthening cultural identities. Learn More