Protected areas like national parks, nature reserves and marine sanctuaries will be at the centre of attention during this year’s World Environment Day. Canada, the official host for the 2017 celebrations, is offering citizens free access to their 46 national parks for a year to encourage them to ‘connect with nature.’
What are protected areas?
Protected areas are places dedicated and managed to conserve nature and secure the many other benefits they provide. Many protected areas are controlled by government agencies. Others are owned or managed by individuals, conservation organizations or local communities.
Why are they important?
Protected areas play a big role in maintaining a healthy environment for people and nature. Many are ‘biodiversity hotspots’ crucial for slowing the downward spiral in the populations and variety of animals and plants. They are vital to the cultures and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities. They support people’s livelihoods, for instance as breeding grounds that replenish fish stocks. They deliver clean air and water, bring benefits to millions through tourism and recreation, and protect us from climate change and natural disasters.
How many are there?
According to figures from the World Database on Protected Areas, there are more than 200,000 protected areas on land and inland water such as lakes and rivers. They cover about 20 million km², or 15 per cent of the world’s terrestrial surface. In addition, there are nearly 15,000 marine protected areas with a total area of some 18.5 million km². They cover about 13 per cent of territorial waters and 5 per cent of the global ocean.
Is that enough?
The number and extent of protected areas has shot up in the last 20 years and continues to grow. Under a UN convention, countries aim to have protected areas cover 17 per cent of the world’s land by 2020. We are still about 3 million km² short of that goal. While the 10 per cent target for coastal and marine areas has been surpassed for territorial waters, the figure for oceans is relatively modest.
What is the outlook?
More and more people and governments understand how protected areas support sustainable economic development as well as helping counter pollution, deforestation, and the erosion of biodiversity. In some countries, rising incomes and changing lifestyles mean more people are visiting protected areas and appreciating their riches. This can push policymakers to create more protected areas, and improve the management of existing ones.
More statistics, maps and other information are available from the World Database on Protected Areas, a project of the UN Environment’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.