Protected Areas

Among the tools which may be put at the service of conservation, protected areas (PA) occupy a special niche, and are widely recognized as a cornerstone of conservation policy and action. While one of the oldest techniques used to protect places and resources for achieving specific conservation-related goals, protected areas have, over the past few decades, evolved into important management tools. The concept of protected area systems, and its recognition for use at all levels – national, regional and global – has also considerably increased their potential.

PA Law

In order to be effective, however, a system of PAs, as well as individual PAs, must be supported by a firm legal infrastructure. The IUCN Environmental Law Programme (ELP) has consistently worked towards creating and improving PA law. This has been a two-pronged effort, aimed first at improving international/regional binding commitments towards protected areas (for instance through the obligations of the CBD at global level, and of the revised African Convention at regional level), and second at creating or modernizing national legislation in this field.

As a result of a joint effort led by the ELC, the IUCN Guidelines for Protected Areas Legislation were published in 2011. They provide state-of-the-art guidance on key elements of a modern and effective legal framework, attuned to the present roles and corresponding diversification of protected areas, as well as to the emergence of new scientific understanding about protected areas management and new governance approaches. These Guidelines are intended for those interested in strengthening protected areas legislation, including legal drafters, protected areas professionals, policy-makers, governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders and members of the academic community. French and Spanish versions are also available since 2012.

As a complement to the Guidelines for Protected Areas Legislation, a paper on the legal aspects of connectivity conservation was initiated in 2011. It focuses on identifying best suited legal measures to operate linkages between protected areas through ecological networks and other forms of connectivity conservation at local, national, and regional levels. The Concept Paper on the Legal Aspects of Connectivity is organized in two main parts. Part I sets out basic concepts and principles related to connectivity conservation that are important to take into account for supportive legal instruments. Part II turns to legal aspects of connectivity conservation, including command and control techniques, as well as voluntary approaches and other economic instruments. The paper concludes by offering key messages and conclusions that have been drawn from the conceptual research and analyses undertaken for the project. Five case studies were prepared to illustrate the Concept Paper, and will be available as an Annex to the main text. They either describe the legal mechanisms available to effect connectivity in specific jurisdictions (European Union, the Netherlands, Australia, South Africa and Brazil) or explain the legal regime or tools used to create, maintain and manage specific connectivity conservation zones (Australia: A2A; South Africa: The Greater Cedarberg Biodiversity Corridor.

The Concept Paper on the Legal Aspects of Connectivity will be published and available soon.


Work on the legal aspects of protected areas has traditionally been, and still is being undertaken by both the IUCN Environmental Law Centre (ELC) and the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL). WCEL has recently created a  joint WCEL/WCPA Specialist Group on Protected Areas Law and Policy. In addition, the IUCN Academy on Environmental Law is poised to support the environmental law protected area programme by appropriate research in this field.

Publications / Reports

Guidelines for Protected Areas Legislation, Barbara Lausche and Françoise Burhenne (Project Director), EPLP No. 81, 2011

International Environmental Governance: An International Regime for Protected Areas, edited by John Scanlon and Françoise Burhenne, EPLP No. 49, 2004

Influence of IUCN Protected Area Management Categories on National, Regional and International Legal and Policy Frameworks, Working Paper by Benita J. Dillon, 2003


IUCN's Work on Protected Areas