Climate change, food security, water stress, land degradation and biodiversity loss will become some of the greatest environmental challenges in the next decades, exacerbated by rising temperatures, more erratic rainfall and rising pressure on land and natural resources. Protected areas cover only 12.7% of terrestrial areas and 6.3% of coastal and marine ecosystems, but provide multiple services that can help people to cope with these changes. A joint event at the RIO +20 Summit on Sustainable Development focused on these key roles protected areas can play in promoting sustainable land and resource management, as well as contribute to the green economy.
Chaired by Nik Lopoukhine, Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), the event included heads of protected area agencies, NGO representatives, donors and indigenous people. Studies from around the globe illustrated how protected areas can help people cope with climate change, combat desertification, maintain essential water services, safeguard biodiversity and contribute to food security and disaster reduction.
The scene was set by Kathy MacKinnon, Vice-Chair of the WCPA, who emphasized that if we wish to expand protected areas and meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, established in Nagoya in 2010, we will need to make a much stronger case to link protected areas to social and economic development goals. The Aichi targets call for a series of biodiversity goals to be met by 2020, with Target 11 specifically focused on protected areas: By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas...
Ms. MacKinnon emphasized a three-pronged strategy aimed at protecting, connecting and restoring protected areas through integration into infrastructure projects, better adaptation strategies and development planning; and making better use of available funding including government budgets, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and carbon finance. Presentations from Brazil, Turkey, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Mediterranean Seas and Namibia gave practical examples of how protected areas can, and are, contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, supporting economic development through provision of ecosystem services and contributing to local livelihoods through multiple sectors including fisheries, tourism and payments for water and other ecosystem services.
Dr Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, emphasized that protected areas are crucial for biodiversity conservation and called for commitments to go beyond the Aichi targets for larger scale protection efforts in both terrestrial and marine systems since ecosystem protection is a fundamental component in the transition to a green economy.
At the high-level panel session which followed the morning event, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Dr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias emphasized his main priorities at the CBD were “implementation, implementation and implementation.” He welcomed the opportunity to work closely with the WCPA and IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Programme in implementing the CBD’s Programme of Work on Protected Areas. He also stressed the need to establish new protected areas and improve existing protected areas, as well as promote marine protected areas (MPAs), noting current negotiations on protection of biodiversity beyond national waters. Also important is the recognition and support of conservation areas on indigenous lands and under private ownership, and the integration of the protected area agenda with that of food security and sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Paul Grimes, the Permanent Secretary for the Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities reiterated his country’s commitment to protected areas and highlighted the recent creation of a major network of marine protected areas in Australia, covering more than a third of the Commonwealth waters to form the largest network of marine reserves in the world. He announced that Australia was delighted to be hosting the 6th World Parks Congress in Sydney in November 2014, which will set the protected area agenda for the next decade. Australia hopes that the programme would have a strong focus on marine areas, connectivity and conservation areas established and managed by indigenous people.
The Natural Solutions event was complemented by side events on transboundary protected areas and connectivity, also organized by WCPA members. Many of the same messages on the importance of ecosystem protection and protected areas as a key component of sustainable development solutions emerged. This message will also be inserted into the final Rio+20 text.