UNEP: Protected areas ‘vital’ to global economy and climate

More than six million square kilometres of land has been 'protected' in the past four years, but a new UNEP report has argued that better funding and management would help these areas boost local economies and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Protected areas reduce climate risks by providing carbon sinks and reducing the danger from natural hazards such as floods droughts and avalanches. Maintaining such areas has been given added significance by the recent IPPC Synthesis report which confirmed that climate change – caused unequivocally by humans – will have a palpable degenerative effect on the planet.

“Protected areas not only provide us with a vital ecological safety net but also play a vital economic role through the valuable ecosystem services they provide, from supplying water and timber, to sustaining tourism,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“As we work toward a comprehensive climate agreement, with the next meeting shortly taking place in Lima, and shape the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, it is crucial to expand protected areas in a targeted manner–thus supporting efforts to tackle climate change, and protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem services that sustain all of us.”

Barriers to progress

The UNEP Protected Planet report claims that investment from businesses and national governments is needed to improve and expand protected areas.

“The lack of sustainable financing is a particular area of concern–even though previous UNEP studies have shown that the overall economic benefits of protected areas greatly exceed the cost of managing them,” says the report.

It also identified ‘poor management’ as a barrier to progress with only 29% of the total area of nationally designated protected areas being assessed for management effectiveness.

Natural Heritage

This was corroborated by a separate report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which assessed for the first time, all Natural World Heritage sites.

These Heritage sites – which cover about 8% of all ‘protected’ land – are globally recognized as ‘the world’s most important protected areas’

However the IUCN report reveals that less than two thirds of designated World Heritage sites have a ‘positive outlook’.

In fact 37% of these vital sites – including the Great Barrier Reef – face ‘critical threats’ such as invasive species, tourism impacts, poaching, dams and logging.

The UNEP Report can be found here, and the IUCN Report can be read here.

Brad Allen

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