Crucial progress is being made towards conserving the world’s most spectacular habitats and wildlife, with protected areas now topping 100,000 in number and exceeding by far the land surface of India and China combined, according to a United Nations draft report released today, the most comprehensive ever on the issue.
Between 10 and 30 per cent of some of the planet’s vital natural features such as the Amazonian rainforests, the Arctic tundra and the tropical savannah grasslands are now held in these protected areas, but progress towards conserving other biologically and ecologically important landscapes is proving more sluggish, the report says.
“The global environment movement and the United Nations can be justifiably proud of the growth in protected areas,” the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, said in Durban, South Africa, at the fifth World Parks Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, a grouping of governments, non-governmental organizations and scientists.
But he warned that numerous challenges remained and there was still much work to be done. “Put simply, we cannot pat ourselves on the backs if we end up with islands of well-protected wildlife, habitats and ecosystems in a sea of environmental degradation,” he said of the 102,102 sites covering 18.8 million square kilometres, of which 17 million – 11.5 per cent of the Earth’s land surface – are terrestrial.
The report, compiled by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in Cambridge, United Kingdom, in collaboration with the IUCN-World Conservation Union and its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), shows that less than one tenth of the world’s large lakes are protected, and temperate grasslands typical of Central Asia and the North American prairies are similarly poorly protected.
The rate at which the planet’s marine world is gaining protection causes even greater concern, it adds. Less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s seas and oceans are within protected areas, despite the importance of fisheries and habitats such as coral reefs as sources of protein and employment for billions of people across the developed and developing world.
The draft is open for further comment and the final report will be published next February in Malaysia at the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Europe leads in terms of the numbers of protected areas with over 43,000 listed, followed by North Eurasia with nearly 18,000; North America with more than 13,000; and Australia and New Zealand with close to 9,000. The Pacific, with around 320, has the fewest. There are nearly 4,390 in Eastern and Southern Africa, with a further 2,600 in Western and Central Africa.
But in terms of size, Central and South America have the largest protected areas, covering almost a quarter of each of these regions. North America also does well with 4.5 million square kilometres, or just over 18 per cent of the region’s land surface.