Making the next ten years count for protected areas

On the eve of the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, ALERT member James Watson tells us about a hugely important paper he and colleagues published this week in the world-leading journal Nature.

Ten years have passed since the last IUCN global conference on protected areas.  During this time we've seen tens of thousands of new protected areas established on land and in the sea. 

Unfortunately, at the same time, protected-area support has fallen off dramatically, with an estimated 80% of such sites now being ineffectively managed.

Needs a home: Mountain gorillas now survive in just a few protected areas in East Africa  (photo (c) Liana Joseph)

Needs a home: Mountain gorillas now survive in just a few protected areas in East Africa (photo (c) Liana Joseph)

It’s a massive shame.  When well administered, protected areas get results.  There is abundant evidence that protected areas, when well managed, protect threatened species and often store large quantities of carbon while delivering key ecosystem services, such as clean water and buffering against extreme weather.

Nevertheless, we show today in a paper in Nature that, while many nations talk the talk on protected-area creation, they often fail to walk the walk when it comes to ensuring these areas have adequate resources and oversight.

Poor financing of many protected areas is a core problem, but thornier challenges include the opening of parks to resource extraction and the loss of their special 'inviolate' status.  In our paper we document many cases where Ministries responsible for mining or logging issued leases on areas already designated as “protected.”

If the nations of the world continue to follow a business-as-usual approach, the broad targets set under the vital Convention on Biological Diversity won't be achieved.

A fundamental step-change is needed to align government policies so that Ministries dealing with development, resource extraction, and agriculture don't undermine those concerned with environment and conservation.

At the same time, there's an urgent need to invest in protected areas to ensure their vital goals are achieved, and to identify new protected areas critical to nature conservation -- areas that can be established and maintained with care and imagination.

Achieving these goals on our increasingly crowded planet will not be easy.  A nation's progress should be measured not merely by the amount of land it protects, but also by the ecological connectivity of its protected lands and their capacity to sustain biodiversity while producing long-term social and economic benefits.

It's a massive challenge, but failure is not an option.  We must succeed -- for the future of nature and for our future as well.

 

Nature worth "$145 trillion per year" to humanity

Nature isn't priceless.  In fact, economists can give it quite a specific price: about $145 trillion per year, if the net value of all ecosystem services is tallied up.

What's a nice sunset worth?   (photo by William Laurance)

What's a nice sunset worth?  (photo by William Laurance)

Yes, that's 145 trillion dollars -- as in 145 with 12 zeros behind it. 

This new finding--which you can download free here--comes from a major analysis of global ecosystem services led by economist Robert Costanza of Australian National University.

Ecosystem services include a wide array of things such as carbon storage, crop pollination, fisheries, recreational opportunities, flood mitigation, and the provisioning of clean water.

While the new result underscores the astonishingly important role that nature plays in human welfare, there's also a kicker: the annual value of ecosystem services has declined by up to $20 trillion between 2007 and 2011, according to Costanza and colleagues, principally because of habitat destruction and other land-use changes.  And that erosion in value is ongoing.

Putting a price on nature is tricky and inevitably some people will object to the idea.  For instance, how can you place a dollar value on having clean air to breathe, or a wilderness to hike in, or hearing a rare bird sing?

But doing so underscores an important point: Even in the most utilitarian sense, nature has incredible value to humanity, and that value is being eroded.  Like any valuable resource, we're nothing short of foolish if we merely squander it.