With 14.7 per cent of the Earth’s land and 12 per cent of its territorial waters under protection, the world is on track to meet a major global conservation target, according to a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

But in their 2016 Protected Planet report, launched 2 September at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaiʻi, UNEP and IUCN also show that crucial biodiversity areas are being left out, key species and habitats are underrepresented and inadequate management is limiting the effectiveness of protected areas.

“The huge gains in the number and size of protected areas made in the last decade have to be matched by improvements in their quality,” UNEP Executive Director, Erik Solheim, was quoted as saying in a press release.

“The world needs to do more to effectively protect our most biologically diverse spaces. Protected areas need to be better connected, to allow populations of animals and plants to mix and spread. Also important is ensuring local communities are involved in protection efforts. Their support is fundamental to long-term conservation,” he added.

Said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen: ‘Today, the world is facing critical environmental and societal challenges, such as climate change, food and water security. Protected areas play a major role in conserving species and ecosystems that help us confront these challenges. Ensuring that they are carefully mapped and effectively managed is crucial if we want to continue to prosper on this planet.”

According to scientists at IUCN and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, there are currently 202,467 protected areas, covering almost 20 million square kilometres or 14.7 per cent of the world’s land, excluding Antarctica. That falls just short of the 17 per cent target set for 2020 by the Convention on Biological Diversity under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Land coverage of protected areas has decreased by 0.7 per cent since the last Protected Planet report. Scientists attribute the decline to fluxes in data, such as changes in boundaries, removal of some large sites from the World Database on Protected Areas and improved data quality, rather than an actual decrease in coverage on the ground.

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean protect the largest portion of their land, amounting to nearly 5 million square kilometres. About half of that is in Brazil, which boasts the world’s largest protected land area system of 2.47 million square kilometres.

Middle East has the lowest land protection rate of around 3 per cent, equal to around 119,000 square kilometres.

The last decade has seen remarkable progress in protecting the world’s oceans. The size of marine protected areas has increased from just over 4 million in 2006 to nearly 17 million square kilometres today, covering four per cent of the Earth’s oceans, an area almost the size of Russia.

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