Nairobi, April 12 – Researchers have warned that a commitment by countries to designate more of the planet’s land and oceans as protected areas may not be achieving the desired aim of protecting biodiversity because greater emphasis has been put on actions rather than outcomes.

More than 190 countries represented at the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Aichi, Japan, in 2010 committed to protecting 17 percent of the Earth’s land and 10 percent of the oceans by 2020, along with 19 other goals aimed at reducing the worldwide loss of biodiversity.

But in a paper entitled ‘Protected area targets post-2020’ published in the journal Sciecne, the researchers have identified four shortcomings in the Aichi targets:

  1. Although some have argued that percentage targets have motivated countries to designate more protected areas (PAs), there is no evidence for this. In fact, the rate of designation and total extent of additional PAs between 2010 and 2014, after establishment of the Aichi Targets, was half that in the previous five years;
  2. Many PAs are inadequately managed or resourced [and], do not abate any of the threats to their biodiversity, and as such are simply “paper parks” that do not meet the PA definition of “managed for the long-term conservation of nature;”
  3. Aichi Target 11 requires PA networks at all scales from national to global to be ecologically representative, with recommendations that eco-regions — which contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species — are the appropriate level of representativeness. But increasing eco-regional representation does not equate to increasing species representation because eco-regions are too broad to capture variability in species composition and endemism;
  4. The Strategic Plan was designed to be a flexible framework that allows nations to determine their own implementation actions and ambition based on the local needs and opportunities. However, a common challenge for all international agreements is interpreting targets at the national or subnational level and allocating responsibilities to meet global targets.

The Scientists argue that the four shortcomings of Aichi Target 11 may have contributed to global biodiversity loss by shifting attention away from effective protection of sites of global importance for conservation, which continue to be threatened.

To overcome these shortcomings, they propose an alternative approach for a post-2020 PA target based on outcomes. The aim is to monitor the outcomes of protected areas that measure changes in biodiversity in comparison to agreed-upon “reference” levels and then using those figures to determine how well they are performing. They argue that the most important sites should be prioritized for protection based on a universal standard.

“The value of all sites of global significance for biodiversity, including key biodiversity areas, is documented, retained, and restored through protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.”