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General ¦ Climate change ¦ Reducing the risk of disasters ¦ Health benefits ¦  Clean water and air ¦ Food security ¦ Livelihoods and economic benefits ¦ Conservation ¦ Sustainable development ¦ Marine Protected Areas ¦ Governance


  • There are now about 209,000 protected areas (PAs): 197,368 terrestrial and 12,076 marine protected areas (UNEP/WCMC 2014)
  • Protected areas cover 15.4% of the planet’s terrestrial and inland water areas (20,661,705 km2), and 3.4 % of the oceans (12,302,271 km2) (UNEP/WCMC 2014)
  • In addition to this, there are many protected areas that are not included in the official tally, including many of those established by local communities, indigenous peoples, private individuals, non-profit trusts, religious groups and even corporations, some of which, such as indigenous territories in the Amazon basin, can themselves be extremely large.
  • Estimations of the annual cost of adequately managing an expanded network of marine and terrestrial protected areas range from $45 billion to $76 billion, the lower of which is just 2.5% of global military expenditure ( Science Magazine ; Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ).

Climate change

Climate change poses huge threats to biodiversity, including some biodiversity within protected areas, and managers are working hard to find ways of addressing these pressures. But protected areas also provide important tools to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.

  • Data from the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre suggests that there are 312Gt of carbon stored in the world’s protected area network. This (conservative) estimate corresponds to 15% of the world’s terrestrial carbon stock ( UNEP/WCMC 2008 ).
  • The European Natura 2000 network of protected areas currently stores a total carbon stock of around 9.6 billion tonnes, equivalent to 35Gt of CO2 ( European Commission ).
  • The protection of 1.63 million hectares of virgin taiga forests and peat soils in the Komi Republic, Russian Federation, will ensure a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.75 million tonnes of CO2between 2010 and 2020 ( UNDP ).
  • Peatlands are a major carbon store, accounting for 550 Gt carbon worldwide. Although only covering about 3% of the land surface, peat is believed to contain the planet’s largest store of carbon; the same in total as all terrestrial biomes. Most of this carbon is stored in the saturated peat soil that has been sequestered over millennia ( Wetlands International ).
  • Mismanagement and degradation of wetlands, and particularly of peatlands, can result in huge carbon losses. A study of peatlands in Southeast Asia calculated that CO2 emissions from drained peatlands equal 355-874 Mt per year, with a further 1,400 Mt of CO2 per year from 1997 to 2006 from peatland fires, predominantly in Indonesia ( IUCN/WCPA, TNC, UNDP, WCS, World Bank, WWF, 2010 ).
  • Forests are important carbon stores and carbon sinks. t he Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that forest loss and degradation are responsible for 17% of global carbon emissions, making this the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, outstripping the entire global transport sector. Forest protected areas could and should have a key role in reducing forest loss and degradation.
  • IUCN has estimated that restoring 150 million hectares of forests would generate each year: a US$ 85 billion contribution to local and national economies; 1 Gt of sequestered CO2; an 11-17% reduction in current emissions gap; and $US 6 billion in additional crop yields ( IUCN/WRI ).
  • Madagascar: around 6 million hectares of new protected areas are being created, responsible for 4 million tonnes of avoided CO2 a year ( IUCN/WCPA ).
  • Tanzania: the Eastern Arc Mountains store over 151 million tonnes of carbon, 60% of which is in existing forest reserves ( IUCN/WCPA ).
  • Belarus: on-going restoration and protection of degraded peatlands is leading to an annual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 448,000 tonnes of CO2 from peatland fires and mineralization (IUCN/WCPA ).
  • Russian Federation: the protection of 1.63 million hectares of virgin taiga forests and peat soils in the Komi Republic is ensuring that their store of over 71.5 million tonnes of carbon is protected ( IUCN/WCPA ).
  • Bolivia, Mexico and Venezuela: protected areas contain 25 million hectares of forest, storing over 4 billion tonnes of carbon estimated to be worth between US$ 39 and 87 billion ( IUCN/WCPA ).
  • Canada: 4,432 million t C is sequestered in 39 national parks, at a value of between US$72-78 billion (IUCN/WCPA )
  • Brazil: protected areas and indigenous lands in the Brazilian Amazon are likely to prevent an estimated 670,000 km² of deforestation by 2050, representing 8 billion tonnes of avoided carbon emissions ( IUCN/WCPA).
  • The biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by protected areas can also help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change (known as Ecosystem-based Adaptation). IUCN is implementing 45 Ecosystem-based Adaptation related projects in 58 countries ( IUCN ).

Reducing the risk of disasters

  • Protected areas, by helping to maintain natural ecosystems, can help protect people against major disasters.
  • The role of natural habitats in protecting against natural hazards has long been appreciated. As early as the 15th and 16th centuries, Japan was protecting forests on steep slopes to counter landslides. Today, Japan has almost 12 million hectares of protection forests. Similarly, in the Middle East, protected areas called hima were established over a thousand years ago to prevent deforestation and grassland erosion ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • During the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, vegetation-covered coastal sand dunes at Yala and Bundala National Parks in Sri Lanka buffered the waves and protected the land behind the parks ( FAO ).
  • The two reserves which form the Muthurajawella Marsh in Sri Lanka, cover an area of 3,068 hectares near Colombo. The economic value of flood attenuation (converted to 2003 values), has been estimated at US$ 5,033,800 per year ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • In Mali, the role of national parks in desertification control is recognised and protected areas are seen as important reservoir of drought-resistant species ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • In some mountain areas, vegetation cover and root structures protect against erosion and increase slope stability by binding soil together, preventing landslides. Swiss forests are managed to ensure protection of steep slopes against avalanche and landslip, with about 17% of forests protected for this purpose, worth US$ 2-3.5 billion per year ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • Coral reefs, sea grasses, sand dunes and coastal vegetation such as mangroves and saltmarshes can reduce wave height and reduce erosion from storms and high tides, while buffering against saltwater intrusion and trapping sediment and organic matter. A study of the value of mangroves in Thailand found replacement costs for shoreline protection were at least US$ 3,679/hectare, based on a 20 year period ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • An analysis of the protective role of coastal wetlands in the US estimated that they provide US$ 23.2 billion a year in storm protection services ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • Globally, wetlands are estimated to provide on average (based on year 2000 values) US$ 464 per hectare per year in flood control ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • The Whangamarino Ramsar site, the second largest swamp complex in North Island, New Zealand, plays a significant role in flood control (the value of which has been estimated at US$ 601,037 per year at 2003 values) and sediment trapping. Values can rise in years when there is flooding and it is estimated that flood prevention in 1998 was worth US$ 4 million alone. There have been 11 occasions when the wetlands have been needed to absorb floods since 1995. The site is also of considerable biodiversity value and more botanically diverse than any other large low-lying peatland in North Island ( IUCN/WCPA, KNCF ).
  • Germany (Bavaria): The value of alpine forest for avalanche protection is estimated at approximately €4 billion per year, avoiding damages of around €50,000 per hectare ( Bavarian Ministry for Environment).
  • Natural vegetation and wetlands in protected areas regulate water flows and help reduce flash flooding from heavy rains after drought. Dryland protected areas play a key role in protecting essential water supplies for domestic and agricultural needs. In Mongolia, most of the major rivers arise in protected northern forested steppe. Similarly, dryland protected areas in watersheds protect water supplies of major cities such as Port au Prince, Haiti and Karachi, Pakistan ( IUCN/WCPA, UNDP, WWF, World Bank ).

Health benefits

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 23-25% of the global disease burden could be avoided by  improved management of environmental conditions ( WHO ).
  • Ecological disturbances have been linked to the emergence and proliferation of diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, trypanosomiasis, schistosomiasis, filariasis, and onchocerciasis, among others diseases, especially those transmitted by arthropod vectors ( WHO ).
  • A study in the Peruvian Amazon found that the primary malaria vector, Anopheles darlingi, had a biting rate that was more than 278 times higher in deforested areas than in areas that were heavily forested (IUCN/WCPA, TNC, UNDP, WCS, World Bank, WWF, 2010 ).
  • Visiting forests and parks enhances natural killer cell activity in the body which increases anti-cancer proteins and reduces stress. A study has found that visiting parks for three consecutive days once per month has a preventive effect on human cancer generation and progression ( International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology ).
  • Protected areas also provide spaces for outdoor activities, recreation and relaxation, and therefore play an important role in physical and mental health. Protected areas also act as ‘green lungs’ by supplying clean air to towns and cities, thereby reducing respiratory diseases ( European Environment Agency ).
  • Find more case studies on the links between health and protected areas here: .
  • Intact forest reduces the passage of some disease vectors as compared to deforested areas in the tropics. For example, in Indonesia, Ruteng Park protects a critical watershed in the region which provides clean water, as well as forest products. Research has found that those living in close proximity to the area experienced fewer instances of malaria and dysentery ( CBD, UNEP ).
  • Protected areas are an important refuge for medicinal plants which many communities depend on for traditional medicine. In Langtang National Park, Nepal, 411 medicinal and aromatic plants are being use; with about 90% of the population relying on traditional medicine ( WWF/N. Dudley 2010 ).
  • Protected areas have yielded valuable commercial drug discoveries such as the immunosuppressant cyclosporine (discovered in Hardangervidda National Park in Norway in 1969, selling US$ 1.2 billion in 2000). Taq polymerase (isolated from bacteria in Yellowstone National Park in 1966 and used in DNA replication) generates sales of over US$ 200 million annually ( WWF/N. Dudley 2010 ).
  • In 2000, over 200 corporations and US government agencies were studying rainforest plants for their medicinal capacities and plant-based pharmaceuticals were estimated to earn over US $30 billion per year (WWF/N. Dudley 2010 ).
  • Columbia: the Alto Orito Indi-Angue Sanctuary was established explicitly to protect medicinal plants ( WWF/N. Dudley 2010 ).

Clean water and air

  • Thirty-three of the world’s 105 largest cities derive their drinking water from catchments within forest protected areas, and many others get water from sources that originate in watersheds found in protected areas ( World Bank/WWF ).
  • In Ecuador, about 80% of Quito’s 1.5 million residents receive drinking water from two protected areas in the Andes ( Antisana and Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve) , and the water company pays local communities to prevent deforestation. Although formally protected as part of Ecuador’s national park system, these reserve lands are also used for cattle, dairy and timber production by the 27,000 people living within or around the reserves ( World Bank/WWF ).
  • Around 2.7 million people in Peru use water that originates from 16 protected areas with an estimated value of US$ 81 million. The rivers in these protected areas also contribute to 60% of Peru’s hydroelectricity generation, with an estimated value of $US 320 million. In the last 10 years, Peru’s protected areas also provided savings of US$ 5 million by protecting dams and reservoirs from sedimentation ( World Bank/WWF ).
  • A range of studies have shown that forests remove particles from the air, thereby increasing the well-being of citizens and reducing sickness due to air pollution. The economic benefits related to air quality improvements of the Hoge Veluwe Park in the Netherlands is estimated at €2.1 million per year ( Ecology and Society ).

Food security

Source: WWF, Equilibrium, University of Birmingham, UK )

  • Wild relatives of important crops are essential for conserving wild fruit crop genetic resources, and protected areas are important resources for these plants: Over 100 studies in protected areas have identified important crop wild relatives.
  • Iran: Touran Protected Area comprises a national park and biosphere reserve with wild relatives of barley.
  • An increase of 0.1% in the solid content of tomatoes is worth around US$ 10 million a year to processors in California. One wild living tomato species has allowed plant breeders to boost, by 2.4% or US$ 250 million annually, the level of solids in commercial varieties.
  • The Sierra de Manantlan Protected Area in Mexico protects populations of wild maize which increases disease resistance when crossed with cultivated maize .
  • Armenia: The 89 hectare Erebuni State Reserve is known for its diversity of wild wheat, including Triticum urartu, T. boeoticum, T. araraticum and Aegilops species.
  • Australia: Several species of economic importance occur in the Border Ranges National Park of 31,683 hectares, including macadamia nuts and finger lime, which has been used as a source of genetic material to improve disease resistance in commercial citrus fruit.
  • Costa Rica: Corcovado National Park, a 47,563 hectare park in the south of the country, is a genetic reserve for avocado, nance and sonzapote.

Livelihoods and economic benefits

  • The economic benefits of Europe ’s Natura 2000 network have been estimated at between €200 and €300 billion per year, or 2-3% of the European Union’s GDP ( IEEP ).
  • The activities undertaken in Natura 2000 sites are estimated to have supported about 12 million jobs each year during the period 2006-2008, i.e. about 6% of total employment in the EU ( IEEP ).
  • Canada: In Rouge National Park, the total value of ecosystem services is an estimated $10.4 million annually, an average of $2,846 per hectare. The land cover types that provide the greatest total value are forests at $4.1 million per year, followed by wetlands which provide $4 million per year and idle land which provides $1.4 million per year. Wetlands provide the greatest value per hectare, worth an average of $9,651 per year ( David Suzuki Foundation ).
  • Finland: A €1 investment in national parks and other key protected areas results in €10 return to local economies ( TEEB ).
  • In Australia, the 2012–2013 budget for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was approximately AUS$ 50 million, but tourism to the reef was worth more than AUS$ 5.2 billion annually to the Australian economy (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority ).
  • In 2009, the Canadian government spent CAD $800 million on provincial, territorial, and national parks but the contribution to the economy was CAD $4.6 billion and supported the employment of 64,000 people ( Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society ).
  • USA: In 2000–2001, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary generated US$ 140 million in income for the county and supported almost 10,000 full and part-time jobs — with multiplier effects, the value was over US$ 504 million ( CBD, UNEP ).
  • Jamaica: A 2005 study valued the ecosystem services of the Portland Bight Marine Protected Area between $41 and $53 million over 25 years — much higher than the $19 million in costs ( CBD, UNEP ).
  • Costa Rica: The Terraba-Sierpe wetlands and fisheries provide fish and shellfish worth $6 million to local families through fishing, tourism, and related activities, according to a 2004 study ( CBD, UNEP ).
  • Ecuador: 90% of Quito’s drinking water comes from the Condor Biosphere Reserve. A new fund provides close to $2 million for watershed services, forest protection, and compensation to 27,000 500 per hectare per year (CBD, UNEP ).
  • In Rwanda, tourism revenue from visits to see mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is now the country’s largest source of foreign exchange, raising US$ 200 million annually ( Natural Resources Forum) .
  • Forest protected areas in Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (PDR) provide 61-79% of the non-rice food consumption by weight, provide fuel wood, and non-timber forest products, which comprise nearly half of household subsistence and cash income ( CBD ).


  • Protected areas are the cornerstones of biodiversity conservation. Many charismatic species and rare habitats are now found only in protected areas, including large, threatened mammals such as the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the tiger (Panthera tigris) and all rhinoceros species, but also numerous plants, reptiles and amphibians ( Science 2013).
  • More areas still need to be protected to maintain rare and restricted species. A recent global analysis of all 4,118 threatened birds, amphibians and mammals found that 17% are not found in a single protected area and 85% do not have sufficiently large populations in protected areas to give them a reasonable chance of long-term survival. ( PLOS Biology )
  • 78 sites (comprising 137 protected areas in 34 countries) have been identified as being irreplaceable in preventing extinctions of some of the world’s mammals, birds and amphibians. Together, they harbour the majority of the populations of more than 600 birds, amphibians, and mammals, half of which are globally threatened. ( Science 2013)
  • 920 Endangered and Critically Endangered single-site species are confined to 588 locations globally, and 39% of these are currently unprotected

Sustainable development

  • Ecosystem goods and services, including many from protected areas in Lao PDR, contribute to 75% of per capita GDP, providing more than 90% of employment, constituting almost 60% of exports and foreign exchange earnings, nearly half of foreign direct investment and two thirds of donor assistance ( CBD ).
  • The Nam Et and Phou Loei Protected Areas in Lao PDR, contribute around a quarter of the household cash income and 40% of the total production and consumption of 24,000 people. Each year, the villagers use 165 kg of wild plant products and 141 kg of wild meat deriving from these two protected areas at the household level ( CBD ).
  • The 32,000 hectare Ruteng Park on the island of Flores in Indonesia protects a critical watershed in the region. It also provides timber, fuel wood, clean water and a variety of forest products of regional value. Communities living near the protected area suffer fewer illnesses from malaria and dysentery, and there is less crop failure than in communities without intact forests nearby ( CBD ).
  • In Navakavu Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Fiji, average monthly household income of US$ 251 in January 2007 was more than double that of a non-MPA household, at US$ 118 ( CBD ).
  • In Bunaken MPA, Indonesia, the tourist industry provided new jobs for local villagers, and those who switched to these new jobs earn approximately twice as much as those employed in fishing - US$ 114 versus US$ 44 a month ( CBD ).

Marine Protected Areas

  • Well-managed marine protected areas (MPAs) have been found to contain more than five times the total large fish biomass and 14 times the shark biomass compared with fished areas (CBD).
  • In Fiji, a locally managed MPA network has tripled fish catches and increased local income by 35% over three years.
  • MPAs facilitate ‘spilling over’ of fish from no-fishing zones to adjacent areas, improve fish catches, and contribute greatly to poverty reduction. Since its establishment in 1995, the Apo Island MPA in the Philippines facilitated a tenfold increase in fish catch in surrounding areas (CBD)
  • The marine realm covers over 70% of the surface of the planet and is home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Yet, only than 3.4% of the ocean are currently protected in Marine Protected Areas (12,302,271 km2) (UNEP/WCMC 2014)
  • 8.4% of all marine areas within national jurisdiction (0-200 nautical miles) are covered protected areas while only 0.25% of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (‘high seas’) are protected (UNEP/WCMC 2014)
  • About half of the global population lives in coastal regions, and millions of people derive all of their nutrition and base their livelihoods on marine and coastal resources ( UNEP )
  • For over 25 years the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park served as the world’s only large-scale MPA, dwarfing the next largest marine parks in orders of magnitude (established in 1979, 344,400 km2) ( Big Ocean )
  • Since 2000, however, several other large-scale MPAs were established, including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (2000; 362,075 km2), the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (2006; 408,200 km2), the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (2009; 246,600 km2), the Pacific RemoteIslands Marine National Monument (2009; 1,269,094 km2), the British Indian Ocean Territory MarineProtected Area(2010; 640,000 km2), the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park (2010; 150,000 km2), the Cook Islands Marine Park (2012; 1,065,000 km2), the Natural Park of the Coral Sea (2014; 1,300,000 km2), and Australia's Commonwealth Marine Reserves (2014; 1,758,270). ( Big Ocean )


Protected areas can exist under various governance and management systems involving a wide range of actors - local communities, Indigenous Peoples, private landowners, NGOs and government authorities.

  • In Argentina, several landowners at the border of El Rey National Park participated in developing the management plan for the government protected area, which is important for protecting water supplies as well as species including tapirs and other mammals, and a high diversity of birds. As there is no official buffer zone, the landowners bordering El Rey grouped together and voluntarily agreed to dedicate much of their land to conservation ( IUCN )
  • Somiedo Natural Park in Spain focuses on maintaining viable populations of bears and capercaillies, but also on the wider aims of preserving the entire functioning ecosystem. Management plans were drawn up in close cooperation with people in the community, particularly about issues relating to farming and ecotourism ( IUCN)
  • The Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park, Bolivia’s largest protected area, established in 1995, has three indigenous peoples, the Isoseño Guaraní, Chiquitano, and Ayoreode, participating in its management, with special collaboration between the indigenous people’s organization (CABI) and the Bolivian national park service, which jointly work out management plans and budgets ( CBD )
  • Thirteen National Parks in Canada, covering 18 million hectares are governed collaboratively between Parks Canada and the Aboriginal Peoples on whose territories they are located ( IUCN/WPCA, CBD, BIOPAMA, BMZ, ICCA 2013 )
  • In Italy, the Regole d’Ampezzo of the Ampezzo Valley has a history of community management for approximately 1,000 years, and contains the officially designated Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti d’Ampezzo while the Magnifica Comunità di Fiemme is collectively owned and managed by people of 11 townships (IUCN/WPCA, CBD, BIOPAMA, BMZ, ICCA 2013 )


IUCN/WCPA, TNC, UNDP, WCS, World Bank, WWF (2010): Protected areas helping people cope with climate change. Natural Solutions series. Nigel Dudley, Sue Stolton, Alexander Belokurov, Linda Krueger, Nik Lopoukhine, Kathy MacKinnon, Trevor Sandwith, Nik Sekhran

IUCN/WCPA, KNCF: Protected Areas Protecting People – a tool for Disaster Risk Reduction. Natural Solution series.

IUCN/WCPA, UNDP, WWF, World Bank: Protected areas helping people deal with desertification and drought. Natural Solutions series.

FAO: The role of forest protected areas in adaptation to climate change

CBD, UNEP: The Value of Nature; Ecological, Economic, Cultural and Social Benefits of Protected Areas ,

WWF (2010): Arguments for Protected Areas . Sue Stolton, Nigel Dudley

IUCN/WCPA, UNDP, WWF: Protected areas maintaining essential water supplies. Natural Solutions Series

World Bank/WWF Alliance for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Use (2003): Running Pure: The importance of forest protected areas to drinking water

WWF, Equilibrium, University of Birmingham (UK) (2006): Food Stores: Using protected areas to secure crop genetic diversity

IUCN/WPCA, CBD, BIOPAMA, BMZ, ICCA (2013): Governance of Protected Areas. From understanding to action

UNEP/WCMC (2014): Protected Planet Report 2014 (to be release during WPC)

IUCN WCPA Parks Australia NSW NPWS