Conservation of biodiversity is one of the three core objectives of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). For this purpose, most countries have legislative frameworks in place for designating areas of land or sea as national parks. There are over 250,000 of these protected areas in the world, each sharing the broad aim to prohibit any human intervention that might alter its natural state.
At the 2010 CBD Conference at Nagoya in Japan, it was agreed to set 2020 targets to increase protected areas to at least 17% of the world’s land area and 10% of the oceans, from the 2010 baseline of 12.7% and 1.6% respectively.
Progress has fallen short of these targets, According to the Protected Planet database, 15.4% of terrestrial and 7.7% of marine areas were protected in early 2021. Particular disappointment stems from the failure to agree a network of sanctuaries in the Antarctic Ocean, despite support of the majority of countries involved in negotiations.
Establishing new targets for protected areas was a task scheduled for the 2020 biennial conference of parties to the CBD, now postponed to 2021. The draft text under consideration includes the goal that protected areas should cover “at least 30% of land and sea areas with at least 10% under strict protection by 2030.” Many environmentalists are unhappy with the new distinction between “protected” and “under strict protection.”
Prospects for the marine target may depend on efforts to overcome the current legal void in the vast area that lies beyond coastal waters under national jurisdiction, about two thirds of the oceans. The UN has instigated negotiations to adopt the framework of an existing treaty, the UN Convention on the Law of the, Sea. Hopes of conclusion in 2020 have been put on hold by Covid-19. Balancing the interests of richer and poorer countries in protecting fish stocks will not be straightforward.
International reappraisal of such crucial environmental goals is bound to provoke debate about the effectiveness of protected areas. Insatiable demand for natural resources, combined with weak law enforcement, limits capacity to prevent illegal poaching, logging and clearance for agriculture. Such realities prompt debate as to whether the aims of protected areas would be better served by permitting a degree of normal human activity.
A very different branch of conservation of global biodiversity exists in a relatively microscopic dimension. Many national authorities have established seed and gene banks where thousands of varieties are stored as protection against catastrophe. As these repositories are known to be fallible to violent conflict or natural disaster, duplicate specimens are frozen in the “doomsday vault,” the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in northern Norway. The Vault holds more than a million varieties.
more Biodiversity briefings (updated March 2021)
Importance of Biodiversity
Causes of Biodiversity Loss
Climate Change and Biodiversity
Solutions to Biodiversity Loss
Sustainable Development Goals for Biodiversity
Biodiversity Access and Benefit-Sharing
Source Material and Useful Links