In 1962, at the first World Conference on National Parks in Seattle, Washington, there were just 9214 protected areas identified for the world (Chape et al. 2003), and just 52 years later, in 2014, there were over 209,000 designated protected areas.
This 20th and 21st-century transformation has meant that by 2014, some 15.4 per cent of the world’s terrestrial and inland waters were protected, as were 3.4 per cent of the total marine area, including 8.4 per cent of marine areas under national jurisdiction and 8.0 per cent of national exclusive economic zones.
It has been a remarkable achievement. It is one of the greatest peaceful land-use and sea-use transformations in human history, though this work is unfinished.
The data and protected area statistics described have been compiled in the World Data Base on Protected Areas (WDPA) that is managed by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge and includes protected areas of all IUCN governance types.
In addition to government protected areas it includes hundreds of community-managed, co-managed and private protected areas (including vast areas in Brazil and Australia). However, it is not complete, as the majority of such non-government protected areas are not formally recognised or reported by governments for various reasons. An indicative appraisal of the larger (non-recorded) extent of Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCAs) has been completed (Kothari et al. 2012).
The number of ICCAs may have equaled or exceeded the number and extent of WDPA recognised protected areas.
Protected areas are recognised as an effective tool for conserving biodiversity and specifically many endangered species at a time of global change (Butchart et al. 2012).
This is at a time when the sixth great extinction event on Earth is forecast, caused primarily by human activity (UNEP 2007).
The aspirational target for 2020 reservation for nations established by the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Strategic Plan 2011–20 (CBD 2011) is 17 per cent for their terrestrial area and 10 per cent for marine areas. The target calls on the areas to be important for biodiversity conservation such as key biodiversity areas. All IUCN protected area categories are important for biodiversity conservation, although some key biodiversity areas may need special protection to ensure species remain extant. Such management may be best established under the objectives and management guidance for Category I–IV protected areas, although Categories V and VI also play a valuable role in contributing to such biodiversity conservation.
(Worboys 2014 pp 21,22) ‘Concept, purpose and challenges’, in G. L. Worboys, M. Lockwood, A. Kothari, S. Feary and I. Pulsford (eds) Protected Area Governance and Management, pp. xx–yy, ANU Press, Canberra.