More than a third of natural world heritage sites face 'significant threats'

Report says invasive species, tourism, poaching, dams and logging most pressing threats but climate change may eclipse all
Oliver Milman 13 Nov 14;

More than a third of the planet’s natural world heritage sites face significant threats such as invasive species, logging and poaching, and climate change is a looming menace to prized ecosystems, according to a major new assessment.

The first ever analysis of all 228 natural world heritage sites found that 21% have a good conservation outlook, with 42% deemed to be “good with some concerns”.

However, 29% have “significant concerns” and a further 8% are listed as “critical”, which means they are deemed to be “severely threatened” and require urgent attention to avoid their natural value being lost.

The IUCN World Heritage Outlook, released at the World Parks Congress in Sydney, found that 54% of world heritage sites are well managed, but 13% are seriously deficient in protecting species and landscapes.

The report cites invasive species, the impact of tourism, poaching, dams and logging as the most pressing threats, although climate change may soon eclipse all of these factors.

“In terms of current threats, the most pressing is invasive species but climate change is the most serious potential threat,” said Elena Osipova, world heritage monitoring officer at the IUCN. “We’ve already seen the impact of climate change and the problem is that climate change can increase the impact from other threats.”

Most of the 19 critically threatened world heritage sites are in Africa, including the Virunga national park, which contains around half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. The Everglades national park in Florida is also on the critical list, mainly due to the area’s declining water quality, introduced pest species and vulnerability to climate change.

Three key Australian sites are listed as being a significant concern – the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and Queensland’s wet tropics. The declining state of the Great Barrier Reef has become a contentious political issue in Australia, with the government agreeing to a Unesco plea to stop dumping sediment in the ecosystem’s waters.

Machu Picchu in Peru, Tanzania’s Serengeti and the Sundarbans national park in India, home to an endangered population of tigers, are also considered to be of significant concern.

The best-ranked world heritage sites, with few threats, include Australia’s Lord Howe island, Mount Etna in Italy and the Dorset and east Devon coast in the UK.

Cyril Kormos, vice chair of the IUCN world commission on protected areas, said the assessment wasn’t intended to be political but should help countries manage world heritage sites better.

“This is something we all need to ensure the success of,” he said. “If we fail to protect the most valuable, iconic protected areas on the planet, we fail as a conservation community. “

A separate report unveiled at the World Parks Congress, a once-a-decade conservation event organised by the IUCN, found that the world is broadly on track to meet targets on the expansion of protected areas.

The United Nations Environment Program’s Protected Planet report found that 15.4% of the planet’s land and inland water areas and 3.4% of oceans are now formally protected. A total of 6.1m square kilometres has been placed under protection since 2010 – an area almost the size of Australia.

Targets agreed by more than 190 countries state that at least 17% of the world’s terrestrial areas and 10% of its oceans must be protected by 2020.

The report states that while this target is likely to be met, other problems present themselves. Specifically, many protected areas are poorly managed, aren’t located in areas of important biodiversity and aren’t well connected, which means animals and plants can’t spread and flourish.

Conservation officials at the congress also pointed out that the 17% target was essentially a political one, with scientists advocating up to 50% of the world’s surface to be protected in order to save threatened species and safeguard critical habitat that provides water.

Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, said there needed to be a greater appreciation of the economic benefits of protected areas, citing a Finnish study that found that for every euro invested in nature, the community benefited by 10 euros.

“We look at these things as a cost to the taxpayer, without looking at the multiplier in the economy,” he said. “The dividing line between private and public funding is very anachronistic. Most of the forests in Europe are under private ownership, for example.

“The private sector is not just multinational mining enterprises; some can be important co-investors. They are an under-utilised and under-appreciated contributor to how to finance protected areas in the future.”

New UNEP report unveils world on track to meet 2020 target for protected areas on land and sea
15.4% of terrestrial areas, 3.4% of oceans protected, but further progress needed to cover and effectively manage areas of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services
IUCN 13 Nov 14;

Sydney, 13 November 2014 – The world is on track to meet a 2020 target on the expansion of protected areas, but more work is needed to ensure areas of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services are prioritized for protection under equitably managed conditions, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report released today at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Parks Congress.

Produced by UNEP's World Conversation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) in partnership with IUCN, and funded by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), Protected Planet not only monitors global efforts to support and expand protected areas, but supports governments toward faster progress with recommendations for action.

The report finds that 15.4% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 3.4% of the global ocean are now protected—highlighting growing global awareness of the need to safeguard the natural resources that will play a crucial role in the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals.

Protected areas are essential to the conservation of species, ecosystems and the livelihoods they support, and also play a key role in adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change—for example, by reducing risks from natural hazards and providing a carbon sink through forests, 7.8 million km2 of which are in protected areas.

The report, the second in a series tracking progress toward meeting Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets, finds that 1.6 million km2 of new protected areas have been designated since 2012. Since 2010, the total additional global coverage equates to 6.1 million km2—an area approaching the size of Australia.

Target 11 calls for effectively and equitably managed conservation areas covering at least 17% of the world’s terrestrial areas and 10% of marine areas—especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services—by 2020.

Protected Planet 2014 finds that the physical coverage aspect of the target is likely to be met, but highlights a lack of progress in other areas, such as: ensuring protected areas are appropriately located in areas important for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are effectively and equitably managed, and are well-connected.

The report warns that without further concerted global action on appropriate targeting of areas to come under protection, integrated and improved national planning, and assessments of how protected areas are effectively and equitably managed, the overall target will not be met.

“Protected areas not only provide us with a vital ecological safety net but also play a vital economic role through the valuable ecosystem services they provide, from supplying water and timber, to sustaining tourism,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “As we work toward a comprehensive climate agreement, with the next meeting shortly taking place in Lima, and shape the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, it is crucial to expand protected areas in a targeted manner—thus supporting efforts to tackle climate change, and protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem services that sustain all of us.”

“This report shows that the will to do so is present,” he added. “We now need to build support and funding to ensure protected areas are effectively and equitably managed and cover enough important sites for biodiversity and ecosystem services-including marine protected areas.”

“Ten years ago, the IUCN World Parks Congress in Durban gave birth to the idea of global protected area targets,” says IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “Today in Sydney, we are proud to launch the Protected Planet report, which shows how well we have advanced in reaching our goals.

We are committed to making sure that our promises are not empty. What we need to see behind those figures are protected areas that are well and equitably managed, healthy, strong and able to deliver the full range of benefits that are essential for the survival of biodiversity and the wellbeing of people around the world.”

The protected area coverage was calculated using the August 2014 version of the World Database on Protected Areas. The database underwent a major update in 2014, based on the overwhelmingly positive response to a CBD request for parties to the convention to submit an update to UNEP-WCMC to compile the UN List of Protected Areas. By August 2014, 124 countries had submitted new data and 15 were in the process of submitting.
Terrestrial protected area coverage has increased by about one million km2 since 2010, 126,000 km2 of which came since 2012. In total, 20.6 million km2 of terrestrial and inland water areas are now covered. To cover 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland waters, 2.2 million additional km2 of protected areas are needed.
Just over six million km2 of marine protected areas have been added since 2010, with 1.5 million km2 of this total coming since 2012. In total, 12 million km2 of the global ocean is now covered.

While marine areas are lagging terrestrial areas in attaining the target, real progress has been made in areas within coastal waters and national jurisdiction—reaching coverage of 10.9% and 8.4% respectively.

However, only 0.25% of seas beyond national jurisdiction are covered by marine protected areas, demonstrating a gap in conservation efforts and highlighting the urgent need to overcome challenges in establishing such areas where national governance systems do not exist.

To meet the 10% in areas within national jurisdiction, a further 2.2 million km2 of marine areas will be required. In addition, 21.5 million km2 in the high seas need to be protected for the target of 10% to be attained.
Recent increases at sea are mainly due to the establishment of huge areas in waters around Australia, New Caledonia and Britain’s South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. In 2014, New Caledonia designated all of its jurisdictional waters as a marine protected area, encompassing an area of about 1.2 million km2, the largest protected area in the world.
If these areas were removed from the global marine statistics, coverage would be halved to only 1.8% of the global ocean area and 4.4% of jurisdictional waters.
Lack of progress in other areas
Protected Planet 2012 highlighted a raft of challenges revolving around management and governance of protected areas, and issued 13 recommendations on how to expand protected areas and better track progress.

Of the priority actions identified, only two were judged by Protected Planet 2014 to have shown good progress: enhancing national reporting to the datasets used to track global progress, and accelerating the targeted expansion of the global protected area network in terrestrial, inland water and marine areas.

Limited progress was recorded on the other recommendations—which included calls for improved understanding of the benefits of protected areas in supporting biodiversity and ecosystem services, better funding, strengthening local community engagement, and improving the connectivity of protected areas and their integration into surrounding landscapes.

The lack of sustainable financing is a particular area of concern—even though previous UNEP studies have shown that the overall economic benefits of protected areas greatly exceed the cost of managing them.
The financial investment required to establish and effectively manage an expanded protected area network to cover important sites for all wildlife groups by 2020 was estimated in 2012 to be US$ 76.1 billion per year, the report says.

The report issued key messages and recommendations in these areas of concern to assist policy makers in ensuring the target 11 is fully met. These include:

Coverage of biodiversity and ecosystem services

In 2013, 22% of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas and 23% of Alliance for Zero Extinction sites were completely covered by protected areas, and on average less than half of each site was protected. Targeted expansion of protected area networks is needed to include some of these and other key areas on the land, and especially the seas. In addition, coverage of most ecoregions and species is not sufficient. Having a protected area network that adequately covers all important aspects of biodiversity and ecosystems services will require more than 17% of the land and 10% of marine and coastal areas.

Effective management

Effectively managed protected areas conserve biodiversity and habitats. However, by 2013 only 29% of the total area of nationally designated protected areas had been assessed for management effectiveness. Lack of effective management remains one of the largest problems facing the current global protected area system. More management effectiveness assessments, plus a greater focus on measuring biodiversity and social outcomes, are needed.

Equitable management
There is weak reporting and little available data on equitable management, both of which need to be strengthened to provide meaningful assessments of how equitable protected areas and other kinds of conservation areas are managed.

Available evidence on corridors indicates they have a positive conservation benefit. Despite a growing number of large connectivity projects, there is little knowledge of the level of connectivity between conservation areas across the wider landscapes and seascapes. Connectivity principles should be better incorporated into national planning and climate change adaptation programmes.

Benefits to people and nature

Protected areas deliver numerous benefits for people and nature and need to be recognized as a proven and cost-effective natural way to deal with global challenges such as water provision, food security, disaster-risk reduction, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. This should be fully acknowledged by integrating protected areas into national planning and decision-making processes across all sectors.
Role in the Sustainable Development Goals
Protected area coverage has been used as one of the indicators to track progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Protected areas, as vital elements of the landscape and models of sustainable development, could play an important role in the establishment and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). When the SDGs are agreed, the contribution of protected areas to each goal should be assessed to inform indicator development.

The full publication, Protected Planet Report 2014: Tracking progress towards global targets for protected areas is available at

The UN List of Protected Areas is available here: (ENG) (FR)

Positive outlook for two thirds of natural World Heritage sites, says IUCN
IUCN 13 Nov 14;

Sydney, Australia, 13 November 2014 (IUCN) – Over 60% of natural areas inscribed on the World Heritage List are likely to be well conserved over time, while others face critical threats such as invasive species, impact of tourism, poaching, dams and logging, according to the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2014 report released today at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney.

The report by IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the first global assessment of natural World Heritage and the first to recognize conservation success in the world’s most iconic places. It is based on expert assessments of all 228 natural World Heritage sites. Up to now, only about half of the listed sites have been regularly monitored through the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

According to the report, 21% of natural World Heritage sites have a good conservation outlook, 42% are classified as ‘good with some concerns’, 29% face significant concerns and 8% of the sites are assessed as ‘critical’. Out of the many values that these sites possess, biodiversity is found to be facing the highest level of threat.

“World Heritage sites have the most prestigious international designation and those who manage them should demonstrate exemplary leadership for all protected areas,” says Julia Marton Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN. “Thanks to the IUCN World Heritage Outlook, we can see which sites have been successfully conserved and encourage the World Heritage Convention to secure the long-term protection of all the sites under its umbrella.”

The IUCN Outlook aims to track overall trends and changes occurring within the sites, taking into account threats, protection and management, and the state of World Heritage values, such as biodiversity, ecosystems and geological features.

World Heritage sites with a good conservation outlook include Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – recognized across the globe as a symbol of Australia – and Mount Huangshan, whose astounding landscapes has captivated artists and poets in China for centuries. The natural features of these sites are in good condition and should be protected over time, provided current conservation measures are maintained. Other sites assessed as ‘good’ include the iconic Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Namib Sand Sea.

The Great Barrier Reef, whose fragile reef ecosystem and marine biodiversity are at risk, has been assessed as a site of ‘significant concern’. Calls for stronger responses to the threats it faces have already been made by the World Heritage Committee. Some sites, however, have been off the Convention’s radar despite serious issues that are not being adequately addressed. For example, the report identifies concerns about the impacts of fishing on the conservation of Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, which is home to the Komodo Dragon.

Affected by severe threats, 19 sites have a critical outlook and need urgent, large-scale intervention to protect their values. Many of them are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites ‘in danger’, such as Selous Game Reserve, where poaching has dramatically reduced the number of elephants. But not all sites facing severe threats are danger-listed, including Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, whose exceptional role in protecting Monarch Butterflies during winter is threatened by deforestation and agricultural activities.

“World Heritage stands for excellence in management and the new World Heritage Outlook is a call for action so that all listed sites unequivocally demonstrate the best in conservation,” says Cyril Kormos, Vice Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. “This new platform is not just about checking how things are going. It also promotes new ways to care for our natural World Heritage, so that sites facing critical issues can achieve a positive outlook.”

The report shows that 54% of the assessed sites are well managed, while there is serious concern about the quality of management in 13%. Effective management is often key to securing a good conservation outlook despite high threats faced by the sites. For example, Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles faces serious threats from invasive species but its outlook is ‘good with some concerns’ thanks to a carefully planned management approach.

Natural World Heritage sites are globally recognized as the world’s most important protected areas, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their unique natural values, such as the scale of natural habitats, intactness of ecological processes, viability of populations of rare species, as well as exceptional natural beauty.

The report is available online for free and its next edition is planned for 2017. All site assessments can be accessed on