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Goal 7. Ensure environmental sustainability Target 7.A: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources Target 7.B: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss


The proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected is defined as the proportion of a country’s total terrestrial and marine area that is designated as a protected area.

This indicator is expressed as a percentage.

The terrestrial and marine area of a country is the sum of the terrestrial area and any marine area falling within the country’s borders. It is also referred to as territorial area.

Terrestrial area includes total land area and inland waters.

Marine areas, also known as territorial seas, are defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as belts of coastal waters extending at most twelve nautical miles from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.

Protected areas (marine, terrestrial or freshwater), as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are clearly defined geographical spaces, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

Only protected areas that are “nationally designated” are included in this indicator. The status "designated" is attributed to a protected area when the corresponding authority, according to national legislation or common practice (e.g. by means of an executive decree or the like), officially endorses a document of designation. The designation must be made for the purpose of biodiversity conservation, not single species protection or fortuitous de facto protection arising because of some other activity (e.g. military).

Method of computation
The indicator is computed by dividing the total protected area–both terrestrial and marine–by the total territorial area of the country and multiplying by 100.


Habitat conservation is vital for stemming the decline in biodiversity. The establishment of protected areas is an important mechanism for achieving this aim, and this indicator serves as a means of measuring progress toward reducing biodiversity loss.

Levels of access to protected areas vary. Some areas, such as scientific reserves, are maintained in their natural state and closed to any other use. Others are used for recreation or tourism, or even open for the sustainable extraction of natural resources.

In addition to protecting biodiversity, protected areas have become places of high social and economic value: supporting local livelihoods; protecting watersheds from erosion; harbouring an untold wealth of genetic resources; supporting thriving recreation and tourism industries; providing for science, research and education; and forming a basis for cultural and other non-material values.


Data are compiled by ministries of environment and other ministries responsible for the designation and maintenance of protected areas.

Data and knowledge gaps can arise due to difficulties in measuring the proportion of a protected area within the total terrestrial and/or marine environment, and in determining whether a site conforms to the IUCN definition of a protected area.


This indicator can be separately expressed for marine areas and for terrestrial areas. However, protected areas can encompass both marine and terrestrial environments, so determining separately the size of the protected area that is classified as marine and as terrestrial may be difficult.


The indicator provides a measure of governments’ willingness to protect biodiversity. However, it does not measure the effectiveness of protected areas in reducing biodiversity loss, which ultimately depends on a range of management and enforcement factors not covered by the indicator.

The indicator does not provide information on internationally designated protected areas and other areas that although important for conserving biodiversity, are not designated as protected (e.g. many indigenous and community conserved areas).

The data also do not usually include sites protected under local or provincial law.


Women play a central role in the conservation, management and use of biodiversity. In rural areas of poor, developing countries, women’s daily tasks are tied closely to biodiversity. They are responsible for gathering edible wild plants (fruits, leaves and roots of native plants) to feed their families as a supplement to agricultural grains, especially during unfavourable situations such as famine, conflicts and epidemics. Other female tasks tied closely to biodiversity are the gatherings of medicinal plants, firewood and other bush products for medicine, fuel, house-building, paint and even manure and pesticide.

Women’s knowledge of biodiversity is immense and broad, because their communities’ well-being depends on it, and preservation of this knowledge is crucial for maintaining biodiversity. Yet, their contribution is often overlooked. They are “invisible” partners from grassroots to policy level.

There is therefore an urgent need to consider gender issues in development efforts, to promote true partnership and ensure the sustainable conservation and use of biodiversity.


The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the agency in charge of calculating and reporting global and regional figures for this indicator. UNEP-WCMC aggregates the global and regional figures from the national figures that are calculated from the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). WDPA is jointly managed by UNEP-WCMC and IUCN.

UNEP-WCMC produces the UN List of Protected Areas every 5-10 years, based on information provided by national ministries/agencies. In the intervening period between compilations of UN Lists, UNEP-WCMC works closely with national ministries/agencies and NGOs responsible for the designation and maintenance of protected areas, continually updating the WDPA as new data become available.

Quality control criteria are applied to ensure consistency and comparability of the data in the WDPA. New data are validated at UNEP-WCMC through a number of tools and translated into the standard data structure of the WDPA. Discrepancies between the data in the WDPA and new data are resolved in communication with data providers. Processed data is fully integrated into the published WDPA.

The WDPA is held within a Geographic Information System (GIS) that stores information about protected areas such as their name, size, type, date of establishment, geographic location (point) and/or boundary (polygon).

The total area of a country’s/territory’s terrestrial protected areas and marine protected areas in territorial waters is divided by the total area of its land areas (including inland waters) and territorial waters to obtain the relative coverage (percentage) of protected areas.

The total protected area is calculated using all the nationally designated protected areas recorded in WDPA whose location and extent is known. Protected areas with unknown location and/or extent are excluded from the data compilation. Protected areas with unknown year of establishment are included in the data and analysis for every year from 1990 to present. Where no new data are received for a country/territory during a year, protected area coverage is assumed to be equal to the previous year.

A supplementary indicator, used at the global level, shows trends in the proportion of areas of particular importance for biodiversity that are covered by protected areas (as defined above). Two networks of such sites have been assessed in this way: Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Alliance for Zero Extinction sites (AZEs).

IBAs are places of international significance for the conservation of birds. IBAs are identified (usually at a national scale through multi-stakeholder processes) using a standardised set of data-driven criteria and thresholds, relating to threatened, restricted-range, biome-restricted and congregatory species. IBAs are delimited so that, as far as possible, they: (a) are different in character, habitat or ornithological importance from surrounding areas; (b) provide the requirements of the trigger species (i.e. those for which the site qualifies) while present, alone or in combination with networks of other sites; and (c) are or can be managed in some way for conservation. Data on IBAs are managed by BirdLife International, and are available online at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/site/search.

AZEs are sites meeting three criteria: endangerment (supporting at least one Endangered or Critically Endangered species, as listed on the IUCN Red List); irreplaceability (holding the sole or overwhelmingly significant (≥95%) known population of the target species, for at least one life history segment); and discreteness (having a definable boundary within which the character of habitats, biological communities, and/or management issues have more in common with each other than they do with those in adjacent areas) (Rickets et al., 2005). Hence AZEs represent locations at which species extinctions are imminent unless appropriately safeguarded (i.e. protected or managed sustainably in ways consistent with the persistence of populations of target species).

The IBA and AZE site networks are, by definition, areas of particular importance for biodiversity as referred to in the CBD target. Hence, they represent priority areas to consider designating as formal protected areas.

The supplementary indicator shows the percentage of IBAs and AZEs that are completely covered by protected areas (Butchart et al. 2012)




Butchart, S. H. M., Scharlemann, J. P. W., Evans, M., Quader, S. Arinaitwe, J., Bennun, L. A., Besançon, C., Boucher, T., Bomhard, B., Brooks, T. M., Burfield, I. J., Burgess, N. D., Clay, R. P., Crosby, M. J., Davidson, N. C. De Silva, N., Devenish, C., Dutson, G. C. L., Díaz Fernández, D. F., Fishpool, L. D. C., Foster, M., Hockings, M., Hoffmann, M., Knox, D., Larsen, F., Lamoreux, J. F., Loucks, C., May, I., Millett, J. Parr, M., Skolnik, B., Upgren, A. & Woodley, S. (2012) Protecting important sites for biodiversity contributes to meeting global conservation targets. PLoS One 7(3): e32529. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032529.

Chape, S., Harrison, J., Spalding, S. & Lysenko, I. (2005) Measuring the extent and effectiveness of protected areas as an indicator for meeting global biodiversity targets. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 360: 443-445.

Chape, S., Blyth, S., Fish, L., Fox, P. & Spalding, M. (compilers) (2003) 2003 United Nations List of Protected Areas. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Gland, Switzerland and United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge, UK.

DUDLEY, N. (EDITOR) (2008). Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Gland, Switzerland. Available from http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/PAPS-016.pdf.

INTERNATIONAL UNION FOR CONSERVATION OF NATURE and UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME - WORLD CONSERVATION MONITORING CENTRE and INTERNATIONAL UNION FOR CONSERVATION OF NATURE. The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) . Cambridge, United Kingdom. Internet site http://www.protectedplanet.netwdpa.org and www.wdpa-marine.org.

Ricketts, T. H., Dinerstein, E., Boucher, T., Brooks, T. M., Butchart, S. H. M., Hoffmann, M. Lamoreux, J. F., Morrison, J., Parr, M., Pilgrim, J. D., Rodrigues, A. S. L., Sechrest, W., Wallace, G. E., Berlin, K. Bielby, J., Burgess, N. D., Church, D. R., Cox, N., Knox, D., Loucks, C., Luck, G. W., Master, L. L., Moore, R., Naidoo, R., Ridgely, R., Schatz, G. E., Shire, G., Strand, H., Wettengel, W. and Wikramanayake, W. (2005) Pinpointing and preventing imminent extinctions. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. 102: 18497–18501.

UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME - WORLD CONSERVATION MONITORING CENTRE and 2010 BIODIVERSITY INDICATORS PARTNERSHIP (2009). Coverage of Protected Areas. Guidance for National and Regional Use. Version 1.2. Cambridge, United Kingdom. Available from http://www.twentyten.net/guidancedocumentsfornationaluse.

UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME - WORLD CONSERVATION MONITORING CENTRE and INTERNATIONAL UNION FOR CONSERVATION OF NATURE. World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) . Cambridge, United Kingdom. Internet site http://www.wdpa.org and www.wdpa-marine.org.

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