There are various ways of defining protected areas. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines protected area (PA) as “a geographically defined area which is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives.” The IUCN had lengthy debates and developed the following definition: “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”.
The ecological and socio-economic benefits (more here on benefits) of PAs are undisputed, although it may sometimes be difficult to put a price on them. PAs help protect species and their habitats, provide ecosystems services, protect against climate change, and are an important buffer to prevent unsustainable over-consumption of natural resources by humans.
As part of its 2011-2020 strategic plan, the CBD stipulates a target of 17% of the earth’s terrestrial area and 10% of marine area to be protected by 2020. Currently, terrestrial PAs cover around 14% of land area globally, and around 3.4 % of marine surface area, which is short of the CBD targets. Governments around the world should be striving to increase the number of PAs and other types of conservation land- and seascapes for the benefit of future generations. So what is preventing governments from reaching the CBD targets?
Evidence of PADDD
When looking at the historical growth in the number and size of PAs, the picture looks quite positive. But how protected are these protected areas? Instead of progress towards the CBD targets, there is increasing evidence that we may be moving in the opposite direction.
PADDD stands for Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement, which refers to the legal process of making PAs less restrictive of human use (downgrading), smaller (downsizing) or eliminating them altogether (degazettement). WWF launched the online ‘PADDD-tracker’ in 2011, an online portal that uses spatial mapping tools to collect and show instances of PADDD around the world. A cursory glance of the map immediately reveals the extent of regression between 1990 and present:
Figure 1: Map retrieved from http://www.paddtracker.org
* Purple dots = Downgrading
Green dots = Downsizing
Orange dots = Degazetting
Causes of PADDD
The causes of PADDD are diverse, but research suggests that this includes industrial-scale resource extraction and development, local land pressures and land claims, and comprehensive revisions of conservation plans.
But why is it that industrial-scale resource extraction and land pressures are allowed to encroach on protected areas? Going back to the earlier definition; weren’t PAs “recognised, dedicated and managed” with the aim to “achieve the long-term conservation of nature”? And if “legal and other effective means” are not used properly, resulting in downgrading, downsizing and degazettement, who is essentially to blame?
My opinion is that this failure of enforcement essentially comes down to poor governance and management of PAs. Governance has to do with the broader processes and institutions involved in making decisions about the conservation objectives and management of the PAs. PAs are at the mercy of changing policies and practices, and once created they cannot be thought of as permanent fixtures but as areas that are in constant flux.
PADDD is not always bad – it may at times be better for ecological and/or socio-economic benefits to change the status of a protected area. However more often than not instances of PADDD are a strong indicator that the governance and in turn the management of the PAs in question was not effective.
PAs Deserve Better Governance
Instances of ‘bad PADDD’ can be avoided in the first place by ensuring good governance during the design stage as well as during implementation. Effective governance at the design stage can also ensure that PAs are created in areas of high biodiversity importance, to maximize the benefits of conservation. To ensure this happens requires an analysis of the long term value of the biodiversity resources in terms of economic, ecological, social and cultural benefits. This means calculating the return on investment in PAs accurately and in a participatory manner, and educating all stakeholders and rights holders about these returns.
If the right stakeholders and rights-holders are consulted at the onset, the right governance diversity exists, with appropriate incentives and institutions present to ensure accountability and transparency, and adequate financial resources for management agreed upon, then the overall impact of such actions would be a reduction in the instances of PADDD. Therefore, adhering to these good governance principles can not only ensure we reach our 2020 CBD targets, but also improve the sustainability of PAs and the benefits that they provide in the long run.
Questions for the Reader
Do you agree with my statement on the causes of PADDD and their relation to poor governance?
How can we better calculate the value of PAs to ensure they do not become a victim of ‘bad PADDD’?
How could we better evaluate good governance in conservation projects/ programs? Share your thoughts!