Most Asian countries far behind biodiversity targets for protected areas: Research

Protected areas are one of the most effective tools for safeguarding biodiversity, but new research published today has found that most Asian countries failed to achieve a global minimum target of protecting at least 17 per cent of land by 2020. Under current trends, the outlook for achieving the Global Biodiversity Framework’s 2030 target to protect at least 30 per cent of land is bleak, with Asia set to miss this by an even greater margin.

November 30, 2022


7 min


Oxford [UK], November 30 (ANI): Protected areas are one of the most effective instruments for preserving biodiversity. Still, according to new research published today, most Asian countries fell short of a worldwide minimum aim of protecting at least 17 per cent of land by 2020. The prospect of meeting the Global Biodiversity Framework’s 2030 aim of protecting at least 30 per cent of land is grim, with Asia expected to fall even further short.
Asia is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, home to many of the world’s most famous creatures, including the giant panda, snow leopard, and Asian elephant. However, in many locations, these species are threatened by some of the world’s most significant habitat loss rates, pushed by rapid human expansion.
To combat the global biodiversity crisis, nearly 200 countries pledged to protect at least 17 per cent of their terrestrial environments by 2020 at the 2010 UN Convention on Biological Diversity. To determine whether this had been accomplished, researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, along with Asian collaborators, examined data from official reports submitted to the World Database on Protected Areas. The findings, which were based on data from 40 different countries, were published in Communications Biology.
Key findings:
a. Only 40 per cent of Asian countries achieved the target of a minimum of 17 per cent coverage for protected areas by 2020. In particular, very few countries in West and Central Asia achieved the target.
b. Overall, Asia was the most underperforming continent, with just 13.2 per cent of land being designated as a terrestrial protected area in 2020 (compared with a global average of 15.2 per cent protection).
c. Only 40 per cent (16) of Asian countries, mainly in East and South Asia, had met the 17 per cent protection target by 2020. However, 14 out of 19 West and Central Asian countries had not met the target.
d. Asian countries also tended to have a slower year-on-year increase in the amount of land protected for conservation, at just 0.4 per cent per year on average. Between 2010 and 2020, some countries showed no change, or even small decreases, in protected area coverage.
e. Countries that had a higher proportion of agricultural land in 2015 had a lower protected area coverage in 2020. This may imply that rapidly expanding agriculture may be hindering the establishment of new protected areas.
f. Only 7 per cent of protected areas in Asia had any kind of assessment for their management effectiveness.
g. For 241 highly at-risk mammal species across Asia, on average 84 per cent of their ranges fell outside protected areas.
Based on these findings, the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework objective of conserving 30 per cent of the earth by 2030 will be missed by an even wider margin.
According to the experts, practically all Asian countries will fail to fulfil the 2030 target unless their rate of developing protected areas accelerates by up to six times. Under the current trajectory, Asia as a whole would only have 18 per cent coverage by 2030, far short of the 30 per cent target. The outlook for West and South Asia was the worst, with 11 per cent and 10 per cent coverage projected by 2030, respectively.
Lead author, Dr Mohammed Farhadinia of the Department of Biology and Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, said: ‘Asia is a challenging continent for setting targets for protected areas since areas of high biodiversity typically conflict with dense human populations and rapid economic growth. While this research demonstrates the need for more investment in protected areas in Asia, it also shows the importance of establishing realistic, achievable goals that take into account socio-geographical restrictions.’
The findings are significant in advance of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) when the governing body of the Convention on Biological Diversity will meet in Montreal, Canada. Government representatives will review progress toward the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and discuss strategies for meeting the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework targets at this meeting.
The authors make three recommendations to support Asian countries trying to meet the 2030 biodiversity targets, which they hope will influence decision-makers ahead of COP 15:
Documenting and reporting on other effective area-based conservation measures governed by local communities that conserve biodiversity. These can include privately conserved areas or farmlands with a high value for nature.
Restoring disturbed landscapes, such as land from abandoned farms and logged rainforests.
Strengthening protected areas that cross international borders. Many rare species exist in transboundary regions (such as the snow leopard, whose habitat spans twelve countries) yet increasing border obstacles threaten their movement.
Despite the grim overall picture, the survey uncovered some Asian success stories. Nepal, for example, expanded its protected area coverage by about 40 per cent between 2010 and 2020, to nearly 24 per cent of the country.
‘This significant achievement was made possible by the government’s political will to preserve the country’s biodiversity, favourable environmental policies, and international commitment made under Aichi targets,’ says Gopal Khanal, conservation officer at Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment and co-author of this study.
Dr Aishwarya Maheshwari, India-based co-author of the study said: ‘Asia is a highly complex region with great variability in human population densities, biodiversity richness, and geopolitics. This makes it unlikely that a “one size fits all” approach to improve the coverage of protected areas would be successful. Instead, careful and targeted planning is needed if we are to meet post-2020 biodiversity targets while balancing human demands.’ (ANI)

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