“A sustainable future for humankind depends on a caring partnership with nature as much as anything else.”
Protected areas … offering solutions
Humanity faces two immense and interrelated problems; the global extinction of species and human-caused climate change. We are in the middle of a global extinction crisis, with rates of biodiversity loss 100 times above pre-human levels. This existed before the confounding effects of human-caused climate change began to exacerbate the problem. These two problems profoundly impact human well-being and livelihoods as they undermine the natural capital and sustainability at a planetary as well as local scale. Maintenance of ecosystem resilience is an essential prerequisite for maintaining resilient socio-economic systems, and an expanded connected network of well managed conservation areas is the most robust proven solution to confront these problems.
Simply put, large healthy protected ecosystems conserve biodiversity and address climate change impacts directly and indirectly. Evidence of their value in many sectors is increasing in quality and substance, including for health promotion, food security, water provision, disaster and risk reduction, poverty alleviation and for dealing with the causes and impacts of climate change on ecosystems and society.
Protected area systems are already contributing to the cost-effective conservation of intact, connected, and therefore resilient ecosystems. When well-planned and justly governed, when the costs and benefits of protected area systems are shared equitably, and when mainstreamed into economic decision-making in all sectors, protected areas contribute markedly to national and local economies and are the foundation for sustainable and resilient livelihoods for many communities.
Resilient natural ecosystems are indispensible for sequestering and storing organic carbon for mitigation, and for maintaining biodiversity and the ecosystem services that are essential for societal adaptation to climate change, with particular attention to especially vulnerable areas where ecosystem services tend to decrease more dramatically. Based on this conviction, the conservation community has adopted wide-ranging decisions in both the CBD and UNFCCC negotiations that recognize and employ ecosystem-based approaches. This has been the policy position of IUCN’s thematic programme on climate change that advocates nature-based solutions.
One third of the 105 world’s largest cities derive drinking water from forested protected areas. Another 10% obtain water from sources that originate in ‘protected’ watersheds. Some natural forests (especially tropical montane cloud forests) and wetland areas increase total water flow
Protected areas conserve populations of wild species, pollinators, and crop wild relatives safeguarding species and populations vital for food security and agriculture.
Climate change and lack of clean water are expected to lead to increased health risks and epidemics. Protected areas contribute to health by protecting intact ecosystems and supplies of medicinal plants and genetic material for pharmaceuticals. Many people (80% in Africa) rely on traditional medicines; 28% of plants are used medicinally and 60% of medicinal plants are collected from the wild, including in protected areas.
Economic losses from natural disasters have increased ten-fold over the last 50 years. Protected areas can play a role in helping reduce the occurrence and impacts of natural disasters, such as floods, landslides, tsunamis, typhoons and storms, fire and drought and desertification. For example in Argentina flood protection programs have integrated conservation of natural habitats to reduce vulnerability and disaster risks, to complement infrastructure and early-warning investments.