Effective protected areas

Protected and conserved areas are the foundation of biodiversity conservation. They safeguard nature and cultural resources, improve livelihoods and drive sustainable development. 

IUCN works to establish best practices and standards that maximise the effectiveness of protected and conserved areas and advances justice and equity in conservation, including the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

About effective protected areas

Protected areas – national parks, wilderness areas, community conserved areas, nature reserves and so on – are a mainstay of biodiversity conservation, while also contributing to people’s livelihoods, particularly at the local level. Protected areas are at the core of efforts towards conserving nature and the services it provides us – food, clean water supply, medicines and protection from the impacts of natural disasters. Their role in helping mitigate and adapt to climate change is also increasingly recognised; it has been estimated that the global network of protected areas stores at least 15% of terrestrial carbon.

Helping countries and communities designate and manage systems of protected areas on land and in the oceans, is one of IUCN’s main areas of expertise and a key focus of attention of IUCN’s work. Effectively managed systems of protected areas have been recognised as critical instruments in achieving the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals.

How does IUCN contribute to fair and effective protected areas?

The Protected and Conserved Areas Team focuses on the IUCN Green List Standard as the guiding framework for delivery of the IUCN Programme: conserving nature, developing capacity, achieving quality, respecting people, and offering solutions.

We work to promote implementation of global standards for fair governance and effective management of systems of protected and conserved areas, including the IUCN Green List and other standards for performance, diversity, quality, rights, and equity.

In its work on Ecosystems and Protected Areas, IUCN has achieved:

600 sites


 in 60+ countries are protected and conserved areas that are engaged in the IUCN Green List community (approximate numbers of formally and informally registered sites and networks of sites). As of June 2022, this includes 61 Green Listed sites globally, of which around 1 out of 7 are also World Heritage sites.

1115+ solutions


have been submitted on our PANORAMA platform. PANORAMA – Solutions for a Healthy Planet is a partnership initiative to document and promote examples of inspiring, replicable solutions across a range of conservation and sustainable development topics, enabling cross-sectoral learning and inspiration.

89,542 students


trained through our MOOC Conservation, a platform that is dedicated to online courses on nature conservation. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are one of the latest advances in distance learning. The training materials are developed by IUCN-PAPACO (the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Programme on African Protected Areas and Conservation) and its partners. The courses are free of charge and open to all.

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Our objective

To increase global and national investment into committed countries’ fair and effective area-based conservation systems, in line with the new Global Biodiversity Framework and 30x30 ambitions, resulting in measurable, positive and sustained outcomes for people and nature.

What are effective protected areas

A protected area is 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.

IUCN Definition, 2008

IUCN, along with the United Nations Environment  – World Conservation Monitoring Centre, maintains a global database of protected and conserved areas. This database, accessible through Protected Planet, lists about 261,766 officially recognised protected areas, covering over 15% of the of the earth’s land surface and 7.4% of the world’s oceans. This figure is only the official record; there are many more conserved areas, such as indigenous peoples’ territories and privately conserved wild areas. IUCN is working to identify and recognise  these areas and to bring their achievements into the global community of protected and conserved areas.

Yet, to address the mounting challenges to nature, and achieve a positive foundation for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, we need more than percentages and hectares or acres on a map. We need these conserved  areas to be vital signs of life. We need them to offer hope, regeneration, and good health. We depend on them for clean air, fresh water and rainfall, pollination, and spiritual sanctuary to people all over the world, in urban and in rural communities.

IUCN and partners are committed to making sure that these refuges for nature are governed and managed as fairly and effectively as possible. We want to make sure that the men and women working on the forefront of our battle against environmental loss can and do receive the recognition and support they deserve. Their success is helping secure our future.

Policy Positions

IUCN advocates adoption of a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) that catalyses decisive action to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2030 and achieve recovery and restoration by 2050.

This Strategic Initiative focuses on four components of the GBF, critical to success:

  • Protected and conserved areas in the right places, effectively managed and equitably governed – through the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas
  • Concerted global action for species and support through a Global Species Action Plan
  • Restoration of ecosystems at scale through the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 
  • Resourcing the Framework by placing nature at the centre of the economy through incentives to increase investment in nature by approximately 0.7-1.0% of global GDP
Tahiry Honko project area
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