Enhancing regional action to improve protected and conserved area coverage and outcomes

UNEP-WCMC’s Protected Planet team report back from recent workshops in Central Asia and the Western Balkans, convened to drive progress on Target 3 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

Protected and conserved areas (PCAs) are effective, high-profile tools for nature conservation and can bring a host of supplementary economic and climate benefits. The global agreement to expand and enhance PCAs is perhaps the most publicised of the latest international targets for nature, with Target 3 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) calling for PCAs to cover 30 per cent of the world’s land, inland waters and oceans by 2030.

Now, one year on from the adoption of the GBF, countries around the world are working hard to revise their national plans for nature, including updating their contributions towards increasing PCA coverage and effectiveness, and understanding how Target 3 links with and can augment progress towards other targets.

UNEP-WCMC with colleagues in UNEP and other partners are working to support implementation in a range of ways. As well as maintaining the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) and its sister databases, the Protected Planet initiative of UNEP-WCMC works to support countries increase their expertise to better understand and successfully act on the technical complexities of national implementation of Target 3.

These complexities arise in part from Target 3’s multiple, intertwined elements. Beyond the headline aim of increasing coverage, it requires consideration at the national level of ecological connectivity, targeting of areas to locations where biodiversity benefits will be optimised, equitable governance, effective management, and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities. The global ambitions of target 3 will require cross-border collaboration, and an understanding of the collective national contributions.

Supporting education, knowledge-sharing and discussion

In late November 2023, UNEP-WCMC and colleagues at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) hosted two inaugural Target 3 regional workshops for government experts from across the Western Balkans and Central Asia. The sessions were developed to help national leads learn from each other and from technical experts – including speakers from UNEP, UNEP-WCMC and colleagues associated with the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas – discuss experiences and learning on PCAs with regional colleagues and get signposting to the best tools and guidance for local action.    

The workshops were attended by government representatives on biodiversity and environmental protection from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia for the Western Balkans session, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for the Central Asia workshop.

Governments in both regions have already made strong progress on planning for Target 3 implementation at the national level, but the workshops provided a much-needed opportunity to share perspectives and identify opportunities to collaborate on the broad elements of Target 3, beyond boosting area coverage.

The sessions opened with discussions on the various elements of the target – ranging from how to ensure PCAs are in the right places to protect biodiversity to how to equitably engage Indigenous Peoples and local communities, before hearing from external speakers on topics including sustainable tourism, opportunities for non-state led initiatives, and the benefits of identifying and supporting other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs).

As updated information on PCAs at the national level is so crucial for tracking the implementation of the global target, the workshop also highlighted the importance of reporting accurate data to Protected Planet, including the WDPA and related databases.

Finally, participants shared their plans for Target 3 implementation, strategies for addressing neglected issues, and opportunities for collaboration and connectivity across countries, including through transboundary conservation areas (TBCAs).

Blidinje Nature Park Strizevo Bosnia and Herzegovina | credit: Adobe Stock #459678673

Regional outlooks: improved cooperation, maximising PCA effectiveness and exploring OECMs

During the Western Balkans workshop it became clear there are multiple opportunities to enhance Target 3 implementation in the region. These potentially include increased recognition and legislative backing for OECMs and the conservation efforts of non-state organisations; the creation of new protected areas, including potential sites as part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network; finding new opportunities for shared governance; increased ecological corridors and TBCAs; and improved monitoring and use of remote sensing. A key priority for attendees was ensuring continuity for the region’s thriving PCA-linked tourism industry, while ensuring that tourism remains sustainable. Participants also identified greater engagement with local people as essential, including with pastoralists whose traditional practices sustain unique communities of animals and plants.

Meanwhile, the Central Asia workshop helped delegates identify shared challenges and experiences that could be better tackled through regional cooperation, including convening resources, funding and new technologies for mapping and monitoring PCAs, particularly in mountainous environments.
There was great interest in Central Asia in the opportunity to establish TBCAs and enhance regional and sub-regional cooperation, with a clear need for sharing knowledge and experiences, and in the need to align sustainable tourism efforts, and establish regional-level databases on protected areas and biodiversity. OECMs are a new concept for identification in the countries in Central Asia, and while delegates agreed they could provide an opportunity for biodiversity outside protected areas, they also called for further work to understand how OECMs might fit in national contexts.

The collective desire to improve and increase PCAs

The Protected Planet team was hugely encouraged by the overriding sentiment from both workshops, with delegates all agreeing that increased coverage alone will not fulfil the holistic conservation aims of Target 3.

Discussions at the events were progressive – focusing on ensuring that new PCAs make meaningful additional contributions to conservation, that existing PCAs are managed and governed as effectively and equitably as possible, and openly exploring how to identify and create OECMs and TBCAs.

Target 3 is multifaceted, and just one of 23 targets that governments must grapple with to implement the Global Biodiversity Framework. Workshops such as these demonstrate the clear value of bringing national governments together to share insights and experiences, explore opportunities for collaboration and identify solutions to common challenges.

A comprehensive guide is available for readers interesting in learning more about Target 3 and its implementation.   

Learn more about Protected Planet here, and explore the importance of ecological connectivity and the powerful potential to boost TBCAs.

Featured image: Scary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve in Kyrgyzstan, copyright of Brett Wilson

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