A global standard for protected areas

With the support of the IKI, the World Conservation Union ensures verifiable standards and fair and effective management of protected areas around the world. Photo: Thomas Kotouc

The IKI supports the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to define auditable standards, and ensure the fair and effective management of protected areas throughout the world.

While protected areas are a key instrument within conservation, simply designating an area offers no protection to the ecosystems within it. These areas require good management to preserve their biodiversity and secure benefits for the inhabitants. Intact ecosystems supply us with water and food, provide active ingredients for medicines, offer space for recreation and mitigate the impacts of extreme environmental events.

What, then, is ‘good’ management? The IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas is the first global standard for protected areas that offers a definition in this context. A place in the Green List is granted only to those who meet the criteria for the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas Standard in full. The standard defines four main categories: Good Governance, Sound Design and Planning, Effective Management and Successful Conservation Outcomes. In addition, protected areas also undertake to engage in fair and participative management, which properly upholds the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities and other stakeholders. This ensures that protected area management units are capable of measuring and monitoring the quality and the impacts of their work.

Global standards with local application

While the IUCN Green List defines global standards, their implementation can be adapted to local circumstances. Accordingly IUCN works closely with the respective governments to integrate the standards into their national protected area systems. This also strengthens the ownership in these countries – which is essential for effective conservation.

At the start of the pilot phase in 2014, 25 protected areas received preliminary Green List status, which has now been extended to 59 areas in 16 countries worldwide. IUCN is not merely focused on recognising good protected areas but also seeks to promote and facilitate the dissemination of knowledge about effective management practices all over the world. IUCN experts therefore work to enhance the standards with the aim of further improving the effectiveness of protected areas.

Since 2015, a project funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI), ‘Protected area solutions for biodiversity and climate change mitigations’ has made important contributions to the further development of the Green List. In the partner countries of Colombia, Kenya, Peru and Viet Nam, the project is working with individual protected areas who apply to be added to the Green List. Other project activities include developing and evaluating national frameworks for protected areas with the aim of achieving quality improvements. In this way, the protected areas show how to develop fair and effective protective measures, while contributing to the achievement of the eleventh Aichi target on the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, and the establishment of protected areas. The Aichi targets were adopted at the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, and represent an ambitious package of 20 global goals for preserving biological diversity worldwide.

Kenya: strict protection is not always the best way

In Kenya, the IKI project is supporting IUCN to evaluate three protected areas in terms of Green List standards. One of these is Ol Pejeta. This conservancy, approximately 360 square kilometres is also home to local pastoralists. Instead of prohibiting these people from grazing their livestock on protected land, they maintained their rights. This gained support from the local population translating directly into ecosystem conservation successes, such as protecting the critically endangered Northern White Rhino. Ol Pejeta shows that a strict protection model is not always the best pathway to success.

The IUCN also collaborates with IKI to develop national set of indicators and an evaluation process for protected areas in Kenya. It works closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is responsible for the preservation of national protected areas, and other partner organisations. In addition, the IUCN is also providing support for an assessment of the national governance framework for protected areas and other types of area-based conservation, including private conservancies and community-conserved areas.

Colombia: Green List standards incorporated into the national protected area system

In Colombia, a country that pioneered the Green List system, the IKI project assisted to integrate the IUCN standard into the national reporting systems for protected and conserved areas. Five protected areas cooperated in identifying existing problems, engaging more stakeholders and improving the management of these areas. All five have been successfully included on the IUCN Green List, with the most recent being Chingaza National Natural Park – the critical watershed area for the Colombian capital, Bogota; and Malpelo Marine Sanctuary, a critical area for marine connectivity and a biodiversity haven, famous for its shark aggregations.

Peru: focus on indigenous peoples and local communities

In Peru, the IKI project is focussing its efforts on partnering with indigenous peoples and local communities. Part of this involves working with the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve: one of the first protected areas managed by indigenous peoples to be included on the Green List. The reserve is considered to be a best-practice example of management that upholds the rights of indigenous and local communities, and enables effective conservation. The IKI project is also supporting negotiations aimed at recognition and rights for indigenous Runakuna communities in the Cordillera Azul National Park. Results from work in both areas are being incorporated into the Peruvian protected area system.

Corona Response Package supports nature reserves

In Viet Nam, the IKI project is working with the Vietnam Department for Nature Conservation in order to establish a national Green List initiative with the aim of incorporating a number of the country’s national parks and nature reserves. The Van Long Nature Reserve was the first protected area in Southeast Asia to be granted a Green List status. Once again, success here was based on good governance and the involvement of the local population.

The Van Long Nature Reserve also offers an example of the challenges facing protected area management emanating of the Covid-19 pandemic: with tourists prevented from visiting the reserve by global restrictions on travel, the local population ended up losing a key source of their income.

Within the framework of the Corona Response Package, IKI supports efforts aimed at identifying ways of managing these challenges. As a result, the IKI project has received top-up funding amounting to EUR 1 million. This has also helped to mitigate impacts from the pandemic in the Van Long Nature Reserve. Preventive measures have also been developed with the aim of reducing the risks and effects of future pandemics.

Thanks to the work of this project, pandemic-specific countermeasures and preventive measures have now been included in the Green List standards. The topic has also been included in protected area advisory services: in this context, the IUCN is working with the EcoHealth Alliance and other international health experts.

Contribution to next Convention on Biological Diversity framework

In 2022, the Convention on Biological Diversity is due to adopt its next framework, which will set out international targets for the conservation of biodiversity up to 2030. In this context, project partners have worked to ensure that this new biodiversity framework draft focuses on the effectiveness of protected areas and will cite the IUCN Green List Standard as a potential indicator.

The Green List will also be developed further. A new development plan aims to achieve an advanced standard, and promote an international partnership for fair and effective protected areas and conserved areas. The plan is based on the comprehensive and detailed knowledge base supplied by IKI project experience and results. An example of a repository of successful case studies is the PANORAMA platform.


This article is part of the IKI Annual Report 2020 - Active for International Climate Protection. For more information, please visit the special page on the IKI Annual Report 2020.

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