Global trends in conserved areas

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To help safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services, nations are increasing the area they conserve. Conserved areas include protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. This indicator provides a global overview of terrestrial and marine conserved areas.

Global results

Global area conserved

Key results

  • As of May 2021, globally
    • 16.6% of terrestrial area, including freshwater, was conserved, including 15.7% in protected areas
    • 7.7% of marine area, including international waters, was conserved, almost all in protected areas
  • Governments across the globe committed to conserving 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas by 2020

Percentage of global area conserved in relation to global 2020 targets, May 2021

Percentage of global area conserved in relation to global 2020 targets, May 2021 (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Percentage of global area conserved in relation to global 2020 targets, May 2021
Territory Area protected
(percentage)
Area conserved
(percentage)
Target for 2020
(percentage)
Terrestrial area 15.7 16.6 17
Marine area 7.7 7.7 10

Note: Area conserved includes area protected as well as other effective area-based conservation measures. 

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.18 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Antarctica is not included. Terrestrial area includes both land and freshwater. Marine area includes territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and areas beyond national jurisdiction. For more information on the definition of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, please refer to the Data sources and methods.
Source: United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) World Database on Protected Areas and World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures. May 2021 release.

Conserved areas are lands and waters where human use is limited. They include protected areas as well as other effective area-based conservation measures. Other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) are areas that are managed in ways to achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the conservation of biodiversity but are not protected areas. As of May 2021, only 5 countries had submitted OECMs to the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures; Canada accounts for 22% of the total area of OECMs.

Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity set an aspirational target to conserve at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, by 2020.Footnote 1  Considering not all countries had submitted their 2020 update to the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre at the time of reporting, the Protected Planet Report 2020 noted that it is expected that the terrestrial target would be met and possibly the marine target as well with further updates, especially with the addition of more OECMs.

Trends in conserved areas coverage

Key results

  • Between 1990 and May 2021, global
    • terrestrial conserved areas coverage increased from 7.7% (10.4 million km2) to 16.6% (22.5 million km2)
    • marine conserved areas coverage increased from 0.4% (1.8 million km2) to 7.7% (28.1 million km2)

Percentage of global area conserved, 1990 to 2021

Percentage of global area conserved, 1990 to 2021 (see the data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Percentage of global area conserved, 1990 to 2021
Year Terrestrial area conserved
(thousands of square kilometres)
Terrestrial area conserved
(percentage)
Marine area conserved
(thousands of square kilometres)
Marine area conserved
(percentage)
1990 10 422 7.7 1 789 0.5
1991 10 691 7.9 1 837 0.5
1992 10 953 8.1 1 877 0.5
1993 11 516 8.5 1 892 0.5
1994 11 858 8.8 1 913 0.5
1995 12 252 9.1 1 956 0.5
1996 12 860 9.5 1 977 0.5
1997 13 222 9.8 2 002 0.6
1998 13 564 10.1 2 034 0.6
1999 13 944 10.3 2 068 0.6
2000 14 859 11.0 2 104 0.6
2001 15 535 11.5 2 297 0.6
2002 16 280 12.1 2 406 0.7
2003 16 658 12.3 2 439 0.7
2004 17 078 12.7 2 558 0.7
2005 17 507 13.0 2 659 0.7
2006 18 097 13.4 4 572 1.3
2007 18 604 13.8 5 749 1.6
2008 19 555 14.5 5 830 1.6
2009 20 031 14.8 7 560 2.1
2010 20 246 15.0 9 015 2.5
2011 20 459 15.2 9 077 2.5
2012 20 716 15.4 10 951 3.0
2013 21 049 15.6 11 195 3.1
2014 21 238 15.7 12 611 3.5
2015 21 500 15.9 13 679 3.8
2016 21 723 16.1 16 240 4.5
2017 21 927 16.3 21 961 6.1
2018 22 111 16.4 26 330 7.3
2019 22 333 16.6 27 481 7.6
2020 22 455 16.6 28 054 7.7
2021 22 455 16.6 28 054 7.7

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.55 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Antarctica is not included. Terrestrial area includes both land and freshwater. Marine area includes territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Source: United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) Protected Planet Report 2020.

Globally, over 21 million km2 or 42% of the current area conserved were recognized since 2010. Marine and coastal areas had the largest increase in coverage over this period and can be broken down into national waters and international waters.  Conserved areas within marine areas under national jurisdiction have reached 18%, while only 1.2% of international marine areas are conserved.Footnote 2 

Results by country

Comparison of protected areas, selected countries

This section provides a comparison of area protected among 10 selected countries.Footnote 3,Footnote 4

Key results

  • As of May 2021, among a group of 10 selected countries, Canada
    • ranked fourth in total terrestrial area protected and third in total marine area protected
    • ranked second last in the percentage of terrestrial area protected and eighth in the percentage of marine area protected

Area protected and percentage of territory protected, selected countries, 2021

Area protected and percentage of territory protected, selected countries, 2021 (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Area protected and percentage of territory protected, selected countries, 2021
Country Terrestrial area
(thousands of square kilometres)
Terrestrial area protected
(thousands of square kilometres)
Terrestrial area protected
(percentage)
Marine area
(thousands of square kilometres)
Marine area protected
(thousands of square kilometres)
Marine area protected
(percentage)
Russian Federation 16 875 1 933 11.4 7 673 172 2.2
Australia 7 722 1 571 20.3 7 432 3 036 40.8
United States 9 490 1 235 13.0 8 591 1 648 19.2
Canada 9 955 1 186 11.9 5 698 505 8.9
France 549 150 27.3 344 173 50.4
Germany 358 135 37.8 56 26 45.4
Japan 374 110 29.4 4 041 333 8.2
United Kingdom 245 70 28.7 723 320 44.2
Sweden 449 65 14.5 155 24 15.4
Italy 301 65 21.5 539 52 9.7
Global excluding Antarctica[A] 134 918 21 200 15.7 362 330 27 800 7.7

Note: [A] The global total excluding Antarctica is published in the Protected Planet Report 2020

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Terrestrial area includes both land and freshwater. Marine area includes territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. The total area protected of a country is related to the country's total area. Only data from the World Database on Protected Areas are used to ensure consistency among countries. The analysis uses only data for areas that meet the international definition of a protected area and does not include other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). It also uses a different methodology than Canada's national reporting. For authoritative Canadian national reporting, see Canada's conserved areas indicators.
Source: United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) World Database on Protected Areas. May 2021 release.

While CanadaFootnote 5  protects a large area, its percentage of terrestrial and marine area protected is lower than the average among the peer group of countries. Likewise, the Russian Federation, with the largest terrestrial area (16.9 million km2) is also the country with the highest total terrestrial area protected. However, it ranks last in terms of the percentage of its terrestrial area protected.

The 4 largest countries selected for comparison typically have the largest area protected. The Russian Federation, Australia, the United States and Canada are the top 4 countries in terms of terrestrial area protected. Australia, the United States and Canada have the largest marine area protected.

Among the selected countries, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Australia each protect over 17% of their total terrestrial area. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Sweden each protect over 10% of their total marine area. When taking into account Canada's other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), Canada has conserved well over 10% of its total marine area.Footnote 6

About the indicator

About the indicator

What the indicator measures

This indicator reports the amount and percentage of global terrestrial and marine area conserved for the preservation of nature. The indicator also shows a comparison of area protected among 10 selected countries.  Global information on protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures is collected, analyzed and made available by the World Database on Protected Areas and the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures. Land and/or water access and use within protected areas are controlled primarily for the purpose of conserving nature (for example, a park, a conservation area or a wildlife reserve). Other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) are also managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the conservation of biodiversity, regardless of their stated objectives.

Why this indicator is important

Conserved areas (protected areas and OECMs) are key management tools used for the preservation of biodiversity. The area of land and water that is conserved is a measure of human response to the loss of biodiversity and natural habitat. The Protected Planet Report 2020 describes how protected areas and OECMs are achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11. Target 11 calls for parties to achieve "By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape."

Conserved areas also contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They are linked to Goal 14, Life Below Water and Target 14.5, "By 2020, conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information." They are also linked to Goal 15, Life on Land and Target 15.1, "By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements."

Related indicators

Canada's conserved areas indicators report the amount and proportion of Canada's terrestrial and marine area that is conserved. They include both protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

Data sources and methods

Data sources and methods

Data sources

The data used for the indicator are from the May 2021 update of the World Database on Protected Areas and the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (the databases), available from Protected Planet.Footnote 7  Governments and non-governmental organizations submit their data to the databases. Only sites meeting the international definitions for a protected area or other effective area-based conservation measure (OECM) are used for calculating protected area and OECM coverage.

More information

Protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures

Protected areas together with OECMs are referred to as conserved areas. Protected areas recognized as meeting the International Union for Conservation of Nature definition are used for calculating protected area coverage: "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."

Other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) must meet the Convention on Biodiversity definition to be used for calculating OECM coverage: "A geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity."

World Database on Protected Areas and World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures

The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre compiles the data provided by protected area and OECM authorities. For example, government agencies provide data on federal protected areas and OECMs, sub-national agencies provide data on sub-national areas, non-governmental organizations may provide data on areas they own and manage, communities may provide data on the areas they conserve and manage, and so on.

For Canada, the data providers include:

  • the Government of Canada which provides the Canadian Protected and Conserved Areas Database
  • Ramsar Secretariat, on behalf of Ramsar Contracting Parties, for wetlands recognized under the Ramsar Convention
  • the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), for World Heritage Sites

The capacity, methods and formats of data management vary among data providers; therefore, the global databases are a mosaic of geographic information system data at varying levels of completeness, resolution and quality. Nevertheless, data must meet a minimum standard (PDF; 1.36 MB). If an area is no longer conserved, it is removed from the database.

Data include all protected areas and OECMs reported as existing in May 2021. Antarctica is excluded because it cannot be attributed to any particular nation. For this reason, it is not included under the jurisdictional clause of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

International comparisons in the indicator are restricted to a set of 10 countries. Where possible, the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program uses a common set of countries for international comparison. Selected countries are the Group of 7 (G7), Australia (the population, population density and territorial extent are similar to Canada), the Russian Federation (a large northern country like Canada) and Sweden (which has a similar climate).

National and global statistics were compiled from the May 2021 snapshots of the databases. The databases are updated on a monthly basis as new data are received. However, there is a time lag between when a data provider submits its data and when updates are completed. This is due to time needed to review, verify, incorporate and analyze the data. Although data providers may submit their data as information becomes available, updates are requested at least every 5 years. At any given time, data from different countries may have different date stamps. The May 2021 World Database on Protected Areas and World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures snapshots contain Canadian Protected and Conserved Areas Database data date stamped December 2020.

Methods

The reported values are based on analyses conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. These analyses support the Protected Planet Digital Report and the monthly update of the Protected Planet website. A spatial analysis uses the boundaries (or estimated boundaries) of sites to account for overlaps and calculate the overall protected area and other effective area-based conservation measure (OECM) coverage.

More information

The World Database on Protected Areas and the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (the databases) are held within a geographic information system. They store information about protected areas / OECMs, including attributes such as their name, designation, date of designation and documented area, as well as their geographic location as a point or a polygon.

Data selection

All sites included in the databases are used for protected area and OECM coverage analyses, with the exception of:

  • sites that have a status of Proposed or Not Reported
  • sites submitted as points with no reported area
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Reserves, on the basis that the buffer and transitional zones of many of these sites are not protected. Core zones are usually protected areas designated at a national level and are typically accounted for in the analyses

Man and the Biosphere Reserve sites reported as OECMs are included in the coverage analyses.

Sites with an unknown year of establishment are treated as if they had been conserved prior to 1990.

Data analyses

The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre completed the data analyses used for the indicator. A summary of the methodology used to calculate the global and national protected area and OECM totals is outlined on the Protected Planet website.

The spatial analysis uses a world base map that combines the exclusive economic zones and the terrestrial country boundaries (World Vector Shoreline). Each country is given its own base layer that is used to calculate national totals. The national totals calculated using a global data layer may differ from the results reported nationally. For more information on the differences between the analyses completed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the Government of Canada, please refer to the Caveats and limitations section.

National totals

The World Conservation Monitoring Centre estimates national protected area and OECM totals separately. Since the indicator does not report OECMs for the comparison by country, only the methods used to calculate national protected area totals are provided below.

National protected area totals are calculated from the monthly release of the World Database on Protected Areas. If the boundaries of a site were not known, but its location and extent were known, it was modelled as a circular buffer around its point location. All of the site boundaries (polygons) were combined into a single data layer by country. This correctly accounts for overlaps among polygons within the country, but retains overlaps between countries.

The data layer was intersected with the world base map to establish country boundaries, including coastlines and marine boundaries. Transboundary protected areas were spatially divided based on the location of each part of the protected area and allocated to the corresponding countries using the world base map.

The intersected output was converted to an equal area projection to estimate the total protected area coverage (in square kilometres) by country. For each country, the percentage of terrestrial area protected was calculated by dividing the total area protected by the total area of its land (including inland waters). The percentage of marine area protected was calculated by dividing the total area of marine protected areas by the total national area of the territorial seas and exclusive economic zone.

National analyses of marine protected area are conducted for the combined territorial sea and exclusive economic zone of each country.Footnote 8  Claimed areas of the continental shelf are not considered.

Global totals

The World Conservation Monitoring Centre estimates global protected area and OECM totals separately. Global protected area totals are calculated from the monthly release of the World Database on Protected Areas. If the boundaries of a site were not known, but its location and extent were known, it was modelled as a circular buffer around its point location. All of the site boundaries (polygons) were combined into a single data layer to account for overlaps among polygons and avoid double counting.

The global protected areas data layer was intersected with the world base map. This intersected output was converted to an equal area projection to estimate the total protected area coverage (in square kilometres). Global terrestrial protected area coverage (percentage) was calculated by dividing the total area of terrestrial protected areas by the global terrestrial area. Antarctica was excluded from the analysis. Global marine protected area coverage was calculated by dividing the total area of marine protected areas by the global marine area. Global marine area includes territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and areas beyond national jurisdiction (beyond 200 nautical miles), often referred to as the "high seas."

The steps taken to calculate global OECM totals are similar to those used for global protected areas totals. Global OECM totals are calculated from the monthly release of the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures. If the boundaries of a site were not known, but its location and extent were known, it was modelled as a circular buffer around its point location. All of the site boundaries (polygons) were combined into a single data layer. Using the global protected areas data layer, areas where protected areas and OECMs overlap were erased from the OECMs data layer. The global OECMs data layer was intersected with the world base map. This intersected output was converted to an equal area projection to estimate the total OECM coverage (in square kilometres). Calculated OECM area are summed for the terrestrial and marine biomes.

Lastly, the total global conserved area coverage is calculated. Total terrestrial conserved area coverage is the sum of the total area of terrestrial protected areas and the total area of terrestrial OECMs divided by the total global terrestrial area excluding Antarctica. Total marine conserved area coverage is equal to total global marine protected areas coverage and total global marine OECM coverage.

Recent changes

The current iteration of the indicator includes other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) in addition to protected areas at the global level. This change reflects development of the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (the database). Since many countries have yet to report their OECMs to the database, the comparison by country was limited to protected areas.

Caveats and limitations

The indicator is based on a compilation of data from many providers and data quality is variable.

Because conserved areas vary in the type and degree of protection as well as in the qualitative value afforded by such protection (for example, connectivity, representativeness, high biodiversity areas), comparisons between countries should be made with caution. The extent to which the lands and waters of a country are conserved is a useful indicator of conservation effort. However, it is not an indication of how well managed conserved areas are, nor does it mean that conservation measures are adequately enforced.

Differences between this indicator and Canada's national estimates should be expected due to a number of factors, including differences in methodology and data providers.

More information

The indicator reports only protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) recognized under the international definitions that have been reported to the World Database on Protected Areas and the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (the database). The addition of OECMs has been in development since 2019. To assess progress towards Aichi Target 11, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre uses both protected areas and OECMs from the databases.

Although Canadian OECMs are captured at the global level, there are very few reported OECMs. As of May 2021, 26% (130 of 506 OECMs) of the OECMs in the database have been submitted by Canada. None of the other countries used for comparison in the indicator reported any OECMs.

Data availability and quality are improving, but not evenly across the globe. Data on protected area coverage are available for over 190 countries and territories. However, there are known gaps.

The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre calculates national and global protected area and OECM coverage through a series of spatial analyses of the databases. A summary of these analyses is outlined in the Methods section.

The methods stated that if the boundaries of a site were unknown, but its location and extent were known, it was modelled as a circular buffer around its point location. However, the buffered points can underestimate or overestimate conserved area totals. The circular buffer may cover areas where conserved areas do not exist (overestimation) or overlap with existing conserved areas (underestimation). For sites that are split between the terrestrial and marine biomes, buffering makes it difficult to assign portions to the correct biome.

Sources of discrepancies between the global estimates for Canada and Canada's national reporting on conserved areas

The date stamps of Canada's national reporting and the global estimates for Canada can vary. However, at the time of publishing, the global estimates for Canada taken from the May 2021 update of the World Database on Protected Areas align with the December 31, 2020 snapshot of the Canadian Protected and Conserved Areas Database. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre's estimates for Canada are based on:

  • The December 31, 2020 snapshot of the Canadian Protected and Conserved Areas Database, updated in the World Database on Protected Areas in April 2021
  • World Heritage Site and Ramsar data, updated in the World Database on Protected Areas in 2020

Because of the way in which the World Database on Protected Areas and the World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures are compiled, recently designated areas may not appear in the databases.

Canada's national reporting does not include data reported by international conventions for World Heritage Sites and Ramsar sites.

The global estimates for Canada and Canada's national reporting on conserved areas use different map projections and geographic base layers, as appropriate to the scale of their respective analyses. These cause differences in the estimated area of protected and conserved areas as well as in the baseline areas for terrestrial and marine territory. In Canada, marine and terrestrial areas are labelled by the reporting jurisdiction and this information is used in the Canadian analysis. The Canadian analysis uses national data layers that provide more detailed information for Canada. For the World Conservation Monitoring Centre analyses, polygons are divided into marine and terrestrial categories using mapped coastlines from a global layer. This causes differences in the marine/terrestrial split, where many marine coastal areas in Canada are classified as terrestrial in the World Conservation Monitoring Centre analyses. Because the majority of Canada's marine conserved area is coastal, the global conserved area estimates for Canada are skewed towards the terrestrial biome. These methodological differences contribute to discrepancies between the global estimates for Canada and Canada's national reporting on conserved areas.

Resources

Resources

References

Dudley N (ed.) (2013) Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland. Retrieved on June 10, 2021.

United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (2019) User Manual for the World Database on Protected Areas and World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures: 1.6 (PDF; 1.36 MB). Cambridge, United Kingdom. Retrieved on June 10, 2021.

United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) Calculating protected and OECM area coverage. Retrieved on June 10, 2021.

United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) Protected Planet Report 2020. Cambridge, United Kingdom and Gland, Switzerland. Retrieved on June 10, 2021.

United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) World Database on Protected Areas and World Database on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures. May 2021 release. Retrieved on May 14, 2021.

Related information

Biodiversity Indicators Partnership

Convention on Biological Diversity

Digital Observatory for Protected Areas

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