Chapter 5

Areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services

Protected and conserved areas increasingly cover areas of importance for biodiversity, with 65.5% of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) now partially or fully covered. However, 33.8% of terrestrial and inland water KBAs still lack coverage entirely, alongside 33.9% of marine and coastal KBAs. It remains challenging to assess coverage of areas of importance for ecosystem services.

Aichi Target 11 states that protected and conserved areas should cover ‘areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services’. The two most widely used methods – which can be used in combination (Smith et al., 2018) – for identifying such areas are Systematic Conservation Planning (Chapter 4, Box 6) and the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Standard (BirdLife International, 2018; Smith et al., 2018). Whilst recognising that they do not reflect areas of importance for the breadth of ecosystem services, KBAs have been used at the global scale to identify areas of importance for biodiversity and priorities for the designation of protected areas (Butchart et al., 2012). 16,315 KBAs have been identified to date, encompassing a range of designations, such as Alliance for Zero Extinction sites that require protection to prevent the imminent loss of rare and particularly threatened species, and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas. The coverage of KBAs is embedded in protected area-related indicators of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and is used as the basis for the analysis in this section.

At the close of 2020, 20.2% of terrestrial and inland water KBAs were fully covered by protected areas and OECMs, but 33.8% still lacked coverage entirely. In coastal waters and the ocean, 24.2% were fully covered and 33.9% lay completely outside protected areas and OECMs. Collating more comprehensive data on OECMs may change this picture in the future, as there is evidence that potential OECMs may be prevalent in KBAs (Donald et al., 2019).

For example, Algeria’s recently documented OECMs cover three KBAs that fall entirely outside protected areas.

At the national level, on average 62.6% of KBAs either fully or partially overlap with protected areas and OECMs. The average percentage of each KBA within protected areas and OECMs is 43.2% for terrestrial, 42.2% for inland water, and 44.2% for marine (within national waters), an increase of 5 percentage points or less in each case since 2010. These figures have steadily increased since the Aichi Targets were adopted in 2010, reflecting a positive trend towards increased representation of areas of importance for biodiversity.1

Change in mean percentage coverage of KBAs by protected areas and OECMs since 2000

Source: BirdLife International, IUCN and UNEP-WCMC (2021), based on spatial overlap between polygons for Key Biodiversity Areas from the World Database of KBAs, compiled by BirdLife International and IUCN, and polygons for protected areas from the November 2020 WDPA and OECMs from the November 2020 WD-OECM.

This positive trend can continue through the targeted designation of protected areas, recognition of existing protected and conserved areas, and broad-scale policy mechanisms. In the process, greater consideration should be given to areas of importance for ecosystem services (Box 8) and the use of Systematic Conservation Planning. Other measures of biodiversity importance may also prove useful, such as EDGE of Extinction sites (Zoological Society of London, 2020), Wilderness Areas (Watson et al., 2016; Di Marco et al., 2019) Ecologically or Biologically Sensitive Marine Areas (EBSAs) (Johnson et al., 2019), and nationally-defined areas of importance (Box 7).

1 These percentages are affected by the number and distribution of protected areas and OECMs as well as Key Biodiversity Areas. An increase in the number of mapped KBAs may lead to a reduction in the average extent to which they are covered by protected areas.