Main Issue

Creating parks and protected areas is one of the most effective conservation strategies to protect biodiversity. Protected areas provide habitat for many species, but they also provide essential goods and ecosystem services for human well-being. For example, many protected areas act as natural reservoirs for agriculturally important biodiversity, including wild crop relatives, pollinators and pest control. In addition, one-third of the world’s largest cities — including Mumbai, New York, Sofia, Bogotá, Dar es Salaam, Melbourne, Quito, Tokyo, and Sydney —receive a significant proportion of their drinking water supplies directly from forest protected areas.

In 1992, protected areas only covered 4 percent of the globe. As of 2016, based on data from the World Database on Protected Areas and the Protected Planet report, 14.7 percent of the world’s terrestrial and inland water areas, covering 19.8 million km2, 10.2 percent of coastal and marine areas within national jurisdiction and 4.12 percent of the global oceans are included under a total of about 217,000 designated protected areas.

What We Do

The GEF helps create sustainable protected area systems by providing support to countries to:

  • Effectively establish and protect ecologically viable and climate-resilient representative samples of a country’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems and provide adequate coverage of threatened species at a sufficient scale to ensure their long-term persistence.
  • Ensure that sufficient and predictable financial resources are available to support protected area management costs.
  • Build individual and institutional capacity to manage protected areas such that they achieve their conservation objectives.

The GEF promotes the participation and capacity building of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, especially women, in the design, implementation and management of protected area projects through established frameworks such as Indigenous and community conserved areas -- Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas are natural sites, resources and species’ habitats conserved in voluntary and self-directed ways by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The GEF also promotes protected area co-management between government and Indigenous Peoples and local communities where such management models are appropriate.


GEF support to the establishment and management of protected area systems and associated buffer zones and biological corridors has arguably been the GEF’s greatest achievement during the last 25 years. Supporting the management of protected areas is not only a sound investment in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, but also provides significant additional economic and environmental benefits beyond the existence value of biodiversity. Since its inception, the GEF has invested in improving the management of 3,300 protected areas covering an area of about 860 million ha, an area larger than Brazil. In addition, the GEF has helped 60 countries implement system-wide protected area finance strategies through a combination of conservation trust funds (40 worldwide totaling US$300 million), payment for ecosystem services schemes, revolving funds, tourism fees, ecosystem service valuation and other financial mechanisms to provide steady, reliable funding for protected area management and biodiversity conservation.

Looking Ahead

The GEF-7 strategy prioritizes the development and implementation of comprehensive, system-level financing solutions. GEF’s experience has demonstrated the need for a long-term plan for reducing the funding gap for protected area management. Thus, individual GEF projects must be part of a larger sustainable finance plan and context, and countries may require a sequence of GEF project support over a number of GEF phases to achieve financial sustainability.

GEF-supported interventions will use tools and revenue mechanisms that are responsive to specific country situations (e.g., conservation trust funds, systems of payments for environmental services, debt-for-nature swaps, economic valuation of protected area goods and services, access and benefit sharing agreements, etc.) and draw on accepted practices developed by GEF and others. GEF will also encourage national policy reform and incentives to engage the private sector (concessions, private reserves, etc.) and other stakeholders to improve protected area financial sustainability and management.

GEF support will contribute to the achievement of Aichi Target 11 to conserve 17% of terrestrial and inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas. The GEF will continue to support investments to increase the representation of globally significant terrestrial and inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems in protected area systems, including all under-protected biomes such as the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests found in the Himalayan region, temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands found in South America, along with other priority biomes.