The Global Environment Facility (GEF), as the financial mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the largest funder of protected area systems, committed, through its biodiversity strategy as well as its long term GEF 2020 strategy, and taking account of the innovative approaches identified at the World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, to support country-driven actions to help conserve and sustainably use biodiversity through effectively-managed protected area systems that are integrated into sustainable landscape and seascape mosaics in 146 developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
The World Parks Congress, the once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas, closed on November 19 in Australia with the release of The Promise of Sydney. The Promise sets out an ambitious agenda to safeguard the planet's natural assets, ranging from halting rainforest loss in the Asia-Pacific and tripling ocean protection off Africa's coasts to a business commitment to plant 1.3 billion trees along the historic Silk Road.
The Promise, which recognizes the GEF’s commitment and contribution, includes pledges from governments, international organizations, the private sector, Indigenous leaders, community groups and individuals, with many more still being recorded. The document highlights the need to invigorate global efforts to protect natural areas, including scaling up the protection of landscapes and oceans. It includes commitments to boost investment in nature's solutions to halt biodiversity loss, tackle climate change, reduce the risk and impact of disasters, improve food and water security and promote human health. It also aims to inspire people around the globe, across generations and cultures, to experience the wonder of nature through protected areas.
Over the past 20 years, the GEF has provided more than $2.3 billion to fund protected areas, leveraging an additional $6 billion in cofinancing from project partners thereby channeling more than $8 billion towards this important agenda. The GEF has invested in more than 3,300 protected areas in developing countries, covering more than 850 million hectares—an area the size of Brazil.
"GEF is and will remain a strong supporter of protected areas. Protected areas are tremendously valuable to society now and will become even more in the future. A key element in our evolving investment strategy is a focus on improving the sustainability of protected area systems in and of themselves", said Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO and Chairperson as a Keynote Speaker at the Congress’ Opening Ceremony. "Second, as an essential and critical complement to investment in the sustainability of protected areas, we must enhance and expand investments in embedding biodiversity conservation and sustainability objectives in the management of wider production landscapes and seascapes to help ensure the persistence of biodiversity in more expansive geographies. And finally," Ishii concluded, "we must expand our focus on addressing the key underlying drivers of biodiversity loss without which the existing ecological infrastructure will weaken its vitality and ability to provide the multiple services that we people not only appreciate, but so critically depend on."
"Protected areas are by far the best investment the world can make to address some of today's biggest development challenges," says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. "The Congress has propelled major commitments from leaders across all levels of society to secure the benefits protected areas provide to humanity and ensure a sustainable future. Drawing on the collective knowledge of over five thousand top protected area experts – and many others who care about the future of our planet – the Promise of Sydney now captures innovative strategies to protect these exceptional places."
Organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and hosted by the Australian and New South Wales Governments, the Congress brought together more than 6,000 participants from over 170 countries.
"Australia is proud to have co-hosted such a successful Congress and equally proud of our own commitments in the Promise of Sydney," says Greg Hunt, Australian Environment Minister. "They range from banning capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef and a historic agreement with China to ban mining in Antarctica, to new initiatives to recover the rainforests of the Asia-Pacific and to halt species loss in our national parks. It has been an inspirational Congress – now it is time to deliver the innovative solutions to the challenges facing our planet."
The Promise of Sydney outlines a pathway for achieving the global target to protect at least 17% of land and 10% of oceans by 2020.
The GEF organized and participated at key events at the Congress, including a successful GEF side event that attracted high-level speakers and many participants to discuss the GEF’s new vision in working on protected areas and beyond at the landscape and seascape levels, under a strong partnership with government, private sector, and other partners. The substantial work of the GEF, as the largest funder on protected areas globally, was recognized at numerous events and forums throughout the week at the Congress.
The Congress highlighted the need to scale up investment and the quality of governance and management of protected areas. Diversity, quality and vitality of governance emerged as a key prerequisite for ensuring the effectiveness and long-term success of protected areas. Delegates called for a stronger recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples through policies and management practices of protected areas. They acknowledged the critical role of traditional wisdom and management systems in long-term conservation outcomes and community well-being.
The meeting also highlighted the need to ensure that protected areas are established in the right places to prevent further species extinctions. A key focus was on economic benefits and cost-effectiveness of conserving the world's natural areas, including their contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also called for new financing models to maintain them, combining public and private funding.
Key commitments of the Promise of Sydney include:
- The Global Environment Facility, as the financial mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the largest funder of protected area systems, commits, through its biodiversity strategy as well as its long term GEF 2020 strategy, and taking account of the innovative approaches identified in Sydney, to support country-driven actions to help conserve and sustainably use biodiversity through effectively-managed protected area systems that are integrated into sustainable landscape and seascape mosaics in 146 developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
- Australia committed to AUD2 million to boost threatened species protection in national parks; AUD6 million to support Coral Triangle marine protection; AUD6 million to combat illegal logging across the Asia-Pacific as well as new initiatives to protect the Great Barrier Reef and Antarctica.
- Bangladesh committed to create the country's first Marine Protected Area, Swatch of No Ground, to safeguard whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other oceanic species.
- Brazil committed to protect 5% of its marine waters and to consolidate 60 million hectares of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon by 2020.
- China committed to increase its protected areas territory by at least 20% and its forest area by 40 million hectares.
- French Polynesia committed to create a new large-scale marine protected area initiative in the Austral Islands.
- Gabon announced its decision to create a network of new marine protected areas equivalent to 23% of its marine waters. The 18,000 square mile (46,000 sq km) area includes a range of ecosystems and bars commercial fishing.
- Japan committed to provide guidelines to protected area managers on disaster risk reduction.
- The Republic of Kiribati signed an agreement with the United States of America to jointly conserve nearly 490,000 square nautical miles in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (Monument) in the United States and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati.
- Madagascar announced plans to triple its marine protected areas and reported the achievement of commitments made ten years ago to triple its overall network of protected areas. Madagascar also announced a 'zero tolerance' approach in tackling illegal wildlife trade and called for international support to achieve this.
- Panama committed to restore 1 million hectares of degraded lands within protected areas.
- Québec, Canada, committed to protect 600,000 km² from industrial activity to conserve biodiversity.
- Russia pledged to create 27 new federal Protected Areas and expand 12 existing ones. It committed to increasing Marine Protected Areas by 28%. Russia also pledged to increase its marine protected areas to cover 17 million hectares. It also announced its plan to restore the once extinct Persian Leopard and establish two more wild roaming populations of the European Bison to bring the number of populations in Russia to 2,000 individuals.
- South Africa, host of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2003, pledged to triple ocean protection in the next 10 years. The U.S. National Park Service is also setting up a programme to engage 100,000 youth in US Protected Areas.
- Elion Foundation and The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) announced the creation of a public-private partnership to reduce land degradation and increase the rate of restoration of degraded land. The partnership will include the planting of 1.3 billion trees along the historic Silk Road.
- The United Nations Development Programme committed to mobilize at least US$100 million in support of the diversity and quality of governance of protected areas, including through the appropriate recognition and protection of indigenous and community conserved territories and areas (ICCAs), in at least 50 countries.
The Promise of Sydney is available here.
Best-practice case studies showcasing how protected areas provide solutions to some of the world's challenges have been captured in the Panorama database launched at the Congress and are available here.
Photo courtesy of IUCN