Main Issue

Creating parks and protected areas is one of the most effective conservation strategies to protect biodiversity. Protected areas not only 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. Currently, there are more than 269,000 protected and conserved areas reported globally. They cover 10.7% of the Earth, protecting 15.7% and 7.9% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, respectively.

However, protected areas are often found in mixed-use landscapes and seascapes where natural resources are intensively managed to satisfy human needs such as food, water, fuel, and wood. Protected area administrations are thus challenged to achieve their conservation objectives as sectoral policy decisions, land/sea-use and management actions by other sectors of government, the private sector, and other actors outside protected area borders can often work at odds to their conservation goals.

What We Do

The GEF aims to sustain biodiversity in landscapes and seascapes through integrated management approaches that build upon existing social and institutional arrangements to ensure that conservation, sustainable use, production, and local benefit objectives are all met in a way that can be socially and economically sustained. By emphasizing a holistic management approach, the strategy recognizes the inherent interdependence of achieving the objectives of protected areas, other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), and sustainable natural resources management, including sustainable use of biodiversity.

The GEF helps sustain biodiversity in landscapes and seascapes through supporting: 1) sustainable protected area systems; 2) sustainable use of biodiversity, and 3) mainstreaming biodiversity in productive landscapes, seascapes, and sectors.

Sustainable Protected Area Systems

The GEF contributes to 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.
  • 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 (IPLCs), especially women, in the design, implementation, and management of protected area projects through frameworks such as Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). ICCAs are natural sites, resources, and species’ habitats conserved in voluntary and self-directed ways by IPLCs. The GEF also promotes protected area co-management between government and IPLCs.

Sustainable Use of Biodiversity

The GEF supports the sustainable use of biodiversity as part of integrated landscape/seascape management approaches focusing on wild and native species from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems, as well as agrobiodiversity such as crop wild relatives. GEF investments can also support customary sustainable use of biodiversity by IPLCs, thereby supporting implementation of the Global Plan of Action on Sustainable Customary Use.

Mainstreaming of Biodiversity in Production Landscapes/Seascapes and Sectors

GEF support to biodiversity mainstreaming focuses on four main interventions:

  • Spatial and land/sea-use planning to ensure that land, freshwater, and marine resource use is appropriately situated to optimize production without undermining or degrading biodiversity.
  • Improving and changing production practices to be more biodiversity-positive and to promote sustainable use of biodiversity as appropriate with a focus on sectors that have significant biodiversity impacts - agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, extractive industries (gas, oil, and mining), and infrastructure development.
  • Developing policy and regulatory frameworks that remove subsidies harmful to biodiversity and provide incentives for biodiversity-positive land and resource use that remains productive but that does not degrade biodiversity.
  • Natural Capital Assessment and Accounting exercises designed to respond to specific decisions or policy questions.


The GEF has supported the improved management of more than 2,500 million hectares of terrestrial and marine protected areas around the world, an area larger than the size of Latin America.

In addition, the GEF has helped more than 60 countries implement system-wide protected area finance strategies through a combination of conservation trust funds (40 worldwide, totaling $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.

We have also helped countries sustainably use and manage biodiversity across more than 543 million hectares of productive landscapes and seascapes. 

Looking Ahead

GEF-8 will focus on area-based project investments that support integrated landscape/seascape management approaches that blend protected areas, OECMs, sustainable use, and biodiversity mainstreaming approaches in the context of large-scale investments in landscape and seascape mosaics. This more integrated and complementary approach is designed to achieve more durable results in conservation, sustainable use, and restoration.

In addition, restoration of areas to ensure the persistence of globally significant biodiversity will be supported within these integrated approaches. The GEF will use multiple criteria to identify the areas to be restored to achieve cost-effective benefits for biodiversity and climate change mitigation. Restoration is more durable and likely to achieve biodiversity gains if coupled with strategies for retaining natural ecosystems within landscape approaches that integrate conservation, sustainable use, and restoration.

Embedded as a fundamental element in this approach is the central role of IPLC-managed lands and waters and their contribution to improved biodiversity conservation and sustainable use and critical socioeconomic and cultural benefits at local and national levels. The GEF will support the contribution and engagement of IPLCs within the context of these integrated approaches.