SYDNEY, Australia, November 14, 2014 (ENS) – The IUCN’s Green List of Protected Areas was introduced to the world today at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney. Held once every 10 years by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the World Parks Congress gathers thousands of delegates from around the world to strategize on protection of the planet’s vanishing pristine areas.

Protected areas in Australia, South Korea, China, Italy, France, Spain, Kenya and Colombia were unveiled as the first to be listed at the official announcement as part of the innovative Green List of Protected Areas project developed by the IUCN.

World Parks Congress

The “Parks” opening plenary hosted a panel discussion on the future priorities for protected areas, Nov. 12, 2014 (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

The Green List parallels the IUCN’s authoritative Red List of Threatened Species as a resource for planetary protection.

The IUCN says the Green List of Protected Areas is the only global standard of good practice for protected areas.

The first 23 sites have been selected from among 50 candidates put forward by the eight countries as part of the first phase of the Green List.

“The IUCN Green List will define success for protected areas,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General at the launch. “It is about recognizing those sites that successfully respond to the challenges of the 21st century and contribute to the wellbeing of people and nature.

“The sites have been evaluated against a set of demanding criteria, including the quality of protection of natural values. They should demonstrate fair and transparent sharing of the costs and benefits of conservation, effective management and long-lasting conservation outcomes. These criteria are tailored and measured according to the challenges and opportunities faced in each country,” said Marton-Lefèvre.

“The Green List will help the global protected area community ensure that protected areas have real conservation impacts that benefit people, economy and the environment,” said James Hardcastle, manager of the IUCN Green List of Protected Areas.

In Australia, three reserves managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service have been accepted to the IUCN Green List: Arakwal National Park, Cape Byron State Conservation Area, and Montague Island Nature Reserve.

Arakwal

Celebrations mark the 10th anniversary of the Arakwal people of Byron Bay’s formal recognition of their rights to land at Cape Byron, achieved through an Indigenous Land Use Agreement, the first of its kind in Australia, Jan. 1, 1980 (Photo by Arakwal, people and land)

“One of the successful candidates, the Cape Byron State Conservation Area/Arakwal National Park in Australia, has been ‘green listed’ for its engagement with the local community. The Aboriginal Arakwal traditional owners were instrumental in establishing the National Park in 2001 and are fully involved in its daily management,” said Hardcastle.

In Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, pastoral ranching is allowed within the protected area. Its management runs a community cattle ranching programme providing monitoring, protection and livestock health services, ensuring protection for both wildlife and cattle and a safe haven and rich pastures for local herders.

In France, the Cerbère-Banyuls Natural Marine Reserve has seen a successful recovery of marine species and habitats since it was established to protect fragile marine habitats in 1974. A guided underwater educational safari is one of the most popular visitor drawcards on this stretch of the Côte Vermeille, at the foothills of the Pyrenees.

In China, six flagship protected areas have achieved the IUCN Green List standard, including the Mount Huangshan World Heritage Area, the Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve – home to a thriving population of giant panda – and the Eastern Dongting Lake National Nature Reserve.

In Spain, the management of Sierra Nevada National Park successfully balances the conservation of a fragile montane ecosystem and rich cultural heritage with a dynamic tourism industry.

Another green-listed site, the Gorgona National Park in Colombia, protects an outstanding example of the country’s rich marine and coastal biodiversity, with a collaborative management system in place that engages local fishers in nature conservation.

Julia Miranda, director of National Parks of Colombia, said, “The IUCN Green List of Protected Areas will set the benchmark for success in Colombia and hopefully for the whole region. We will use the standard to motivate our staff and managers but also to encourage our government, business and community partners to work with us to help achieve success to the benefit of all.”

The “Protected Planet” report released by the UN Environment Programme at the Congress finds that the world is on track to meet a 2020 target on the expansion of protected areas, but more work is needed to ensure areas of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services are prioritized for protection under equitably managed conditions.

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Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo in Australia’s Arakwal National Park (Photo by Environment & Heritage New South Wales)

“Protected areas not only provide us with a vital ecological safety net but also play a vital economic role through the valuable ecosystem services they provide, from supplying water and timber, to sustaining tourism,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“As we work toward a comprehensive climate agreement, with the next meeting shortly taking place in Lima, and shape the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, it is crucial to expand protected areas in a targeted manner-thus supporting efforts to tackle climate change, and protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem services that sustain all of us,” said Steiner.

“This report shows that the will to do so is present,”  he said. “We now need to build support and funding to ensure protected areas are effectively and equitably managed and cover enough important sites for biodiversity and ecosystem services-including marine protected areas.”

On Friday morning, participants attended three introductory plenaries on the thematic areas of the Congress: parks, people and planet.

Participants then attended the opening sessions of the eight streams on: reaching conservation goals; responding to climate change; improving health and well-being; supporting human life; reconciling development challenges; enhancing diversity and quality of governance; respecting indigenous and traditional knowledge and culture; and inspiring a new generation.

In the evening the World Leaders’ Dialogue focused on money matters and the value of parks.

Conservationists gathered at the IUCN 2014 World Parks Congress need to “think big and act fast” in the effort to maintain and expand protected areas that safeguard wildlife, ecosystems, and the services they provide to animals and people alike, Dr. James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society told the delegates.

WCS manages all of New York City’s zoos and aquaria and conducts research and conservation initiatives around the world. Watson, director of WCS’s Climate Change Program, outlined the successes, challenges, and need for a larger conservation vision for the world’s protected area networks in his keynote address for the Opening Parallel Plenary of the Congress’s Parks session.

“We are in the midst of a one-in-a-hundred-million-year extinction crisis, we are causing it, and while we are trying, things are getting worse by the year,” warned Watson.

“We need social, financial, and political buy-in,” he said, “and, at the very least, the various levels of government and industry to be neutral to conservation, and at best actively supporting conservation.”

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