Global trends in protected areas

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To contribute to preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services, nations continue to improve their network of protected areas. Based on an international data source, this indicator provides a comparable overview of how countries are doing in protecting their territory.Footnote [1]

Key results

  • In 2016, at the global level:
    • 14.8% of terrestrial area, including freshwater, was protected, an increase of almost 80% since 1990
    • 5.1% of marine areas, including international waters, were protected, 10 times more than in 1990
  • Governments across the globe have committed to ensuring that 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas will be protected by 2020

Global protected area in 2016 and targets for 2020

Bar chart showing percentage of terrestrial and marine area protected globally. Logn description below.

Long description

A bar chart shows the percentage of terrestrial and marine area protected globally. The graph also indicates the global 2020 target of protecting 17% of terrestrial area and 10% of marine area.

Data for this chart
Global protected area in 2016 and targets for 2020
TerritoryArea protected (percentage)Target for protected area (percentage)
Terrestrial14.817
Marine5.110

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 515 B)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Antarctica is not included.
Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature (2017). United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (2016). World Database on Protected Areas (2016) December release.

More information

While CanadaFootnote [1] protects a large area, its proportion of terrestrial area and marine watersFootnote [2] protected is lower than average.

Among a group of 10 countries,Footnote [3] Canada ranked fourth in total terrestrial area protected, behind the Russian Federation, Australia and the United States. In terms of marine area protected, Canada was sixth behind the United States, Australia, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and France.

Protected area and proportion of territory protected, selected countries, 2016

Bar charts showing total terrestrial and marine area protected and proportion protected. Logn description below.

Long description

The left bar chart shows the total terrestrial and marine area protected for 10 selected countries (the United States, Australia, Russian Federation, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden). The right bar chart shows the percentage of terrestrial and marine territory protected for the same set of countries.

Data for this chart
Protected area and proportion of territory protected, selected countries, 2016
CountryTerrestrial area (thousands of square kilometres)Terrestrial area protected (thousands of square kilometres)Terrestrial area protected (percentage)Marine area (thousands of square kilometres)Marine area protected (thousands of square kilometres)Marine area protected (percentage)
United States9490123113.08591353041.1
Australia7722131117.07432302140.7
Russian Federation16 87516409.776732283.0
Canada99559649.75698500.9
France54914326.03449026.2
United Kingdom2456928.272314620.2
Germany35813537.7562645.4
Italy3016521.5539478.8
Japan3747219.44041200.5
Sweden4496514.5155138.2
Global excluding AntarcticaFootnote [A]134 91819 97014.8362 33018 5455.1

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.72 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Countries are ordered by total (terrestrial plus marine) area protected. Marine areas include territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. Data from a single source are used here to ensure consistency among countries. For authoritative Canadian national reporting, see Canada's protected areas indicator.
Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature (2017). United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (2016). World Database on Protected Areas (2016) December release.

Protected areas are established with different management objectives and have different degrees of biodiversity protection, although all protected areas are managed for conservation purposes. Differences in management objectives are recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as different protected areas categories. Almost 40% of global protected areas with an assigned management category belong to Category V or VI, which allows sustainable use compatible with conservation, and may be used to preserve cultural landscapes.

Because protected areas vary in the type and degree of protection, and because the interpretation of management categories varies among countries, comparisons should be made with caution.

Differences between this indicator and Canada's national estimates should be expected, due to a number of factors, including differences in methodology and timing of data collection.

About the indicator

What does the indicator measure

The indicator reports on the terrestrial and marine area afforded protection for conservation globally. Additional information is provided showing a comparison among10 selected countries. Information on protected areas is collected, analyzed and made available by the World Database on Protected Areas to support a number of international reporting initiatives.

The internationally accepted definition of a protected area is "a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values."Footnote [4]

Why is this indicator important

The area of land and water that is protected is a measure of human response to the loss of biodiversity and natural habitat. The Protected Planet Report 2016 describes how protected areas are contributing to the targetsFootnote [5] of the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Targets. Target 11 is "By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape."

The Protected Planet report and Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 have noted that the world is on track to achieve the protection of 17% of terrestrial area by 2020, but is far from achieving protection of 10% of the global ocean.

Protected areas also contribute to Target 14.5 "By 2020, conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information" and Target 15.1 "By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of  terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements" of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

What are the related indicators

Canada's protected areas, provide authoritative national territorial and marine protected area. Regional summaries are provided in Protected areas, by province and territory and in Protected areas, by ecological region.

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