Our Perspective

The Sydney World Parks Congress Shapes the Future We Need


 Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (SNNR), in Qinghai Province, China, holds the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong Rivers and tributaries that supply water to billions of people downstream. Marc Foggin

The tagline for this year’s World Parks Congress is Parks, People and Planet – Inspiring Solutions.

Solutions to problems is exactly what UNDP is bringing to the Congress that began in Sydney this week.   

According to the UN Global Sustainable Development Report, the world’s population stands at 7.2 billion people, 200,000 people more than there were yesterday. Each of us consumes an average of 9 tonnes of biomass, materials, fuels and minerals, every year.

Since 2002 we have built nearly 100 cities the size of New York. Unsustainable consumption has led to water stress in a third of the world, a six-fold increase in carbon emissions since 1950, a tripling of overexploitation of fish stocks in the past 40 years, and the degradation or conversion of more than 700 million hectares of tropical forest since 1990.

Yet despite this ‘progress’ nearly 4 in 10 of us live on less than $2.15 a day, and more than 1 in 10 go to bed hungry each night and have no access to safe water.

People talk about balancing development and conservation.  To me, this is missing the point.  Sustainable development hinges on our natural capital - biodiversity and the goods and services it provides to humanity.  Protected areas (PAs) - the only land use dedicated to conservation - are the “safety box” for every country’s natural capital.

In the Maldives, for example, UNDP is helping to integrate better water, waste and energy management practices in the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve because biodiversity supports 71% of the country’s employment, 89% of its GDP, and 98% of its exports – protected areas safeguard the very foundation of the Maldivian economy.

I believe that PAs can significantly contribute to the triple challenge of sustainable development, biodiversity conservation and climate resilience.  But only under certain conditions.

The first condition is that PAs need to be fully integrated into development planning and production sectors. Biodiversity within PAs provides essential ecosystem services to society, particularly for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, including water, food, livelihoods and climate resilience. But unless societies properly understand these benefits and embed them into sectoral and development plans, policies and practices, we will continue to have market failures and policy failures that drive biodiversity loss.

Secondly if PAs, including indigenous and community conserved areas, are to contribute to sustainable development, society must invest; in financing, and effective management and in PA connectivity.

The third condition is that if PAs are to help humanity adapt to climate change, then we must design and manage them deliberately, with an eye toward fostering resilience and ecosystem-based adaptation.

Blog post Environment Ecosystems and biodiversity

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