Indicator 87. Protected areas overlay with biodiversity

Rationale and definition:

Terrestrial and marine protected areas are an important means of securing biodiversity and are therefore tracked under the Aichi targets. Yet, the global protected area system does not yet cover a representative sample of the world’s biodiversity, nor is it effectively targeted at the most important sites for biodiversity. For this reason Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) places emphasis on the development of ecologically representative protected area systems and the protection of areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services.1 This indicator, developed by BirdLife International and IUCN for UNEP-WCMC (the world conservation monitoring center), measures progress towards these elements of Target 11.

The indicator is a composite of three sub indicators: (i) the degree of protection of terrestrial and marine ecoregions of the world; (ii) the degree of protection of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs); and (iii) the degree of protection of Alliance for Zero Extinction sites (AZEs). The sub indicators are calculated based on overlays of ecoregions, IBAs and AZEs with all designated protected areas recorded in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) with a known size. The WDPA is the most comprehensive global spatial dataset on marine and terrestrial protected areas available. The methodology used to create a global protected areas layer from the WDPA follows the one used to calculate the protected area coverage indicator.


Although mostly used at a global scale, the indicator can be calculated for regions, countries, or even biomes,2 and we recommend that such national-level monitoring become a priority under the post-2015 agenda. In the case of smaller countries covering contiguous ecoregions, a regional representation of this indicator may be more appropriate.

Comments and limitations:

The indicator can be used to assess the status of protection and trends in protection over time. It can be widely applied at various scales to measure policy responses to biodiversity loss. UNEP-WCMC is working closely with the Alliance for Zero Extinction and BirdLife International to further improve the datasets and methodology used to calculate the IBA and AZE Protection Indices.3

The indicator is more complex than the original MDG Indicator, but it provides much richer information on the state of biodiversity in countries. A simplified and non-composite index for the coverage of protected areas can be derived by focusing only on the first component. This Ecoregion Protection Indicator would represent a weighted average of the percentage attainment of the Aichi target of protecting 17% of terrestrial systems and inland waters, and protecting 10% of marine and coastal areas. Marine protected areas (MPA) are measured as the percentage of a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that is under protection4 and is reported under the Marine Protected Areas Database (WDPA).5 Like the Aichi target, each component of the proposed index is measured separately and capped at 100% so that the greater protection of one terrestrial ecoregion will not compensate for the insufficient protection of another system.

While using the coverage of protected areas would simplify the task of countries regarding the collection of data, this indicator would fail to provide information on the effectiveness of the management of the protected area. Moreover, a percentage of protected area does not provide any insights on whether the area protected is critical for securing regional biodiversity.

Preliminary assessment of current data availability by Friends of the Chair:


Primary data source:

International monitoring.

Potential lead agency or agencies:


  1. This and the following description of the indicator is drawn from Biodiversity Partnership Indicators; for more information see the protected area overlays with biodiversity.

  2. See Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (2010).

  3. See Butchart, S.H.M. et al (2012). Protecting Important Sites for Biodiversity Contributes to Meeting Global Conservation Targets, PLoS ONE 7(3): e32529. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032529

  4. See United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

  5. See the WDPA website.