Beyond protected and conserved areas what is the contribution of ecological corridors to achieving global conservation goals?

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has focused in recent years on protected areas (PAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). While these areas will play a central role in future conservation efforts, it is also vital to recognise the importance of the tracts of land and water that connect them: ecological corridors. Ecological corridors are areas that are governed and managed over the long-term to maintain or restore ecological connectivity – the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth.

There is a need to increase our understanding of how ecological connectivity contributes to global biodiversity targets. While Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 refers to ‘effectively and equitably managed’, ‘ecologically representative’ and ‘well-connected’ systems of protected areas and OECMs, measuring progress towards this target is difficult to assess. The lack of global-level information on the extent and effectiveness of ecological corridors also limits our understanding of the current state of biodiversity and ability to set meaningful future targets – if we don’t know how many ecological corridors there are and where they are located, it will be difficult to set ambitious targets for scaling up such areas in the future.

While the world has over 260,000 protected areas, biodiversity continues to decline. It is apparent that more effective conservation interventions are needed, but informed decisions about the future cannot be made until there is a clear picture of the present state of area-based conservation. As long as the enabling conditions for effective ecological corridors between PAs and OECMs remain unidentified they cannot be appropriately supported, and may be at risk of being further degraded and/or fragmented.

In September 2020, members of the IUCN Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group have released new Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors. These recommendations, provide an authoritative source for understanding, promoting and transforming the way land and seascapes are mapped, and monitored. Developing a clearer picture of area-based conservation and connectivity will contribute to better planning for conservation and the environment and help governments around the world to redefine and deliver on ambitious area-based conservation commitments. Recognising the conservation efforts of those responsible for managing ecological corridors, many of them indigenous peoples and local communities, is also key to building a future in which sustainable livelihoods are celebrated and supported.

Over the coming months provides an opportune moment to address these issues and ensure that connectivity is understood and integrated into the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This, in turn, will help to encourage a move to integrate area-based conservation with a more holistic landscape approach.

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