Protected and conserved areas: WWF’s approach to inclusive, equitable and effective protected and conserved areas

Aerial view of a broad, wooded landscape

For millennia people have been protecting and conserving unique places across planet Earth. Such efforts are collectively known as protected and conserved areas. Today, there are many different approaches to conservation being applied in diverse places across the globe, from high mountains and river basins to coral reefs and lush rainforests, to everywhere in between.

Conserving 30% of the Earth by 2030

As the planet’s vital signs continue to suffer under deepening global challenges, a number of scientists1, Indigenous organizations2, and national governments3 have called for increased area-based conservation around the world. 

Recently, more than 100 countries have committed to a shared goal of conserving thirty percent of Earth’s lands and waters by the year 2030. This goal, commonly called ‘30x30’, has been promoted at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)4, which met in December 2022 to finalize a roadmap for global biodiversity conservation over the coming years and decades. 

WWF supports the CBD's Target 3 (30x30) of the global biodiversity framework (GBF) subject to some conditions being met. For example, such a target must ensure social inclusivity, equity, and an effective management approach that secures the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities to their land, freshwater, and seas. The pursuit of 30x30 must also embrace a diversity of conservation measures beyond protected areas, recognizing effective and equitable management of protected and conserved areas by actors outside governments.  

Learn more about WWF’s position on 30x30 here

WWF’s approach to protected and conserved areas

WWF places people at the forefront of our protected and conserved areas' work. Backing the stewards of nature, our contributions to conservation efforts equally prioritize conserving nature and its contributions to people, such as providing clean water supplies or enabling access to natural resources that are critical for livelihoods. We view each landscape and seascape as a collective of the local environment, biodiversity, ecosystem services, human livelihoods, and culture. All of these are intrinsically linked and together they define a place and its needs.

WWF works closely with diverse partners to support locally led protected and conserved areas-related initiatives across the globe. These include government agencies; Indigenous peoples and local communities; low-impact producers, including farmers, fishers, ranchers, and foresters; other non-government organization; academia; and private landholders, among other rightsholders. We provide strategic and expert support for protected and conserved areas, landscape and seascape planning, climate adaptation and mitigation, and conservation finance, among other topics.

For WWF, inclusive, equitable, and effective protected and conserved areas is dependent upon several key factors: 

Well planned and effectively managed systems

Protected and conserved areas are most effective when landscapes, seascapes, and river basins contain a well-connected mosaic that conserves representative biodiversity and a range of ecosystem functions and services. Networks of conservation areas should be designed for today’s conditions and for resilience against anticipated future conditions such as changing climate and development. Some critical areas may need to be restored to conserve nature (such as wildlife corridors) or provide services to people (such as watersheds).

Effective management of protected and conserved areas is important to understand how conservation values, goals and objectives are advanced. Though some existing areas are well-managed, many have inadequate or ineffective management. Appropriate effective management approaches should be determined case by case, based on local needs and contexts.

Inclusion, rights, and equity

Flourishing protected and conserved areas require inclusive and rights-based approaches that respect and draw upon a mix of science-based systems. Stewards of nature should be recognized and respected as stewards of their lands, waters, and resources, participating in decision-making on issues that affect them. Likewise, women and people facing barriers should play a meaningful role in decision-making and share in benefits such as natural resource livelihood activities. From conception to design to governance, protected and conserved areas must be inclusive, respond to local aspirations and challenges, and promote equitable natural resource governance.

Conservation within and beyond ‘protected areas’

Protected areas have proved to be the best policy tool to conserve biodiversity. Beyond declared protected areas, there is also a broader range of lands and waters that contribute in diverse ways to biodiversity, climate, people and other environmental goals. These include many private, government, community, and Indigenous-conserved areas that may not have nature conservation as their primary goal, but which nonetheless are managed in ways that have long-term conservation outcomes. These areas are being recognized through various means, including as "other effective area-based conservation measures," or OECMs. In many parts of the world, OECMs and other conservation areas that deliver long-term conservation outcomes are under constant pressure to threats, and rights-holders often need support to withstand these forces. Supporting local stewards, securing these diverse places, and ensuring ecological connectivity between them, are critically important.

Synergies with other global goals

In a fast-changing world with mounting challenges, protected and conserved areas must be prioritized and integrated with other global health and development goals by focusing on synergies among biodiversity conservation, human development, and climate action. None of these can succeed in isolation.

Towards 2030

This is a crucial decade for nature, climate, people, and the planet, representing an opportunity to advance the global conservation paradigm by providing space for the expression of diverse voices and amplifying their experiences from local to global levels.


30x30: A Guide to Inclusive, Equitable and Effective Implementation of Target 3 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework 

WWF, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, and The Nature Conservancy developed the first globally relevant guide on Target 3. Supported by funding from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the guide is intended to support governments and many other actors to contribute to this complex target in ways that are inclusive, equitable and effective. Read more and download the guide here.