Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Protected areas and the future: How do we move forward?

1 December, 2009 - 16:48 -- John Burton

Most conservation organisations are good at producing reports, but how many actually get read? I tried to read a report published today by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), but it was so imbued with navel-gazing report-speak that I gave up.

When the best recommendation this report came up with is as quoted below, I am not surprised that there is little support for the conservation of protected areas.

In consultation with the WCPA, the Biodiversity Conservation Group in the Secretariat should lead a process to achieve a stronger technical understanding and consensual commitment within the Secretariat regarding the core and cutting edge roles of protected areas in the pursuit of IUCN's mission through implementation of its Programme.

With active support from the Biodiversity Conservation Group and the Global Communications Unit in the Secretariat, the WCPA and the CEC should elaborate and implement their work plan for rehabilitating the perception of protected areas.

You can read the IUCN report here:
Strategic review of the IUCN Programme on Protected Areas (PDF, 2.02MB, opens in new window.)

I confess to not reading the report line by line, but I did fail to find any mention of actual actions that would increase the number and effectiveness of protected areas. Even more surprising was the failure to mention anything about Netherlands Committee for IUCN, which is one of the more significant funders for a whole range of issues relating to the management of protected areas -- and no one from the Netherlands seems to have been among those consulted over the preparation of the report.

My major criticism of all such reports, is the failure to identify actions which members of IUCN can undertake, which really will change things. Time is running out.

How can new areas be protected?
How can governments and NGOs source funding to protect areas?

These and many other questions need addressing urgently. But IUCN simply reporting on how the Programme for Protected Areas has failed does not move anything forward. We need not only to learn from mistakes, but do something as a result.

The publication produced by WLT and the Netherlands Committee for IUCN earlier this year gives a far more concrete and action-orientated approach to protected areas. And it shows not only what is being done, but what can be done in the future.

You can download our report here:
Land Purchase for Conservation (PDF, 9.23MB, opens in new window.)


Submitted by Anonymous on

I worry how much time goes into thinking up this jargon. I also wonder if you think like that can you ever DO anything? I wonder what psychometric testing shows.

I am afraid I could never read the stuff let alone write it so could I never apply for a job in that field. I started my own business, much simpler.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Where do people learn that jargon
I came across this distance learning module and as I have often wordered what was taught in these courses I took a look

Ok I dipped in but I loved no 6 from the sections below

6 • Order underlying the seemingly random behaviours of some complex systems can be explained in terms of movements across boundaries of dominance of different structural equilibria (known as 'strange attractors'

School of Oriental and African Studies

New distance learning module: Climate Change & Development –
Taster available

Unit One: Climate Change and Development Challenges
3.2 Climate change and development as 'wicked', complex problems
Climate change and development as complex systems
3.2.1 Complexity science
Increasing appreciation of the difficulties, indeed failures, of scientists in finding solutions to complex problems has led to a search for alternative approaches to formulating problem and problem solving.
Complexity science encompasses a range of ways of looking at the dynamic unpredictable behaviour of connected systems, networks and problems, whether these are purely physical or stretch across social and natural systems. Nine key characteristics of complexity systems can be identified (Ramalingam et al 2008):

1. Interconnected and interdependent elements and dimensions.
2. Feedback processes that shape how change happens.
3. The behaviour of systems emerge – often unpredictably – from the interaction of the parts, such that the whole is different from the sum of the parts (a characteristic known as 'emergence').
4. Within complex systems, relationships are frequently nonlinear, ie when change happens, it is frequently disproportionate and unpredictable.
5. Sensitivity to initial conditions means that small differences in the initial state of a system can lead to massive differences later.
6. Order underlying the seemingly random behaviours of some complex systems can be explained in terms of movements across boundaries of dominance of different structural equilibria (known as 'strange attractors').
7. Adaptive agents (living organisms) react to the system and to each other.
8. Self-organisation characterises a particular form of emergent property that can occur in systems of adaptive agents.
9. Co-evolution describes how, within a system of adaptive agents, co-evolution occurs, such that the overall system and the agents within it evolve together, or co-evolve, over time.
Source: compiled by unit author based on Ramalingam et al (2008)
Climate systems, broadly defined to include factors affected by greenhouse gas emissions, show (or have the potential to show) all the characteristics of complex systems. Development processes also have these characteristics. This is particularly the case when we consider their interactions.
What problems do complex systems pose for problem solving? A helpful perspective on this question is provided by thinking about 'wicked' problems.

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