The international community has met its 10-year global target to increase the area of protected land on Earth, according to a new report.
"Great progress" has been made since 2010, with more than 42% of the current coverage added in the last decade -- with about 8.4 million square miles of land and about 10.8 million square miles of ocean, according to the biennial Protected Land Report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United Nations Environmental Program on Wednesday.
The goal aimed to bring important benefits to both biodiversity and people by 2020, including protecting at least 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of the marine environment.
However, the quality of the protection in both existing and new areas must continue to improve, especially as biodiversity continues to decline, even within many protected areas.
A third of key biodiversity areas still lack coverage, and less than 8% of land is both protected and connected, according to the report.
To be effective, protected and conserved areas need to include important places for biodiversity and also need to be better connected to each other to allow species to move and ecological processes to function.
The report also calls for existing protected and conserved areas to be identified and recognized by accounting for the efforts of indigenous peoples, local communities and private entities while also recognizing their rights and responsibilities.
And more needs to be done to manage protected and conserved areas equitably so that the costs of conservation are not dumped on the local people while the benefits are enjoyed by others, the report states.
"Protected and conserved areas play a crucial role in tackling biodiversity loss, and great progress has been made in recent years on strengthening the global network of protected and conserved areas," Neville Ash, director of the UN Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center, said in a statement. "However, designating and accounting for more protected and conserved areas is insufficient; they need to be effectively managed and equitably governed if they are to realise their many benefits at local and global scales and secure a better future for people and planet."
Countries can create a network for nature that helps to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, maintains essential ecosystem services, helps countries adapt to climate change and reduces the risk of future pandemics by protecting intact areas and restoring degraded ecosystems, according to the report.
A new framework of goals is due to be agreed upon at the U.N.'s Biodiversity Conference in Kuming, China, on Oct. 11, where leaders are anticipated to scale up coverage and effectiveness of protected and conserved areas.
"As biodiversity continues to decline, we now call for Parties at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming to set an ambitious target that will ensure protected area coverage of 30% of land, freshwater and ocean by 2030 - and these areas must be placed optimally to protect the diversity of life on Earth and be effectively managed and equitably governed," IUCN's director general, Dr. Bruno Oberle, said in a statement.