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Protected areas helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

How can protected areas help meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Although they were only adopted in 2015, the United Nations’ seventeen SDGs already play major roles in setting national development priorities. Protected areas, far from only being important for nature conservation, are increasingly recognised as key tools in achieving a number of these goals. Aligning with the start of the UN General Assembly, we explore the various links between protected areas and several SDGs.

The relationship between protected areas and SDGs is clearest in SDGs 14 and 15: Life below Water and Life on Land. SDG 14 includes a target of 10% ocean protection and SDG 15 refers to meeting “obligations under international agreements”. These are clear references to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 2020 target of 17% terrestrial and 10% marine coverage by protected areas.

However, these linkages are only part of the story. Protected areas are relevant to many important issues, from food security to climate change mitigation, due to their role in maintaining and restoring ecosystem services.

Watersheds in natural ecosystems, especially forests and wetlands, produce cleaner, purer water than those from agricultural or industrial areas. Hundreds of cities, from New York to Melbourne, draw drinking water from protected areas. Some municipalities pay to support the management of protected areas because they provide a cost-effective water supply; others remain virtually unaware that their water comes from a protected area. In some ecosystems, particularly tropical mountain cloud forest and paramos vegetation of the South American Andes, the net amount of water increases because moisture settles on leaves and flows into the catchment. In Colombia, Bogota draws 80 per cent of its drinking water from Chingaza National Park. Such benefits contribute directly to SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, which aims to achieve “universal access to safe and affordable drinking water” and “protect and restore water-related ecosystems”.