Equity and protected areas

The requirement for protected areas to be equitable is written into international agreements, including Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The importance of equity in protected areas is underlined by the fact that benefits from protected areas are often experienced at multiple scales, including the global scale, whereas the costs are primarily shouldered by local people.

Equity in protected areas can be divided into three dimensions:

Distributional equity is associated with the distribution of benefits (e.g. financial revenues from eco-tourism), and burdens (e.g. loss of access to natural resources or sacred sites).

Procedural equity relates to how decisions about the protected area are made, and the extent to which stakeholders are able to participate. This aspect of equity also includes issues of transparency of governance, and methods of redress in cases of conflict relating to the protected area's management.

Recognition in the context of equity relates to acknowledgement and respect for stakeholders, as well as their social and cultural diversity, and their values, rights and beliefs.

Social equity in protected areas is described in the following terms by the CBD (2010)1: “Protected areas should also be established and managed in close collaboration with, and through equitable processes that recognize and respect the rights of indigenous and local communities, and vulnerable populations. These communities should be fully engaged in governing and managing protected areas according to their rights, knowledge, capacities and institutions, should equitably share in the benefits arising from protected areas and should not bear inequitable costs".

Equity is important not just for humans, but for the success of protected areas in conserving biodiversity2,3. It is therefore important that equity in protected areas is monitored, and that areas for improvement are identified. However, measuring equity in protected areas has proved challenging. To read about one recent approach to evaluating equity, see the section on Assessing Equity.


1CBD (2011) UNEP/CBD/COP/10/INF/12/Rev.1

2Oldekop, J., Holmes, G., Harris, W. & Evans, K. (2016). A global assessment of the social and conservation outcomes of protected areas. Conserv. Biol., 30, 133-141.

3Klein, C., McKinnon, M.C., Wright, B.T., Possingham H.P., Halpern, B.S. (2015). Social equity and the probability of success of biodiversity conservation. Glob. Environ. Change 35, 299-306.