The Capacity Challenge for Biodiversity Conservation and Protected Areas

16 September 2014


Nick Cox, BIOPAMA Programme Manager at the IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme, talks about his conservation perspectives and shares insights on choices, challenges and opportunities for a programme like BIOPAMA to achieve results, always keeping in mind the conservation goal.

Thousands of people around the world are truly dedicated to improving people’s capacity to deliver better biodiversity conservation. It is a monumental and seemingly never-ending effort that deserves huge accolade.

Our challenge is how best to use BIOPAMA to support some of those many capacity development efforts to achieve real impact in as short a time-span as possible. And the tricky part has been deciding where to start and understanding what capacity building really means, especially when considering our overall goal of achieving biodiversity outcomes and benefits to people. The results of the myriad capacity needs assessments conducted around the world have given us a veritable shopping list of priorities, and challenged us to contemplate which parts of the capacity development jigsaw puzzle we should aim to tackle.

If we define capacity simply as the ability of an individual or an institution to undertake a specific task, then clearly we need to consider who should be the recipient of capacity building, and what is the task that we are aiming to help achieve? And we should always start with the conservation end in mind.

BIOPAMA’s scope is broad. The aim is to support better decision making leading to improved management of biodiversity, especially in protected areas, in all their diverse forms including community-managed areas. The geographical, political, and social contexts we are operating in across Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific are quite different; hence there can be no one-size-fits-all approach. Each region has a particular combination of challenges and opportunities. However, many challenges are common. For example, the pressures and threats to protected areas from oil, gas, minerals, and metals exploration and exploitation pose a massive challenge to protected areas and ecosystems worldwide.

The objective of BIOPAMA is to be able to use the best available and clearly presented data and information to support better policies, and particularly to support policy-makers at the most senior levels in considering protected areas and biodiversity whenever and wherever there is a potential for negative impacts. Whether it is a new mine, hydropower dam, oil exploration licence, or agriculture policy, good science should be at the centre of the decision-making process whenever there is a potential impact on biodiversity.

Of course we must also continue to ensure the bastions of conservation are well-trained: those foot soldiers to who we entrust the defence of some of our most precious biodiversity, often inside protected areas. A multi-pronged approach is needed – providing training to those closest to the ground is critically important, and so too is the need to equip more senior managers with the skills to support decision making at the very highest levels. I believe that it is at that junction between field knowledge, science, and political decision-making that we need to be able to act and where we have real potential to have a positive impact.

Progress continues to be made and we are striving at the same time to develop new ideas and make use of new technologies. We’ll be presenting some of these, along with our partners, at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, Australia in November. Those attending this once-in-a-decade opportunity, with the largest gathering of conservationists from around the world, can expect to share and learn from a rich programme geared towards understanding how we can more effectively build capacity to secure and manage our protected areas.


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