Protected Areas: PADDD and Poor Governance go Hand-in-hand

There are various ways of defining protected areas. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines protected area (PA) as “a geographically defined area which is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives.” The IUCN had lengthy debates and developed the following definition: “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”.

The ecological and socio-economic benefits (more here on benefits) of PAs are undisputed, although it may sometimes be difficult to put a price on them. PAs help protect species and their habitats, provide ecosystems services, protect against climate change, and are an important buffer to prevent unsustainable over-consumption of natural resources by humans. 

As part of its 2011-2020 strategic plan, the CBD stipulates a target of 17% of the earth’s terrestrial area and 10% of marine area to be protected by 2020. Currently, terrestrial PAs cover around 14% of land area globally, and around 3.4 % of marine surface area, which is short of the CBD targets. Governments around the world should be striving to increase the number of PAs and other types of conservation land- and seascapes for the benefit of future generations.  So what is preventing governments from reaching the CBD targets?


Evidence of PADDD

When looking at the historical growth in the number and size of PAs, the picture looks quite positive. But how protected are these protected areas? Instead of progress towards the CBD targets, there is increasing evidence that we may be moving in the opposite direction.

PADDD stands for Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement, which refers to the legal process of making PAs less restrictive of human use (downgrading), smaller (downsizing) or eliminating them altogether (degazettement). WWF launched the online ‘PADDD-tracker’ in 2011, an online portal that uses spatial mapping tools to collect and show instances of PADDD around the world. A cursory glance of the map immediately reveals the extent of regression between 1990 and present:

  PADDD Ttracker


Figure 1: Map retrieved from

* Purple dots = Downgrading

  Green dots =  Downsizing

  Orange dots = Degazetting


Causes of PADDD

The causes of PADDD are diverse, but research suggests that this includes industrial-scale resource extraction and development, local land pressures and land claims, and comprehensive revisions of conservation plans.

But why is it that industrial-scale resource extraction and land pressures are allowed to encroach on protected areas? Going back to the earlier definition; weren’t PAs “recognised, dedicated and managed” with the aim to “achieve the long-term conservation of nature”? And if “legal and other effective means” are not used properly, resulting in downgrading, downsizing and degazettement, who is essentially to blame?

My opinion is that this failure of enforcement essentially comes down to poor governance and management of PAs. Governance has to do with the broader processes and institutions involved in making decisions about the conservation objectives and management of the PAs. PAs are at the mercy of changing policies and practices, and once created they cannot be thought of as permanent fixtures but as areas that are in constant flux.

PADDD is not always bad – it may at times be better for ecological and/or socio-economic benefits to change the status of a protected area. However more often than not instances of PADDD are a strong indicator that the governance and in turn the management of the PAs in question was not effective. 


PAs Deserve Better Governance

Instances of ‘bad PADDD’ can be avoided in the first place by ensuring good governance during the design stage as well as during implementation. Effective governance at the design stage can also ensure that PAs are created in areas of high biodiversity importance, to maximize the benefits of conservation. To ensure this happens requires an analysis of the long term value of the biodiversity resources in terms of economic, ecological, social and cultural benefits. This means calculating the return on investment in PAs accurately and in a participatory manner, and educating all stakeholders and rights holders about these returns. 

If the right stakeholders and rights-holders are consulted at the onset, the right governance diversity exists, with appropriate incentives and institutions present to ensure accountability and transparency, and adequate financial resources for management agreed upon, then the overall impact of such actions would be a reduction in the instances of PADDD.  Therefore, adhering to these good governance principles can not only ensure we reach our 2020 CBD targets, but also improve the sustainability of PAs and the benefits that they provide in the long run.


Questions for the Reader

Do you agree with my statement on the causes of PADDD and their relation to poor governance?

How can we better calculate the value of PAs to ensure they do not become a victim of ‘bad PADDD’?

How could we better evaluate good governance in conservation projects/ programs? Share your thoughts!


There is need to establish

There is need to establish regulatory and monitoring bodies to be vigilant in preventing "bad PADDD"in PA's.

Very true. But how would you

Dbours's picture

Very true. But how would you monitor PADDD governance? What would, as such, be indicators of good or effective governance of protected areas?

Yes, the causes of PADDD are

Yes, the causes of PADDD are related to poor governance. Most PAs in Africa constitute large parts of the hydrological catchment which are not captured in monetary terms. Obtaining the estimated monetary values of the hydrological catchments, among other things, might stimulate discussion to stop PADDD. Evaluation of good governance in conservation programs/projects can only be measured on areas where a landscape is managed in different protected areas by different institutitutions and resource users. Then, the key question for evaluation is how resources are managed in a holistic and integrated way? Which key stakeholders are involved? Which resources are protected? Are the PAs procted for biodiversity conservation or for trees and fauna only?

Some very good points here

Dbours's picture

Some very good points here Elikana! I certainly agree that a more holistic and integrated approach is needed. Often the focus is rather one-dimensional, i.e. biodiversity, or forestry, or sustainable NRM. Having said that, I do see a shift in ecosystem projects that have been developed over the recent years, taking a much broader view of the area and its key stakeholders, with a focus on multiple benefits.

I received a comment from

Dbours's picture

I received a comment from Jaime Saldarriaga, Ph.D., natural resources specialist in Colombia, on LinkedIn. He asked, "Why is there so little PADDD in Eurasia?!". A very good point, especially because there are quite some protected areas in the Russian tundra.
Reasons I can think of; (1) There is a lack of access to data on these areas (though satellite imagery would be available), (2) The lack of access to these areas makes PADDD a non-issue - it is economically not very viable to develop economic activities in these PA's that would result in DDD, or (3) Local PA governance is actually very successful here. My feeling is that it is possibly a combination of points 1 and 2 - and mostly 2.

Is there anyone else who would have some thoughts in the lack of PADDD identified in the Eurasian region?

Thanks so much for your

Thanks so much for your thoughtful post on PADDD. I'm currently working on PADDD research and I may be able to help answer your questions. The global PADDD data itself should not be considered complete - policies are always changing. PADDDtracker has been built to be a crowdsourcing tool - users can upload information about new or historic PADDD events as information becomes available. The tool and dataset are relatively new as well and may be affected by collection bias due to differing availability of spatial data around the world.

As a former WDPA Content

As a former WDPA Content Office turned de facto Manager, I confirm that the reason is (1) lack of access to data. Much of the data is restricted and not being updated by the governments in this region.

I agree, PADDD is a strong

I agree, PADDD is a strong indicator of poor governance and management of PAs. In Kenya natural resources are mainly managed by the National Government and with the onset of the devolution system under the new constitution, well informed County Governments (on the value of natural resources) are proposing their empowerment policy-wise in having full control of the natural resources within their respective counties as the National Government has failed on several occasions in effectively managing their resources. Lobbying and advocacy will be critical approaches in enhancing the County Governments' ability to effectively manage their own resources

In regards to your opening

In regards to your opening sentence on protected area definitions, there are not many ways of defining protected areas for international purposes, there is actually only the one international definition given by CBD and IUCN. They are effectively the same definition and CBD and IUCN have published statements stating this to assuage any confusion or miscommunication (such as is stated above). CBDs definition is not an exact word-for-word match to IUCN's because of the nature of agreeing on any type of convention text - political agreement between 100+ negotiators - hence the reason for the statement.

You can confirm this for yourself here:
Lopoukhine, N. & de Souza Dias, B. F., 2012. Editorial: What does target 11 really mean. PARKS, 18(1), p. 5–9.

Also, given that the PADDD database utilised the WDPA data (which is owned by IUCN and UNEP and CBD is a UNEP Convention) and the WDPA Data Standard first and foremost upholds the IUCN definition, there should be no doubt or confusion over what protected areas means for PADDD. I suggest WWF or whomever is managing PADDD make sure that is clear in PADDD communications.

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