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New Report Finds Widespread Rollbacks to Protected Areas, Threatening Biodiversity Globally

Efforts to Shrink Protections Could Derail Global Efforts to Save Nature

A new report published in Science finds an alarming increase in the rollback of legal protections to protected areas at a time when the preservation of nature is more important than ever for biodiversity conservation. An international research team, including researchers Humboldt-University Berlin, shows that governments have removed more than 500,000 km2 from protected areas and downgraded protection for an additional 1.65 million km2 to allow greater human activities. Legal rollbacks have been happening for decades but are now accelerating: There have been at least 3,700 rollbacks across more than 3,000 protected areas since 1872 – yet 78 percent of those rollbacks have taken place in the last eight years, between 2000-2018. The majority of the rollbacks are associated with industrial-scale development. This is despite ongoing alarming reports about the state of nature, such as the recent UN IPBES report that found nearly 1 million species on the verge of extinction. Legal rollbacks of protected areas can accelerate forest loss, fragmentation, and carbon emissions. The report is the most comprehensive study to date on rollbacks of environmental protections affecting national parks and protected areas globally.

The technical term for these reductions of protected areas is PADDD, which means Protected Area Downgrading (relaxing restrictions), Downsizing (reducing boundaries) and Degazettement (eliminating protections). “In Brazil alone, PADD affected an area about the size of half of Germany, more than 180,000 km2, since 2000.” Siyu Qin, a PhD student from the Geography Department of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin highlights. The report also notes that protected area boundaries, for instance, may change to restore rights to indigenous communities or respond to climate change, but that globally, most rollback processes are related to industrial-scale development. “We are facing two global environmental crises: Biodiversity loss and climate change. To address both, governments have established protected areas with the intent of conserving nature in perpetuity. Yet our research shows that protected areas can be rolled back and are not necessarily permanent. Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, Conservation International Social Scientist, lead author of the report and PhD candidate at George Mason University.


Rachel E. Golden Kroner, Siyu Qin, Carly N. Cook, Roopa Krithivasan, Shalynn M. Pack, Oscar D. Bonilla, Kerry Anne Cort-Kansinally, Bruno Coutinho, Mingmin Feng, Maria Isabel Martínez Garcia, Yifan He, Chris J. Kennedy, Clotilde Lebreton, Juan Carlos Ledezma, Thomas E. Lovejoy, David A. Luther, Yohan Parmanand, César Augusto Ruíz-Agudelo, Edgard Yerena, Vilisa Morón Zambrano, Michael B. Mascia, “The uncertain future of protected lands and waters”, Science 31 May 2019: Report Vol. 364, Issue 6443, pp. 881-886, DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5525

Link to the study


Siyu Qin
Doctoral Researcher at the Biogeography Lab
Geography Department
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Phone: +49 (0)30 2093-5394