Which countries protect the most of their land?

1 09 2017

forestOne potentially useful metric to measure how different nations value their biodiversity is just how much of a country’s land its government sets aside to protect its natural heritage and resources. While this might not necessarily cover all the aspects of ‘environment’ we need to explore, we know from previous research that the more emphasis a country places on protecting its biodiversity, the more it actually achieves this goal. This might sound intuitive, but there is no shortage of what have become known as ‘paper parks’ around the world, which are essentially only protected in principle, but not in practice.

For example, if a national park or some other type of protected area is not respected by the locals (who might rightly or wrongly perceive them as a limitation of their ‘rights’ of exploitation), or is pilfered by corrupt government officials in cahoots with extractive industries like logging or mining, then the park does not do well in protecting the species it was designed to safeguard. So, even though the proportion of area protected within a country is not a perfect reflection of its environmental performance, it tends to indicate to what extent its government, and therefore, its people, are committed to saving its natural heritage.

So, if we exclude some small-island nations1 with relatively little total land area, which countries in the world have the highest proportions of their land under some form of protection? It turns out that Venezuela, despite being in the midst of political and socio-economic crisis, has over half (54%) of its land under some form of protection. Whether this will last, or will cease to have functional meaning as people exploit the decaying rule of law resulting from its dysfunctional government, is anyone’s guess. Remarkably, Slovenia has the same amount of its area protected as Venezuela, followed by Bhutan at 47%, Leichtenstein and Brunei at 44%, Bulgaria at 41%, and Namibia at 38%.

And who are the protected-area ‘losers’ in this regard? Again, excluding some small-island nations, the lowest proportions of land protected are in countries like Turkey, Libya, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

CJA Bradshaw

1Many such island nations have a sizeable proportion of their land area protected, such as the Seychelles (76%), Guadeloupe (66%), Martinique (62%), and New Caledonia (54%).



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