GSPC Target 4

Objective I: Plant diversity is well understood, documented and recognized

Objective II: Plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved

Objective III: Plant diversity is used in a sustainable and equitable manner

Objective IV: Education and awareness about plant diversity, its role in sustainable livelihoods and importance to all life on earth is promoted

Objective V: The capacities and public engagement necessary to implement the Strategy have been developed


This target focuses on conservation of plant species through the conservation of the landscapes, or ecological regions, in which they exist.  Types of landscape might be forests, wetlands, grasslands or semi-arid deserts.  Each of these ecological regions includes a different assemblage of plant species.  The types of plants you find in a tropical forest are obviously very different from the plants you would find in a temperate meadow.

Conserving a percentage of each of the different types of landscapes that can be found on earth will ensure the conservation of the different species found in those landscapes.


Conservation at the eco-region level is usually carried out through "protected areas" which can be defined as "geographically defined areas, which are designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives" (Convention on Biological Diversity).

Download an introduction to Target 4 here.

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The long term goal of this target is to have robust and healthy ecosystems, with the world benefitting from the services they provide. Find out more about ecosystem services here.

The achievement of this target focuses on conservation through protected areas. Such areas are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation; they maintain key habitats, provide refugia, allow for species migration and movement, and ensure the maintenance of natural processes across the landscape. Not only do protected areas secure biodiversity conservation, they also secure the well-being of humanity itself. Protected areas provide livelihoods for nearly 1.1 billion people, are the primary source of drinking water for over a third of the world’s largest cities and are a major factor in ensuring global food security.  As the detrimental impact of climate change threatens the planet, protected areas provide a convenient solution to an inconvenient truth. Better managed, better connected, better governed and better financed protected areas are recognized as the key to both mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change.

However, protected areas presently only cover 13% of the world's terrestrial surface and not all ecosystems are well represented within the protected area system.  For example, forests and mountain areas are well represented in protected areas, while natural grasslands (such as prairies) and coastal and estuarine ecosystems, including mangroves, are poorly represented.

To reach this target therefore, efforts will be required to restore ecosystems that do not occur in protected areas. Considering that two-thirds of the worlds ecosystems are considered to be degraded, this is an urgent task.

Further information about restoration can be found under Target 8.

The implementation of this target relates to Targets 5, 11 and 15 of the Aichi Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020:

T5: By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.

T11: By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.

T15: By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.


There is no shortage of guides, case studies, methodologies and other materials to help implement conservation through Protected Areas. In fact, there is so much material that it can be overwhelming to read everything. To help overcome this problem, the CBD programme of work on protected areas offers a series of e-learning modules on key subjects addressed through the programme of work. These modules are like short courses which take approximately an hour each, providing an overview of key terms, concepts, resources and approaches.

Of particular relevance to this target is to ensure that protected area management effectiveness addresses plant conservation needs and that protected area networks, biological corridors and other conservation initiatives cover key areas of importance for plant conservation (drawing on the concept of Important Plant Areas - Target 5).

Furthermore, it is recognised that ecosystems with greater plant diversity have a greater capacity to adapt to changing conditions. Any management strategy that maintains or restores the diversity of an ecosystem will therefore have the effect of enhancing its resilience. Other management strategies that may be relevant in the face of changing climates include:

  • removing barriers to plant migration

  • afforestation to condition soils, improve water infiltration and provide shade

  • managing forests in order to reduce/control the incidence of fires

  • managing water to address unpredictable rainfall

  • restoring degraded areas

  • removing stresses due to non-climatic effects, such as invasive species

 Tools and resources

Please also check in the database of Tools of Resources for Case Studies relevant to this target.

Background to e-learning modules

This set of slides developed by the CBD Secretariat provides background information about the deveopment of the e-learning modules for the CBD Programme of Work on protected areas. 


Integrating protected areas into climate planning

This paper addresses the question of how to maximise climate change resilience, adaptation and mitigation through the location of new protected areas and discusses the isues surrounding the integration of protected areas into climate planning 



Ecologically protected areas play a vital role in maintaining the ecological diversity within a given area; they also hold great economic value, estimated to be worth US$21 trillion. Yet at present only 13% of the world's terrestrial area is under protection and the percentage of protected territorial waters is even lower (6.3%).

Useful sites with information on ongoing projects

This GSPC target is quite closely linked with the Aichi 2011-2020 Target 11 “By 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial and 10% of coastal marine areas are conserved through effectively and equitably managed.

As work towards this target, the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) set up a Program of Work on Protected areas (PoWPA) over the years this program has built a framework on how protected area should be appropriately managed. In 10 years nearly 6,000 new protected areas have been established, covering more than 60 million hectares, a recent summary on the status of global implementation of protected area is available here

Other projects are being put in place to ensure progress is made towards target 4. The Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanic Gardens has been very important in sharing their skills, resources and plant materials for restoration activities around the world. Currently 16 botanical gardens are part in this alliance and have set a target to restore 100 degraded ecological regions by 2020. So far 27 projects have been set up and are ongoing. These can be viewed at this web link, which provides detailed case studies and an interactive map 

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) also provides a wealth of resources on ecological restoration, practices and implementation. The information can be viewed in a variety of different platforms such as a series of books, journal articles, manuals and an online database.

The target aims to have 15% of all ecological regions protect by 2020. This ambitious goal is unlikely to be achieved by 2020, despite all the current progress which has been made. However, the CBD sub target aimed at protecting 17% of terrestrial and inland areas, is projected to reach 17.5% by 2020 based on the current rate of progress. Further details is available on the CBD website.



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