FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT KEY BIODIVERSITY AREAS IN CANADA
A global standard to identify such sites has now been adopted by the IUCN Council following extensive consultation, and includes specific criteria and quantitative thresholds focused on five aspects:
- Threatened biodiversity;
- Geographically restricted biodiversity;
- Ecological integrity;
- Biological processes; and,
- Irreplaceability through quantitative analysis.
Key Biodiversity Areas can be identified for all taxa as well as ecosystems in terrestrial, inland water and marine environments. Although not all KBA criteria may be relevant to all elements of biodiversity, the thresholds associated with each of the criteria are meant to be applied consistently across all taxonomic groups (other than micro-organisms) and ecosystems. Genetic diversity can also be addressed if there is enough information to assess this aspect of diversity. In Canada, we are in the process of developing a national adaptation of the KBA Standard that will also likely include designatable units (i.e. a Canadian designation that includes species, subspecies, variety or geographically or genetically distinct population that may be assessed by COSEWIC, where such units are both discrete and evolutionarily significant – see here for more information).
Other approaches that incorporate multiple taxa, such as the hotspot approach, are often applied at much larger scales. KBAs are at the ‘site’ scale and each should be a single manageable unit, and so are very different from hotspots, ecoregions, wilderness areas and Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) that are identified at higher scales. KBAs are also developed based only on quantitative, ecological criteria (in contrast to, for example, (EBSAs) or areas of High Conservation Value (HCVs), which can include qualitative rationales). The identification of KBAs can feed into planning processes and other designation, such as EBSAs, World Heritage Areas, Ramsar sites, etc.
(adapted from WWF Technical Paper: The relationship between Key Biodiversity Areas and other designations, 2017):
- Informing the identification of priority sites for legal protection
- Guiding the management of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs): Information and data on the biodiversity elements within a KBA can help inform management and sustainable use decisions for statutory designated protected areas or other site-based conservation mechanisms (e.g. private protected areas, indigenous reserves, conservation easements, etc.).
- Supporting private sector decision making: g. risk management, informing Environmental Impact Assessments, Strategic Environmental Assessments etc. It should be noted that KBAs are not intended to be ‘no-go’ areas, although businesses will be encouraged to take special measures to reduce environmental impacts on KBAs.
- Guiding investment: enabling donors to ensure that conservation funding is directed to the most important places for the global persistence of biodiversity. In addition, KBAs can and do inform environmental safeguards of international financing institutions as Critical Habitats or similar categories (e.g. International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 6)
- Informing land/sea use planning: KBAs can be used in land and sea use planning at various levels as sites of high conservation value where certain types of activities such as sustainable use and conservation should be encouraged.
- Informing extractive and other sectors: KBAs may also be integrated into legislation, regulatory mechanisms, standards or certification schemes of relevant production sectors (e.g. linear infrastructure, forestry, agriculture, and mining).
- Providing focus for the work of international, national and local NGOs: As sites which contribute significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity, KBAs can be a useful tool for NGO priority setting.
- Providing additional recognition for sites that currently lack recognition from governments and others, e.g. Indigenous Peoples and community conserved areas; corridors of unprotected land providing crucial genetic exchange between protected areas, etc.
It is important to reiterate that formal protection may not be appropriate or even desirable for all KBAs. KBAs could qualify as OECMs (‘Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures’ in the language of Aichi Target 11), or can be managed as Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). In areas where people have lived for millennia, the stewardship and activities of Indigenous populations (including harvesting) are likely important factors in why these areas qualify as Key Biodiversity Areas today.
The consultation process to develop A Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas was led by the IUCN WCPA-SSC Joint Task Force on Biodiversity and Protected Areas. www.iucn.org/commissions/world-commission-protected-areas/our-work/biodiversity-and-protected-areas
A few main steps are listed here:
- Biodiversity elements that may trigger a KBA are identified (e.g. a threatened ecosystem or a very large aggregation of species).
- A rough site is identified that captures the biodiversity elements within it.
- An analysis is conducted to determine whether thresholds are met for designating a KBA (e.g. is more than 5% of the endangered ecosystem type captured within the site? See here for all thresholds).
- Delineation occurs according to suggested guidelines, and should build off any existing conservation sites nearby.
- Any site proposal must undergo independent scientific review. This is followed by the official site nomination with full documentation meeting the Documentation Standards for KBAs. Sites confirmed by the KBA Secretariat to qualify as KBAs then appear on the global KBA website.
Note that all steps should be completed in consultation with relevant communities, organizations, governments and experts. When identifying multiple sites, a scoping exercise to map out potential sites based on multiple taxa and criteria is recommended.
The multi-stakeholder Pathway to Target 1 National Advisory Panel in its report in March 2018, explicitly urged the identification of global and national KBAs across Canada as foundational to meeting these qualitative components, and the Canadian KBA initiative directly responds to this growing awareness that identifying Key Biodiversity Areas is a crucial step towards establishing new protected areas that will be effective in conserving biodiversity. This is a huge opportunity for Canada to improve our ability to target the right places to protect our natural heritage.
 Aichi Target 11 specifies that “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 landscape and seascape. “