Faced with a growing extinction crisis, the accelerating impacts on habitats and food chains of climate change, and an ever-growing human development footprint, countries around the world have recognized that more must be done to protect rapidly declining biodiversity.

One way to protect nature is through improved management of areas that are critical to the maintenance of biodiversity and sustaining wildlife populations. Through the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Taskforce on Biodiversity and Protected Areas, countries and conservation organizations have come together to create a new system for identifying such areas.

The result is the concept of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), areas that have characteristics that make them important for sustaining wildlife and biodiversity in general. In particular, the IUCN’s global standard for the identification of KBAs, adopted in 2016, focuses on:

  • Areas where biodiversity is threatened
  • Areas where biodiversity is geographically restricted (e.g., rare species communities, landforms or micro climates)
  • Areas that are important for conserving the ecological integrity of broader systems
  • Areas that are important for biological processes
  • Areas that are irreplaceable


Identifying KBAs through a common international standard will help us map out priority areas for action to conserve biodiversity. This action could consist of designating new protected areas, adopting different management approaches, making changes in land-use plans, or applying other stewardship regimes. By identifying areas important for biodiversity, we are identifying areas where development is often limited or not desired. However, at the same time, through the KBA process, we are also identifying areas where development may be less harmful.


The work builds on efforts that have been underway for some time to identify important areas for nature, particularly Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), but also Alliance for Zero Extinction sites, Important Plant Areas, Prime Butterfly Areas, important sites for marine and freshwater biodiversity and others.

While KBA designation does not bring with it protection or management requirements, it can be a key tool for advancing new approaches. In particular, Canada is addressing the terrestrial and freshwater components of Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity through an initiative called Pathway to Canada Target 1. The goal is to increase the coverage, connectivity and the ecological integrity of Canada’s protected areas and other conserved areas and, specifically, to increase terrestrial protected and other conserved areas to 17% of Canada’s land area.

Where KBAs fit well with Canada’s Pathway process is around the recognition that we not only need to expand the extent of our protected and other conserved area systems, but also improve quality. In the past, many protected areas have been sited with an eye to creating the least possible conflict with resource development or other human interests. The result is that many existing areas cover less productive environments, such as high-altitude terrain, and may also have somewhat arbitrary boundaries.

KBAs can help us more consistently identify areas that have stronger biodiversity values. And they are not just of value in designing new protected and other conserved areas: They can help with the identification of recovery areas for species at risk, can help inform regional or strategic environmental assessments, and can help guide conservation investments and inform where development can occur.

The new KBA Canada Coalition is starting the task of applying the global KBA Standard in Canada for terrestrial and freshwater areas, carrying out its work in the spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and in accordance with recommendations made by the Indigenous Circle of Experts.

The Canadian KBA Coalition has been initially formed by Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, IUCN-WCPA, Birds Canada, NatureServe Canada, Nature Canada and WWF Canada, and supported by Environment Climate Change Canada, but we welcome the involvement of organizations, Indigenous peoples and governments interested in the important work of helping stem the accelerating loss of biodiversity.

The coalition is aided by a KBA Canada Secretariat hosted by WCS Canada.


  • To coordinate the process to identify, document and where practical delineate KBAs in Canada, including adapting global KBA criteria and thresholds to a national standard for Canada;
  • To gather the best available knowledge to identify KBAs in Canada, including Indigenous knowledge;
  • To coordinate activities between members of the Canadian KBA Coalition relevant to KBAs;
  • To liaise with the global KBA Partnership;
  • To support the discussions needed in order to delineate specific KBAs, including engagement with Indigenous peoples, landowners, etc.; and
  • To coordinate activities related to the communication and promotion of the KBA standard and identification process in Canada and the use of KBA data and national KBA lists nationally and internationally.


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