Biodiversity needs every tool in the box: use OECMs

alpine pastoral meadow
Mountain regions dependent on low-intensity farming practices can be highly biodiverse, making them suitable for OECM classification.

Gurney et al. 2021

A recent comment piece in Nature argues that Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) provide a mechanism to support effective biodiversity conservation, while protecting the rights and livelihoods of local & Indigenous communities.

OECMs are designated areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas. The guiding principles, common characteristics and criteria for the identification of OECMs were agreed in 2018 by Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with the following definition:

“A geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values (CBD, 2018).”

The article notes that the OECM designation is not well-known, with less than 1% of the world’s land and freshwater environments and less than 0.1% of marine areas are classified as OECMs. Increasing the study and use of OECMs alongside protected areas can advance equitable and effective conservation, but improvements are needed in research, policy and practice.

The authors highlight a range of benefits to OECM recognition. A key benefit are their potential to support Indigenous and local communities in managing their lands and seas while conserving nature. Landscapes where there is relatively light human usage, such as pastoralism with a low density of livestock, make up nearly 56% of the world’s lands, and contain more Key Biodiversity Areas — sites of global important to biodiversity — than do remaining large wild areas. OECMs can also help to ensure that international conservation targets are legitimate to the various stakeholders, in contrast to protected areas that can alienate people who manage areas for other reasons. OECMs can foster cooperation between sectors and encourage the participation of local management organizations in conservation decision-making.

The report then highlights four ways that, alongside protected areas, OECMs can increase the effectiveness of the global conservation system:

  • OECMs support management that is tailored to its context, and aligned with local values, governance and traditional knowledge systems.
  • Together with protected areas, OECMs can help to ensure a well-connected conservation network in which all elements of biodiversity are represented and in which ecological processes, such as species movements, are sustained.
  • OECMs can increase the diversity of tools in the global conservation system, increasing resilience.
  • OECMs help to bring conservation outcomes into focus.

Lastly, the authors outline five steps that the conservation community needs to take to overcome the challenges to using the OECM policy tool through potential misuse and miscommunication with local stakeholders and government:

  • Show that they work – research is needed on how to meet the crucial criteria of demonstrated or expected in situ conservation of biodiversity.
  • Strengthen existing local governance –  guidelines should be informed by principles of procedural equity and tailored to different types of managed area.
  • Secure funding –  ensure that costs do not become a barrier or burden for under-resourced groups.
  • Agree on metrics – policymakers need to agree on targets that are based on outcomes (not just coverage) for both OECMs and protected areas.
  • Include OECMs in other environmental agreements –  the interrelated global challenges of biodiversity loss, climate change and sustainability requires the coordination of policy across sectors.

Read the full Nature comment article, and learn more about OECMs on the IUCN OECM Specialist Group webpage, which provides guidance on identifying, recognising, supporting and reporting OECMs.