The world’s protected area network is constantly changing, and the dynamics of this network are tracked using the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). This database evolved from a list of protected areas first mandated by the United Nations in 1959, and it now informs the key indicators that track progress toward area-based conservation targets. In this capacity, the WDPA illuminates the role of protected areas in advancing a range of international objectives and agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite ongoing challenges in maintaining such a complex global dataset, the WDPA is continuously improving and taking advantage of new technology, making it widely applicable to diverse users, including those in sectors far from its original intended audience. In the future, the WDPA will expand to include areas that contribute to conservation and sustainable use outside of formal protected areas, and will increasingly link to other key global datasets. These innovations in the way the WDPA is managed and used will deliver vital knowledge to support a sustainable future for biodiversity and people globally.

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Data availability

The World Database on Protected Areas is available for download from www.protectedplanet.net, subject to terms and conditions available at https://protectedplanet.net/c/terms-and-conditions. The other data that support this review are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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The authors would like to express their gratitude to the numerous supporters and funders of the WDPA, and the many governments and other data providers whose collaboration makes the WDPA possible. We would also like to thank L. Ruzowitzky and J. Harrison for their advice on the content of this paper. Finally, we would like to thank all the colleagues, past and present, who have contributed to the development and maintenance of the WDPA.

Author information


  1. UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge, UK

    • Heather C. Bingham
    • , Diego Juffe Bignoli
    • , Edward Lewis
    • , Brian MacSharry
    • , Neil D. Burgess
    • , Marine Deguignet
    • , Murielle Misrachi
    • , Jessica L. Stewart
    •  & Naomi Kingston
  2. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Brian MacSharry
  3. Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Neil D. Burgess
  4. Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, London, UK

    • Piero Visconti
  5. Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, London, UK

    • Piero Visconti
  6. Fauna and Flora International, Cambridge, UK

    • Matt Walpole
  7. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Gland, Switzerland

    • Thomas M. Brooks


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This paper has been written by a team of scientists directly involved in the management of the WDPA, joined by some of the colleagues who have used and contributed to the development of the database over the years. D.J.B., N.K., E.L. and H.C.B. conceived the concept of the manuscript. D.J.B. and E.L. wrote a first draft of the manuscript and contributed significantly to the submitted manuscript. H.C.B. led on the subsequent development and writing of the submitted manuscript. B.M.S., N.D.B., P.V., M.D., M.M., M.W., J.L.S. and T.M.B. developed the content further and contributed to writing the submitted manuscript.

Competing interests

H.C.B., N.K., M.D., J.L.S., D.J.B., N.D.B. and E.L. are employed by UNEP-WCMC. T.M.B. is employed by IUCN. H.C.B., N.K., M.D., J.L.S. and E.L. work directly on the management of the WDPA.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Heather C. Bingham.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Decisions of the CBD Conference of the Parties that reference the WDPA or Protected Planet

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