Natural habitats and ecosystems provide a huge range of environmental goods and services that contribute enormously – and are even essential – to human well-being. Protecting these areas is essential in order to achieve sustainable development.
Environmental goods and services include: Collectively, the value of these goods and services has been estimated at US$33 trillion, higher than the entire world gross national product.

However, destructive human activities are seeing biodiversity lost and natural ecosystems degraded at an alarming rate.

As a result, nearly two-thirds of the world’s environmental services are under threat.

Around the world, this is contributing to reduced food security, reduced water availability, reduced income, reduced protection from natural disasters, and reduced human health.
Freshwater management in South Africa. Bhekepi Dlamini (40) says her life was very difficult when ... 
© WWF / Chris MARAIS
Mbongolwane wetland, South Africa.
© WWF / Chris MARAIS

South Africa's Mbongolwane wetland provides a wealth of life-sustaining resources to the Ntuli people, including water, plant material for weaving crafts and thatching houses, grazing for cattle, and land for cultivating crops.

The rural poor, who directly rely on ecosystem goods and services for their diet, health, and livelihoods, are disproportionately affected.

The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that the degradation of environmental services is a significant barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – and that this impediment could grow significantly worse over the next 50 years. It also found that the harmful effects of environmental service degradation are often the principal drivers of poverty and social conflict.

By safeguarding biodiversity and natural habitats, protected areas have a key role to play in ensuring the continued supply of essential environmental goods and services. In this way, they can contribute towards poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Despite this, development strategies, policies, and programmes often neglect the importance of environmental protection for meeting long-term sustainable development goals.