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Digital Observatory for Protected Areas


Protected areas provide a significant percentage of the livelihoods of more than a billion people (UN Millennium Project 2005) and play a key role in biodiversity conservation as well as in the sustainable use of natural resources.

To support the European Union’s efforts to substantially reinforce the effectiveness of international governance for biodiversity and ecosystem services [1] and more generally for “strengthening the capacity to mobilize and use biodiversity data, information and forecasts so that they are readily accessible to policymakers, managers, experts and other users [2]”, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission has developed the Digital Observatory for Protected Areas (DOPA) to provide a large variety of end users with means to assess and monitor the state of, and pressures on protected areas at local, national, regional and global scale.

The DOPA is designed to contribute to the ambitious Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) mission for 2020: to halt the loss of biodiversity and to share the values and benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services equitably. Among the targets set to 2020 by the CBD, Parties agreed to at least halve and where feasible bring close to zero the rate of loss of natural habitats including forests and they established a target of 17 % of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 % of marine and coastal areas to be conserved through area-based conservation measures. Parties also agreed on a strategy on resource mobilization, with a substantial increase in the level of financial resources in support of implementation of the Convention. Parties agreed to translate this overarching international framework into revised National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) within two years.

The EU is strongly committed to strengthening the instruments for achieving the global biodiversity targets and to making sure that these are effectively implemented. To ensure transparency and reusability of our work, the DOPA has been developed using open standards for spatial data and using open source programming languages.


The DOPA is providing end-users, through a set of web services and applications, reference information on protected areas and conservation efforts. By processing and integrating a broad range of data coming from different international institutions, we provide end-users with simple means to access the results of powerful analyses which are often challenging to perform locally. Typically, such information can help national authorities to prepare strategies and reports such as the CBD National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans and CBD National Reports, donors to identify areas with critical values and needs, and decision-makers to define priorities for action. By facilitating the integrated access to regularly updated baseline information, our services can contribute to the monitoring of progress towards the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. More specialized applications can help researchers to identify unique ecological habitats, quantify connectivity between areas, or the expected climate shifts in any given location. In collaboration with our end-users, we aim at providing quick-and-easy access to critical information for the people who need this information for decision making.

Main end-users

The European Commission (EC)

  • DG DEVCO - The Commission's Directorate-General (DG) for International Cooperation and Development is responsible for designing European international cooperation and development policy and delivering aid throughout the world. For the past 20 years, the European Commission has been an important donor for protected area conservation, especially in Africa. Commission projects and programmes aim to improve the management of protected areas and to develop conservation techniques. The EU also seeks to boost regional co-operation and help people to share information on good practice.

  • DG ENV - The DG Environment makes sure that Member States correctly apply EU environmental law. In doing so it investigates complaints made by citizens and non-governmental organisations and can take legal action if it deems that EU law has been infringed. The DG also finances projects that contribute to environmental protection in the EU, in particular through LIFE, the EU's financial instrument for the environment.

  • EEAS - The European External Action Service (EEAS) is in charge of the day-to-day management of EC policies, programmes and projects since the devolution process, which aims to bring decision making and implementation closer to the beneficiaries.

For these Directorates and Services, the DOPA can provide valuable information both for programming at the national and regional level and for implementing programmes and projects at the local level.

UN organisations and Multilateral Environmental Agreements

CBD - National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) are the principal instruments for implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the national level. The Convention requires countries to prepare a national biodiversity strategy (or equivalent instrument) and to ensure that this strategy is mainstreamed into the planning and activities of all those sectors whose activities can have an impact (positive and negative) on biodiversity. The CBD is currently using the DOPA to support the preparation of country dossiers for Aichi Targets 11 and 12, and has also suggested its Parties consult DOPA in the revision of their NBSAPs.

UN Environment - The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the United Nations’ designated entity for addressing environmental issues at the global and regional level. Its mandate is to coordinate the development of environmental policy consensus by keeping the global environment under review and bringing emerging issues to the attention of governments and the international community for action.

UNDP - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is helping countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities and build resilience in order to sustain development results. UNDP helps more than 140 countries to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, and to secure ecosystem services. The DOPA continues to be developed to meet specific information needs of both UNEP and UNDP.


Governments have their own local, national and international biodiversity conservation projects. Through DOPA, national and regional services in charge of protected area management can easily access important information on biodiversity values and threats in a systematic way and prioritise their interventions in the same way than EC services, or simply compare their indicators with those proposed here.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

NGOs have a long history in contributing to biodiversity conservation - from local to global activities. DOPA offers tools providing information at the level of individual protected areas, facilitating the definition of local priorities. Often active on the ground, NGOs will find in DOPA simple access to reference information which can sometimes be very different from the reality. Local experts can therefore easily assess how well the local situation is represented and, in a second stage, can communicate with the data providers to correct the information used by the decision makers.


We have paid much attention to the needs of researchers who will want, as far as possible, to access the raw information. The information delivered by the DOPA can be generally extracted in a variety of raw formats for further use. Our applications are also designed to ease, as much as possible, access to data which are usually time consuming to access and process.

Main policies

The below links highlight the main policies underpinning the work done by the DOPA.

References to the DOPA in Policy Documents

CBD Documents

EU Documents

[1] EC/COM/2006/0216 final
[2] UNEP/CBD/COP/10/27