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Issue Profile

Biodiversity and Habitat

Biodiversity and Habitat tracks the protection of terrestrial and marine areas as well as threatened or endangered species.

What it measures:  The Biodiversity and Habitat category includes four indicators:  Critical Habitat Protection, Terrestrial Protected Areas (National Biome Weight), Terrestrial Protected Areas (Global Biome Weight), and Marine Protected Areas. 

The Critical Habitat Protection indicator measures the percent of sites identified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) that have partial or complete protection. The AZE is a collaborative network of conservation organizations working to identify irreplaceable habitats for highly endangered species. AZE sites are places where 95 percent or more of the entire known population of an endangered or critically endangered species (as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2004 Red List) occurs. Although 2010 site data are available, the 2014 EPI indicator uses the 2005 data on the basis that countries need at least five years to plan for the establishment of a protected area that encompasses the AZE biodiversity sites. Because not all countries have AZE sites, we have scores for 91 countries.

Terrestrial Protected Areas are broken into two indicators that weight the percentage of biomes under protected status. The Terrestrial Protected Areas (National Biome Weight) indicator assesses the protection of biomes weighted by the proportion of a country’s territory the biome occupies. The Terrestrial Protected Areas (Global Biome Weight) reflects the protection of biomes weighted by their globally proportional abundance. These two weightings reflect different contributions of biodiversity conservation efforts at national and global scales. While understanding biome protection at a national scale is useful, it is also helpful to know the global context of these protection efforts. 

Marine Protected Areas measures the percentage of country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that is under protection. Although the majority of marine protected areas lies within territorial waters (0 to12 nautical miles from land), it is important to include EEZs (12 to 200 nautical miles) in this measure because several types of valuable marine habitats exist only in EEZs, including deep-sea trenches, submarine canyons, and seamounts. Additionally, nations have sovereign rights within EEZs for exploration, exploitation, and conservation, so it is important to understand how well they are managing these areas. Protected areas in both terrestrial and marine realms are defined as nationally designated IUCN category I-VI protected areas.

Why we include it: Habitat protection is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services that are critical to sustain human life and well-being.1 The Critical Habitat Protection indicator examines the extent of protection of the last remaining habitats for endangered or critically endangered species (according to the IUCN criteria). The EPI’s measurement of terrestrial and marine protected areas stems from the targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which established protection goals of 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of marine and coastal areas.

Where the data come fromAll four indicators build on data from the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) maintained by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC). More specifically: Critical Habitat Protection is drawn from the Alliance for Zero Extinction and the WDPA. Terrestrial Protected Areas uses data from the World Wildlife Fund Ecoregions of the World and the WDPA. Marine Protected Areas is built with data from the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) Maritime Boundaries Database and the WDPA.

What the targets are100% for Critical Habitat Protection; 17% for Terrestrial Protected Areas (National Biome Weights); 17% for Terrestrial Protected Areas (Global Biome Weights); 10% for Marine Protected Areas. For more information, click here

DescriptionHumans rely on natural resources to serve the most basic of our needs—including food, water, clothing, and shelter. Yet our collective impact on the planet’s ecosystems threatens the very resources that have allowed us to thrive as a species. In 2010, the 168 Parties of the CBD adopted the Nagoya Protocol, agreeing to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and a series of goals known as the Aichi targets.

The targets seek to protect the Earth’s biological diversity and promote the sustainable use of natural resources and the equitable sharing of the benefits we derive from ecosystem services. The EPI charts each country’s progress in achieving these goals through three indicators (Terrestrial Protected Areas (National Biome Weight), Terrestrial Protected Areas (Global Biome Weight), and Marine Protected Areas) in the biodiversity and habitat issue area.

Since the Nagoya Protocol, biodiversity has continued to gain attention in international conservation and development arenas. The UN designated 2011 to 2020 as the Decade of Biodiversity, indicating the increasing concern within the global community. The 2014 EPI shows global progress in terms of the increase of terrestrial and marine protected areas, largely due to national efforts to meet targets set through the CBD. Other analyses, such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report, similarly show modest improvements in reducing the rate of loss of some species.

With the realization that ecological wealth can translate into economic health, policymakers and business leaders worldwide have begun to understand the value of protecting ecosystems and biodiversity. The CBD reports that 45 percent of business leaders in Africa, 53 percent in Latin America, 34 percent in Asia-Pacific, and 18 percent in Western Europe consider biodiversity loss to be a threat to economic growth. The same report estimates that the cost of inaction on biodiversity will amount to US$2.0 to US$4.5 trillion per year over the next 50 years. These numbers are significant, and leaders are more frequently taking ecosystem services into account when calculating their nations’ assets. In February 2012, the UN developed the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, making it possible for countries to include “natural capital” in their accounting to support sustainable development. Twenty-four countries are already using natural capital accounting. The quantification of natural capital and the heightened awareness of its value should aid countries in taking action to protect biodiversity.

Despite these signs of progress, much remains to be done to reduce global rates of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The MDGs 2012 Report shows that even with increased protected areas, biodiversity is still being lost and key sites remain unprotected. UNEP-WCMC’s Protected Planet 2012 Report reveals that only 33 percent of terrestrial ecoregions, 13 percent of marine ecoregions, and 22 percent of AZE sites reach target levels of protection. Importantly, these targets only measure the area under legal protection, but this does not necessarily translate into effective conservation of biodiversity or prevention of species loss.

Successfully reducing the threats to biodiversity and improving the status of degraded ecosystems requires concerted action on multiple fronts and scales. Land use and climate change, invasive species, and overexploitation remain the principal threats to global biodiversity. Protected areas by themselves are not sufficient to combat the effects of these threats. Biodiversity conservation must also be included in comprehensive strategies that incorporate sustainable use and allow for economic development. The more leaders and societies value ecosystem conservation on its own merits and for the services that ecosystems provide, the brighter the prospects for biodiversity conservation.

[1] Additional indicators such as the effectiveness of protected area management, trends in species abundance, enforcement of wildlife trafficking laws, and quality of landscape conservation efforts would be desirable, but sufficient internationally comparative data are not available at this time.

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The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is constructed through the calculation and aggregation of 20 indicators reflecting national-level environmental data. These indicators are combined into nine issue categories, each of which fit under one of two overarching objectives. Click on "Learn More" to explore the complete methods.