Other effective area-based conservation measures

Summary Global Guidelines Technical and interactive resources

The other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM) is a relatively new and largely untested type of area-based conservation but will be a fundamental building block of Target 3. Understanding and implementing OECMs to provide genuine contributions to 30×30 is likely to be one of the great challenges of the decade. See especially the IUCN WCPA Technical Report.

OECM is a term created in 2010 during CBD COP 10 and included in Aichi Target 11. In 2018 the CBD finally defined an OECM as “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.”

OECMs offer a significant opportunity to recognize de facto effective long-term conservation that is taking place outside designated protected areas, in other areas of high importance to biodiversity. OECMs can be governed and managed by a diverse set of actors, such as Indigenous peoples, local communities, and the private sector, but also government agencies including those responsible for energy, water resources, commerce and the military. 

A useful approach to OECMs in national planning is to look for areas that are important for biodiversity where management and governance results in positive outcomes for nature. Then look for ways to support those benefits into the future without disrupting what is already working. This can include securing tenure and usufruct for those successfully managing the area or avoiding perverse incentives for development that would undo the beneficial status quo. It may be necessary to plan for species movement in response to climate change and encourage OECMs in receptor habitats.

Recognition and support of OECMs should aim to enhance the governance capacity of their legitimate authorities and secure positive and sustained outcomes for biodiversity. While national circumstances will differ, any related recognition or support should reinforce and support existing governance systems where they are effective and not seek to supplant or unnecessarily alter those local arrangements for other purposes. 

Examples of areas that could be OECMs include

  • Sacred natural sites with high biodiversity conserved long-term for their importance to faith groups.
  • Military lands and waters managed for defense but providing ancillary conservation.
  • Permanent or long-term fisheries closure areas designed to protect complete ecosystems for stock recruitment or to protect specialized ecosystems and their full complement of species.
  • Freshwater and coastal wetlands designated for flood protection, which also protect important habitats, species and ecosystem services, and may require restoration.
  • Watersheds or other areas designated and managed primarily for water resource management that also result in the in-situ conservation of important biodiversity.

Areas and management regimes that are unlikely to qualify as OECMs include

  • Small, semi-natural areas within an intensively managed landscape with limited biodiversity. 
  • Forests that are managed commercially for timber supply and are intended for logging. 
  • Fishery closures, temporary set asides or gear restriction areas with a single species, species group, or habitat focus, that may be subject to periodic exploitation and/or be defined for stock management purposes, and that do not deliver in-situ conservation of the associated ecosystems, habitats and species.
  • Temporary agricultural set asides, summer fallow and other agricultural practices that provide only limited benefits for biodiversity. 
  • Conservation measures that apply to a single species or group of species, over a wide geographical range, such as hunting regulations or whale-watching rules. 

Like protected areas, OECMs can make an important contribution to the qualitative elements of Target 3—connectivity, representativeness, and providing ecosystem services—but states and other actors need to put in place systems to ensure they are also effective and equitable.

Recognising and reporting other effective area-based conservation measures

This technical report was published shortly after Parties to the CBD adopted a definition of OECMs in November 2018 (CBD/ COP/DEC/14/8). It provides and explains that definition of “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.

These guidelines provide information on how to apply the definition of OECMs at international, national, sub-national or local conservation levels and to report on OECMs to the World Database on Protected Areas and to the CBD. They provide tools and approaches recommended for identification, recognition, monitoring and reporting. Further sections look at the relationship with other Aichi Biodiversity Targets (the guidelines are being updated to the Global Biodiversity Framework), the differences between protected areas and OECMs, and how to report to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA).

Its sections are 1. Introduction; 2. Definition and characteristics; 3. Identifying OECMs in practice (see the site-level identification tool below for more recent information); 4. Monitoring and reporting OECMs.

Key Take Aways

  1. While protected areas must have a primary conservation objective, this is not necessary for OECMs. OECMs may be managed for many different objectives but they must deliver effective conservation. They may be managed with conservation as a primary or secondary objective or long-term conservation may simply be the ancillary result of management activities.
  2. Recognition of OECMs offers a significant opportunity to recognise de facto effective long-term conservation that is taking place outside currently designated protected areas under a range of governance and management regimes, implemented by a diverse set of actors, including by indigenous peoples and local communities, the private sector and government agencies.
  3. Recognition as an OECM may also provide additional incentives for conservation and sustainable management of areas of biodiversity significance outside protected areas, such as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), Important Plant Areas (IPAs), Important Bird Areas (IBAs), Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs), and Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs), noting that such areas must meet the definition of an OECM to be included.

Available in Chinese, English, French, Korean and Spanish.


Site-level tool for identifying other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs): first edition:

Published in 2023, this tool guides an assessor through three steps to apply eight criteria which determine if a site qualifies as an OECM as set out under the Convention on Biological Diversity. For sites which do not currently meet all the criteria, the tool serves to highlight areas where further information or improvements in governance and management are required.

Examples given for reasons for identifying a site as an OECM include:
to recognise the site’s importance for biodiversity conservation, to recognise the conservation efforts of the governing authority (including indigenous territories), to involve stakeholders in protection and management, to leverage access to additional support for conservation, where it is available, and to fulfil national and international commitments, including under the CBD.

The tool has three steps: 1. Screening to determine if a site is a potential OECM; 2. Consent to proceed with the site considered a candidate OECM; and 3. Full assessment. The assessment uses 8 criteria, requiring responses of yes, no or uncertain/partially (abridged here): 1. The site is not a protected area; 2. Likely supports important biodiversity values; 3. Is a geographically defined area; 4. Confirmed to support important biodiversity values; 5. Mechanisms exist to govern and manage; 6. Achieve or expected to achieve in situ conservation; 7. That in situ conservation is expected to be for the long term; and 8. Governance and management arrangements address equity considerations.

Note that this new tool supersedes a section in the older technical report described above, section 3 on Identifying other effective area-based conservation measures in practice.

Key Take Aways

  • Identification and reporting of an OECM is voluntary, and should be done by, or with the consent of, the governing authority, any Indigenous peoples and local communities whose self-identified territory overlaps with the site, and, where relevant, other rights- holders and stakeholders.
  • The assessment of a site as an OECM may be carried out by the site’s governing authority (which may be government, Indigenous peoples and local communities, private entities, or a combination of these groups) or by another rights-holder or stakeholder with the governing authority’s consent.
  • Sites that qualify as OECMs should be reported to UNEP-WCMC for inclusion in the World Database on OECMs (WD-OECM). OECMs reported by government are automatically added to the database, while reports from other entities are verified before being added.

Translations into French, Indonesian, Portuguese, Spanish, forthcoming.