Protected Areas Worldwide Remain Unprotected From Fossil Fuel Expansion

Protected Areas Worldwide Remain Unprotected From Fossil Fuel Expansion

December 3, 2023 - New research maps fossil fuel threats to vital strongholds for biodiversity with huge climate implications.

  • Protected areas remain one of the best tools currently available for protecting biodiversity, storing natural carbon, and providing human communities in surrounding landscapes with innumerable ecosystem services.
  • It would seem obvious that protected areas are, in fact, protected. However, a new report published by research group Earth Insight, the Leave it in the Ground Initiative (LINGO), and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) shows that fossil fuel expansion continues to threaten a large number of protected areas and their surrounding landscapes.
  • The report zooms in on current fossil fuel infrastructure around the world, as well as future threats to vital protected areas in the mega-biodiverse pantropics, and is centered on the question: If we can’t safeguard protected areas from fossil fuels, how will we ever stop expansion in the rest of the world?

Dubai, UAE, December 3, 2023–A new study released at COP28 in Dubai, spotlights fossil fuel expansion threats to protected areas around the globe and calls for a global moratorium on all fossil fuel development and expansion — as well as a phase-down of current fossil fuel infrastructure — in the world’s protected areas.


  • Globally, at least 918 protected areas have ongoing or planned fossil fuel extraction projects within their boundaries, with a total of 2337 active or proposed oil, gas, and coal extraction ventures within legally protected areas.
  • At least 50.8 Gt of potential CO2 emissions from oil, gas, and coal reserves are on track to be extracted from projects within protected areas over their lifetimes, according to industry projections. This is more than three times the annual emissions from the US and China combined
  • In the three largest pantropical forest basins, 300,000 km2 or 14% of the area of PAs overlap with oil and gas blocks.


The report comes at a critical moment of increased political and international policy momentum for a complete phase-out of fossil fuel production worldwide. An immediate end to fossil fuel extraction in protected areas is necessary to safeguard some of the most important remaining high integrity, biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. This call is in line with the 2016 resolution at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, “to prohibit environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development in all IUCN categories of protected area”,” and further builds on a 2003 decision by the International Council on Mining and Metals that World Heritage sites would be “no-go” areas for its members. As demonstrated in this report, PAs are not only critically important for biodiversity conservation, but also store significant amounts of carbon beneath the surface, and it is essential that these ecosystem carbon stores remain secured.

The climate and biodiversity opportunity in effectively protecting protected areas is enormous. Based on fossil fuel reserves that we currently have the means to extract, there are at least 252.9 Gt of potential CO2 emissions currently held underground in PAs worldwide. There are 1,075 oil, gas, and coal assets are in PAs that are also identified as Key Biodiversity Areas. If all countries committed to not exploiting the fossil fuel deposits held within their protected areas, it would be equivalent to keeping 7 years of annual global CO2 emissions in the ground.

Case studies show threats to some of the world’s most important areas for biodiversity

The report features a number of case study areas, including Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon, where oil expansion is widely opposed by Indigenous peoples who live within the park boundaries and are already facing pollution from seismic testing.

Virunga National Park in the DRC and Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda are also among others highlighted — with active drill pads under construction today and imminently threatening  the waters of  Lake Albert and the Upper Nile river.

In Southeast Asia, Cambodia is striking as nearly 72% of the domain under protected areas overlaps with oil and gas blocks. Malaysia’s marine protected area Tun Mustapha is featured for having 100% overlap with oil and gas blocks.

Explore maps from the report here.


Tyson Miller, Executive Director of Earth Insight says: “Failing to safeguard protected areas from fossil fuels is symptomatic of a system gone awry, but also represents a huge opportunity for countries around the world to make commitments that address the biodiversity and climate crises we face.”

Kjell Kühne, Director of the Leave it in the Ground Initiative (LINGO) says: “It would be tragic if we devastated more of our incredible natural heritage for additional bits of dirty energy in the very last years of the fossil age. As the world is getting ready to end fossil fuel extraction, our message on projects in protected areas is simple: start here.“

Madhu Rao, Chair of the IUCN WCPA says: “Nature is in crisis and protected areas remain a critically important tool for the  recovery of nature.  It is imperative that we take every measure we can to maintain the ecological integrity of these areas. Keeping them off limits to fossil fuel extraction is fundamentally important in our journey toward a time-bound phase out of all fossil fuels.”

Fanny Kuiru Castro, General Coordinator of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) says: “The Amazon is in the midst of a tipping point crisis and is in serious danger of losing the ecosystem's ability to sustain itself. We urgently call to keep out of the Amazon the threats of fossil fuels and other industrial developments that are threatening and causing the destruction of critical ecosystems and the lands of indigenous peoples, including in protected areas. It is urgently necessary to strengthen indigenous rights, and provide legal security for indigenous territories as a condition for the safeguarding of their rights and the protection of the Amazon.”

Timer Manurung, Executive Director of Auriga Nusantara says: "Our highly biodiverse rainforests and rivers of Borneo- Mekong Southeast Asia basin are threatened by fossil fuel expansion and other industrial threats. Furthermore, protected areas –that meant to be legally protected– in the ASEAN region, that are already under severe pressures from overexploitation and habitat fragmentation, are additionally threatened by fossil fuels and mining, including nickel for so-called "energy transition". This is simply wrong and must stop, we need to ensure the protection of our remaining natural forests and coasts, and of the local communities."

Blaise Mudodosi, Coordinator of Actions pour la Promotion et Protection des Peuples et Espèces Menacés (APEM) says:  “Virunga and Salonga national parks must be spared from oil exploitation because these UNESCO world heritage sites have a big role to play in local and global climate balance. The ecosystem services of protected areas are important for the main activities of local communities and populations. With the exploitation of oil, these areas will become unproductive with serious consequences for human health. The DRC has significant potential for renewable energy and other natural resources capable of being transformed into wealth.”

Interview opportunities

  • Bart Wickel, Research Director at Earth Insight
  • Tyson Miller, Executive Director at Earth Insight
  • Kjell Kühne, Director of the Leave it in the Ground Initiative (LINGO)
  • Madhu Rao, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas

Additional Resources

Press and media contact

Lynsey Grosfield, Head of Communications, Earth Insight

+1 514 430-5203,

On site contacts:

About Earth Insight

Earth Insight is a research and capacity building initiative that is a sponsored project of the Resources Legacy Fund, based in Sacramento, California. Staff and partners span the globe and represent a unique grouping of individuals and organizations with diverse backgrounds in mapping and spatial analysis, communications, and policy. Earth Insight is committed to advancing new tools, awareness, and momentum for protecting critical places and supporting civil society and indigenous and local communities in this effort.


LINGO’s mission is to contribute to ending the fossil fuel age as quickly as possible. Our strategy is to reframe complex global issues to make them actionable and strategic information to movements to act on critical issues.


IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) is the world’s premier network of protected and conserved areas expertise. The Commission has over 2,800 members spanning 140 countries who provide strategic advice to policymakers and work to strengthen capacity and investment for protected areas establishment and management.

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