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The Proteus Partnership: Making Biodiversity and Ecosystem Data Available to All


By: Garrette Clark, UNEP

While there have been significant advances in the development of policies to incorporate biodiversity issues in businesses’ operations, reliable and accessible data on the distribution of biodiversity and ecosystem services can be a hurdle to a company’s ability to implement and conform to such policies.

The development of biodiversity tools for use by the private sector is therefore of high importance to facilitate this transition from policy to performance. Key to this development is the role of cross-sectoral partnerships between the environmental and business sectors that have proved to be mutually beneficial in achieving sustainable, environmentally sound and lucrative business practices.

In 2003, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) initiated the Proteus Partnership between oil and gas, mining and technology companies with the goal of making biodiversity and ecosystem information available to support decision-making. In this respect, Proteus’ most significant achievements have been the compilation of global biodiversity data and the development of tools to aid accessibility by a range of sectors, including business. These tools include the World Database of Protected Areas and the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) created through a partnership with BirdLife International, Conservation International and IUCN. Proteus was also instrumental in the compilation of critical coastal and marine ecosystem datasets, which support the marine extension of the Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES); a new web-based tool for assessment, planning, and valuation of areas for ecosystem service provision.

The WDPA is the only global inventory of protected areas and currently holds information for 130,000 marine and terrestrial protected areas. Some core pieces of data include boundary location, designation, legal status and management objectives. The data are made available on the web through browsing maps, searching and downloading, and regular releases of the full dataset. In the last year there were 50,000 unique visitors to the website from 95 percent of the countries in the world, of which 7,000 had registered and downloaded the information up to 5,000 times. Out of these registered users, 700 are from the private sector.

Proteus’ support to the WDPA was a major technical and political project that allowed for inclusion of protected area datasets from both Governments and NGOs, introduced quality assurance, decentralized data management, gave more accurate boundary information, provided the scope and quality necessary for global gap analysis, gave better instruction in appropriate data uses and allowed online queries. It also created links to other data sources and facilitated the creation of the IBAT, which is set to become a standard tool for use in business processes.

The next generation WDPA, to be launched in May 2010, will provide an innovative way for users to manage and interact with global conservation datasets. Worldwide users will be able to create protected areas information, through data improvement, commenting and citizen science initiatives. This will allow more accurate information to reach decision-makers faster. The quality indicators of protected areas information will be automatically generated from objective measures and will be transparent to anyone using the information.

The current Proteus 2012 partners are: Anglo American, BP, BHPBilliton, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, ESRI, ExxonMobil, IHS, Microsoft, Oracle, PremierOil, Repsol YPF, RioTinto, Safe Software, Shell, StatoilHydro, Total and WellData.

For more information, please click here or contact Mônica Barcellos Harris, Head of Business, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre