Protected Areas, Energy, Climate Change


Key Researchers:

Dr. S. Becken

Dr. S. Espiner

Dr. J. Wilson


in partnership with Wuerzburg University, Germany:

Prof. H. Job

Dr. H. Paeth

Mrs A. Lama (Humboldt Fellow)



Protected areas (PA) are “clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”(IUCN). PAs fulfill many functions beyond nature conservation and ecosystem services (e.g. acting as a water filter, soil protection etc.). Most notably, many protected areas provide substantial economic income and benefits for local communities, largely as a result of tourism development. In some countries, the management of PAs explicitly includes the provision of recreational services (including tourism). 

However, there is increasing pressure on protected areas. First, tourism itself – while bringing economic opportunities, threatens to destroy the environment that tourists come to visit. The literature on environmental impacts from tourism, and how to manage them is vast. Ecotourism as a particular form of tourism has received much attention and there are many case studies world wide that highlight both positive and negative examples of ecotourism ventures. Second, the increasing scarcity of conventional oil (often summarized as “Peak Oil”) is putting pressure on natural areas in that there is an increasing need to explore alternative energy sources, such as coal, hydro, wind, biofuel – some of which could be harnessed in currently protected natural areas. The recent discussion on mining in National Parks in New Zealand highlights this increasing pressure. Also, increasing energy costs will lead to higher operational costs for managing PAs, thus potentially compromising their effectiveness. Third, climate change has been identified as a key risk factor for protected areas. Changing temperatures and hydrological regimes in addition to a potential increase in extreme events is likely to affect the local ecosystems and biodiversity. Natural hazards may also increase in some areas as a result of climate change. At the same time, the role of natural areas as potential carbon sinks and providers of vital services makes their existence even more relevant in the face of climate change.

 The three pressure factors, Tourism – Peak Oil – Climate Change, interact with each other. For example, higher oil prices will increase transportation costs, and as a result reshape global and local tourism flows. Visitation patterns to PAs are likely to change as a consequence. Climate change policies, such as carbon taxes, would add to such effects. Also, the impacts of climate change, such as melting glaciers, increased precipitation, or changes in vegetation are also likely to change landscape values and the attractiveness of some destinations. Tourism in itself, of course is a contributor to both the depletion of oil and to greenhouse gas emissions and therefore anthropogenic climate change.

More specifically this research has the following objectives:
1. Critically analyse the multiple roles that protected areas play, identify potentially conflicting goals and examine how these conflicts are managed under present conditions.
2. Understand how PAs have coped with substantial changes in the past (by using illustrative cases).
3. Understand how climate change will impact on protected areas and identify potential opportunities for nature conservation, community development and tourism.
4. Understand how peak oil will impact on protected areas and identify measures for reducing negative impacts.
5. Analyse how future tourism flows and behaviours (as forecast by a range of analysts) would change under peak oil and climate change scenarios and assess the impacts this would have on PAs.
6. Integrate the above analyses to better understand threats and opportunities, and management requirements, for PAs.


For more information on Tourism projects, please refer to the Tourism Research Theme.

Page last updated on: 30/05/2011