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Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA)

A globally applicable governance type for areas and territories under customary management


ICCAs are defined by the IUCN as “ natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values, ecological services and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, through customary laws or other effective means ”.1

There are two main subsets: (1) indigenous conserved territories and areas established and run by indigenous peoples and (2) community conserved areas, established and run by local communities. The subsets, which may not be neatly separated, apply to both sedentary and mobile peoples and communities, and comprise both ancient and relatively new practices. Importantly, while ICCAs are managed under a wide range of objectives, their conservation results identify many of them as de facto protected areas according to one or more IUCN management categories2 (see ‘IUCN Protected area categories’ for further information).

The history of conservation of biodiversity, for a variety of purposes, by indigenous peoples and local communities dates back millennia. Although, their history in many areas is much older than for government-managed protected areas, the Fifth World Parks Congress in 2003 recommended national and international recognition of ICCAs as an urgent necessity.3


Supported by

Convention on Biological Diversity e.g., Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA)4; Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3)5; International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and associated Commissions (e.g., World Commission on Protected Areas, Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, Environmental Law Commission, Species Survival Commission); many national governments (under evolving legislation, not necessarily conservation-related).


Year of creation


The global coverage of ICCAs has been estimated to about 12% of terrestrial surface. Globally, 400-800 million hectares forest are owned/administered by communities.3



Three features can be taken as defining characteristics of ICCAs:3

  • A well defined people or community possess a close and profound relation with an equally well defined site (territory, area, habitat) and/or species – a relation embedded in local culture, sense of identity and/or dependence for livelihood and well being;
  • The people or community is the major player in decision-making and implementation regarding the management of the site and/or species, implying that a local institution has – de facto and/or de jure – the capacity to develop and enforce management decisions. Other stakeholders may collaborate as partners, especially when the land is owned by the state, but local institutions predominantly make management decisions and efforts.
  • The people’s or community’s management decisions and efforts lead to the conservation of habitats, species, genetic diversity, ecological functions and benefits, and associated cultural values. This is true regardless of the stated objective of management, which may not be conservation alone or per se (e.g., objectives may be livelihood, security, religious piety, safeguarding cultural and spiritual places, etc.).


The local institutions managing ICCAs throughout the world are characterised by a remarkable diversity. Large and small, ancient or relatively recently-established, powerful in means or simply in the respect they command from people, such institutions may or may not possess a specific legal title or sanctioning power over the land, water or natural resources at stake. Most often, however, they possess customary rights, and invariably local legitimacy and recognition. Some governments have integrated ICCAs into their official Protected Area Systems, following recommendations from the Vth World Parks Congress in 2003 and the Programme of Work on Protected Areas of the CBD.3 In such cases, the customary governance institutions can enjoy full recognition and take on the responsibility of achieving protected area objectives on behalf of the state.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – Legal recognition of ICCAs depends on the context of national and local (e.g. municipal) laws. Most indigenous peoples and local communities, however, possess some legal or customary rights to land and natural resources. These must be considered on a case by case basis, with care, transparency and due respect for cultural differences. There is increasing international attention on the protection of the areas of importance for local communities and indigenous peoples as evident from a number of environmental and social safeguard standards in which they have been incorporated. These include those of multilateral financial institutions including the World Bank6, 7, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development8 and the Inter-American Development Bank9. Such standards often require avoidance of adverse impacts on indigenous peoples as well as no significant conversion or degradation of areas under customary management by local communities and indigenous peoples. In cases where projects are eligible for funding by these institutions, additional requirements often applies, including the need for free, prior, and informed consultation (FPIC) from the community affected by the project. The projects are also required to implement additional programs to enhance the conservation aims of the protected area and to ensure that the indigenous people receive social and economic benefits that are culturally appropriate and gender and inter-generationally inclusive7.

In addition, a number of sector specific safeguard standards refer to land under management of local communities and indigenous peoples, many of which are related to certification programs. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) requires that the projects in such areas ensure that the local communities with legal or customary tenure or use rights shall maintain control, to the extent necessary to protect their rights or resources10. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil stipulates that no new plantings are to be established on local peoples’ lands without FPIC11 and the Marine Stewardship Council recommends observing the legal and customary rights and long term interests of people dependent on fishing for food and livelihood, in a manner consistent with ecological sustainability12.

Biodiversity – Although the specific biodiversity value of ICCAs is often unknown, many are likely to be of significant biodiversity value as a result of the long-term protection that this type of management has afforded them. As data is collected and compiled, information on the biodiversity components present is becoming more accessible, both internationally and locally. As many communities manage ICCAs to conserve culturally important or livelihood-related species or habitats, the biodiversity present at these sites can be expected to be of high local and national value.

Socio-economic – As ICCAs are governed and managed by indigenous peoples or local communities for the common good, these areas are often of very high importance for local livelihoods, cultural diversity and social well-being. Recognition of the value of these areas is also important for the protection of the rights of self-determination-the rights of people to determine their own economic, social and cultural development-as well as the preservation of traditional ecological knowledge held by the local communities and indigenous peoples.



  • Protected Planet is a tool for visualizing, mapping and contributing to information on protected areas. This includes information on the IUCN category where known. Protected Planet brings together spatial data, descriptive information and images from the World Database on Protected Areas, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), WikipediaTM, PanaramioTM, FlickrTM, and Google MapsTM.
  • ICCA Registry is an online resource documenting information about ICCAs in order to enhance understanding of their conservation and cultural values. It is a voluntary registry for Indigenous peoples and communities to raise awareness of ICCAs and provide appropriate recognition of their conservation values.


  1. IUCN’s web site page on Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas
  2. Dudley, N. (Editor) (2008). Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. x + 86pp
  3. Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA) Consortium/ Forum
  4. Convention on Biological Diversity [Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA)]
  5. Global Biodiversity Outlook 3
  6. World Bank (2005) Operational Policy 4.10: Indigenous Peoples. World Bank, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  7. EBRD (2008) Environmental and Social Policy. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London, U.K.
  8. IDB (2006) Environment and Safeguards Compliance Policy. Inter-American Development Bank , Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  9. FSC (2002) FSC Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship version 4. Forest Stewardship Council, Powys, Wales.
  10. RSPO. (2007) RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil, Selangor, Malaysia.
  11. MSC (2002) Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing. Marine Stewardship Council, London, U.K.
  12. UNEP-WCMC. 2010. A Handbook for the Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas Registry. UNEP-WCMC. Cambridge, U.K.


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