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Phulchowki KBA, Nepal © Jack Tordoff

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA)

Globally significant sites for biodiversity conservation identified using universal standards

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Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are nationally identified sites of global significance. The identification of KBAs is an important approach to address biodiversity conservation at the site scale i.e. at the level of individual protected areas, concessions and land management units. There is no maximum or minimum size of sites, because appropriate size varies according to the socio-economic criteria, such as land use and tenure.

KBAs comprise an ‘umbrella’ which includes globally important sites for different taxa and realms:

A KBA can exist as a protected area or can lie wholly outside of protected areas. KBAs are mapped by national conservation organizations using consistent global criteria and present an important approach to national gap analyses and prioritisation to increase effectiveness and establishment of protected areas as mandated by the Convention on Biological Diversity.1 They are also of particular importance to the private sector, in providing ‘watch lists’ of sites at which development activities require a particularly high level of scrutiny to avoid negative impacts on biodiversity.


Supported by

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), BirdLife International, Plantlife International, Conservation International, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and over 100 national/regional civil society and governmental conservation agencies.


Year of creation



Global in extent, with over 20,000 sites worldwide.1

So far, KBAs have been identified in over 200 countries with more than two thirds being in the developing countries.1 The identification and delineation of KBAs is an ongoing process, although terrestrial KBA identification is expected to plateau at around 20,000 sites worldwide. Currently, the IUCN Species Survival Commission and World Commission on Protected Areas are convening a taskforce, one of the objectives of which is to consolidate scientific stakeholder consensus on criteria and thresholds for KBA identification.



KBAs are identified at the national, sub-national or regional level by local stakeholders using the two globally standard criteria of vulnerability and irreplaceability. These are accompanied by globally standardized sub-criteria and thresholds:1

  • Vulnerability: This criterion is triggered when there is a regular occurrence of significant (exceeding a threshold) population of a globally threatened species (according to the IUCN Red List) at the site. Currently proposed thresholds comprise presence of a single individual of a Critically Endangered or Endangered species, or 30 individuals of a Vulnerable species.
  • Irreplaceability: This criterion refers to a site that holds a significant proportion of a species’ global population at any stage of the species’ lifecycle. This includes:
    a) Restricted-range species – with thresholds currently proposed as 5% of global population of species with a global range less than 50,000 km2 at site.
    b) Species with large but clumped distributions – with thresholds currently proposed as 5% of global population at site.
    c) Globally significant congregations – with thresholds currently proposed as 1% of global population seasonally at the site.
    d) Globally significant source populations – with currently proposed threshold such that the site is responsible for maintaining 1% of global population.
    e) Bioregionally restricted assemblages – with thresholds to be determined.
    Important Plant Areas (IPAs) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs), as subsets of KBAs, have similar criteria to those above, although the thresholds for triggering their status have not yet been fully aligned. Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites, the highest priority subset of KBAs, share a similar criterion based on extreme vulnerability and irreplaceability. The first three criteria of High Conservation Value Areas (HCVAs) also align to those for KBAs.

KBA identification is focused on land, in freshwater, and in marine environments under national jurisdiction; beyond the EEZ, the identification of EBSAs is proposed to utilize equivalent criteria to those for KBAs plus several in addition. See separate factsheets for further information about IPAs, IBAs, AZE sites, HCVAs and EBSAs.



The KBAs have been, and are being, identified, protected and monitored by national or regional-level stakeholders, often with the support of international conservation organisations including IUCN, Plantlife International, and BirdLife International. They are also used to help set national priorities within the global context. The approach is also used to prioritise both national investment and for channelling resources for international support for globally important sites for biodiversity conservation. Some KBAs, being existing protected areas (or part of) are formally recognised although they vary in the degree of legal protection, ownership and management.2 KBAs outside the protected area network vary widely in management regime.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – Identification of an area as a KBA does not necessarily lead to legal protection or recognition by national government. However, approximately over 63% of the KBAs sites identified so far, are located within existing protected areas and hence are legally protected. The identification of KBA can also lead to the designation of additional protected areas. The criteria for KBA identification is being used by several international financial institutions to objectively assess the environmental impacts of projects funded by them. They are, for example, aligned with the environmental safeguards standards of institutions like the World Bank’s Operational Policy 4.043, and the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standard 64, and others. These institutions have used one or more criteria of KBA identification in defining important natural and critical habitats within which no adverse impacts are accepted. The KBAs also feature prominently in the standards of certification schemes like the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB)5 and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)6, as well as the Climate and Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA)7 standard as areas where measurable biodiversity benefits can be delivered.

Biodiversity – KBAs are important sites for biodiversity conservation priority setting and are based exclusively on the important criteria or high irreplaceability and/or high vulnerability. These areas are identified at the site-scale based on existing protected areas, concessions and management units, and are therefore of high relevance for business in terms of mitigating and avoiding risk from biodiversity loss and identifying opportunity associated with biodiversity conservation.

Socio-cultural values – The identification criteria for KBAs do not explicitly refer to recognition of socio-cultural values. As these areas can be under a range of management regimes, local and indigenous communities may be involved in use, protection and management of these areas. For example, those identified under the subset of IBAs may be accompanied with efforts to engage local communities in conservation efforts, and those that fall within nationally protected areas may be managed, entirely or in part, by local stakeholders and community groups.



  • The Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) for business provides a visualisation and GIS download tool for protected areas and prioritisation approaches, including Key Biodiversity Areas.


  1. Langhammer, P. F., Bakarr, M.I., Bennun, L.A., Brooks, T.M., Clay,R.P., Darwall, W., De Silva,N., Edgar, G.J., Eken,G., Fishpool, L.D.C., da Fonseca, G.A.B., Foster, M.N., Knox, D.H., Matiku,P., Radford, E.A., Rodrigues, A.S.L., Salaman, P., Sechrest, W. and Tordoff, A.W. (2007) Identification and Gap Analysis of Key Biodiversity Areas: Targets for Comprehensive Protected Area Systems.IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas: Best Practice Protected Areas Guidelines Series No. 15. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  2. Eken, G., Bennun, L., Brooks, T.M., Darwall, W., Fishpool, L.D.C., Foster, M., Knox, D., Langhammer, P., Matiku, P., Radford, E., Salaman, P., Sechrest, W., Smith, M.L., Spector, S., Tordoff, A. (2004) Key Biodiversity Areas as Site Conservation Targets. BioScience 54(12):1110-1118.
  3. World Bank (2001) Operational Policy 4.04: Natural Habitats. World Bank, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  4. IFC (2012) Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Natural Resource Management. International Finance Corporation, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  5. RSB. (2009) Annex to the Guidelines for Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, Stakeholder Mapping and Community Consultation Specific to the Biofuels Sector- Ecosystem and Conservation Specialist. Version 1.0. Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Lausanne, Switzerland.
  6. RJC. (2009)Responsible Jewellery Council Standards Guidance. The Responsible Jewellery Council. London, U.K.
  7. CCBA. (2008) Climate, Community & Biodiversity Project Design Standards Second Edition. The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, Arlington, VA, U.S.A.


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