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Australia falling behind in U.N. land protection target: WWF

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[November 13, 2014]  SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is falling to do its part to meet a U.N. target to expand protected areas, an environmental group said on Thursday, despite U.N. optimism about global progress so far.

The plan is to protect 17 percent of the world's land areas and 10 percent of its seas by 2020, but the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said Australia was short by 25 million hectares, or more than eight times the size of Belgium.

"We are a long way from target... Since the government doesn't have any budget for expansion of the protected areas, we are not going to reach that target," Martin Taylor, of WWF Australia, told Reuters.

"We have over a thousand threatened species and we still have 138 threatened species that don't have any of the habitat inside the protected areas - so it's not a good situation."

The United Nations said on Thursday the world was on track to meet the 2020 target.

The U.N. Environment Program said 1.6 million square km (617,760 sq miles) of new protected areas had been designated since 2012.

"Since 2010, the total additional global coverage equates to 6.1 million square km, an area approaching the size of Australia," it said.

But the report said there was a lack of progress in other areas, such as ensuring protected areas are "located in areas important for biodiversity" and ecosystem services are "effectively and equitably managed".

It did not mention the fate of elephants and rhinos killed for tusks and horns.

More than 20,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory in 2013, driven by demand in China and Thailand, and some local populations face an immediate threat of extinction, a U.N.-linked wildlife conservation agency said in June.

(Reporting by Pauline Askin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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