Despite the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defining 20 targets across 5 strategic goals, Target 11, which relates to protected areas, has received the most emphasis from donors, non-government organisations, and governments, as a performance standard for conservation in Melanesia. Protected area targets, however, may not be culturally or technically appropriate for Melanesian countries, such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), where resource extraction is central to development. In PNG, most protected areas are ineffective and generally lack government support. Despite this, donors continue to link conservation funding to protected areas and CBD coverage targets. We argue that pressure to establish protected areas and report against numerous multilateral environmental agreements not only fails to deliver conservation benefits, but also wastes scarce resources and retards the development of sustainable conservation approaches in Melanesia. Rather than aspiring to arbitrary spatial targets as set by the CBD, Melanesian governments need to develop appropriate conservation strategies which have incremental approaches that build capacity, improve data quality, and mainstream biodiversity priorities. Low governance capacity remains a major barrier to Melanesian conservation, so greater funding needs to be directed to administrative effectiveness because without a government-driven conservation agenda, biodiversity protection-and protected areas-will inevitably fail.