New Paper: Impacts of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems on conservation policy and practice

Blog authors: Lucie Bland & Emily Nicholson

Citation:  Bland LM, Nicholson E, Miller RM, Andrade A, Carre A, Etter A, Ferrer-Paris JR, Herrera B, Kontula T, Lindgaard A, Pliscof P, Skowno A, Valderrabano M, Zager I & Keith DA (2019) Impacts of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems on Conservation Policy and Practice. Conservation Letters, https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12666

Efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity are focusing more and more on ecosystems – that is, the ecological communities that underpin the survival of species and people. International bodies and policies, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, now recognize the importance of conserving ecosystems.

Understanding how ecosystems are changing is critical to sustaining ecosystems. In 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, the world’s largest conservation organisation) adopted new global criteria to assess the risks to ecosystems – the Red List of Ecosystems. The Red List of Ecosystems evaluates the risk of ecosystem collapse by measuring ecosystem loss and degradation in terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Five years on, we used an impact evaluation framework to identify the impacts of the Red List of Ecosystems on conservation. This also enabled us to identify the real-world impacts of our research contributions to the Red List beyond academic knowledge.

Figure 1: Impact evaluation of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Ecosystems (IUCN RLE), adapted from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation impact framework (CSIRO 2018) (from Bland et. al. 2019)

Using the evaluation framework, we found that the Red List of Ecosystems has already had some great outcomes and impacts over the last five years. To date, 2,821 ecosystems have been assessed in 100 countries, across all continents. Countries that previously used their own methods to assess their ecosystem are now using the Red List of Ecosystems approach (e.g., South Africa and Finland). Other countries are developing their first Red Lists (e.g., Colombia and Chile) and reaping the conservation benefits.

Countries with ecosystem red lists are using them to inform legislation, land-use planning, protected area expansion, reporting, and ecosystem management. For example, in Australia, the assessment of the Coastal Upland Swamps as Endangered influenced legal protection and government recommendations for changes to the design of proposed mines. In many countries, the presence of threatened ecosystems acts as direct regulatory triggers for legal protection and changes to land-use planning.

Our review also revealed a variety of innovative ways that Red List assessments are used to protect ecosystems, often on a voluntary basis. The assessment of the Mountain Ash forest in Australia as Critically Endangered triggered the establishment of an industry task force to provide recommendations for timber production, job security, and biodiversity conservation. In Norway, the Red List of Ecosystems serves as an important input for timber certification schemes.

While the Red List of Ecosystems is already used for international reporting through national mechanisms, we anticipate that the Red List of Ecosystems will play a much more important role on the international scene in the coming years. Indicators summarising information from Red Lists will enable us to track the status of ecosystems through time and space, and this information can be key to reporting against the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

To maximize impact over the coming decades, the Red List of Ecosystems will need to increase its global coverage to form a ‘wall-to-wall’ map of threatened ecosystems on earth. This will be done through international collaborations and encouraging more countries to take up the Red List of Ecosystems. We also identified that the Red List of Ecosystems could build stronger policy links with initiatives focusing on sustainable development and human health, which all depend on healthy ecosystems. A second paper from the global Red List team shows the role of the Red list in a range of policies instruments.

Our review shows that the Red List of Ecosystems has already had tremendous impacts in the countries where it has been implemented. To fully harness the power of the Red List of Ecosystems over the coming decades, we will need to make sure more assessments are conducted, more collaborations are formed, and more ecosystems are protected.

Our open-access paper “Impacts of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems on conservation policy and practice” is available here.

Other media about this research.

Photo: Susanna Venn

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