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IUCN Red List

The IUCN Red List brings into focus the ongoing decline of Earth’s biodiversity and the influence humans have on life on the planet. It provides a globally accepted standard with which to measure the conservation status of species over time.  

By 2019, 96,500 species had been assessed by using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria. Of these, more than 26,500 species of plants, animals, and others fall into the threatened categories (CR, EN, and VU). The IUCN Red List shows us where and what actions need to be taken to save the building blocks of nature from extinction. It provides a straightforward way to factor biodiversity needs into decision-making processes by providing a wealth of useful information on species. 

Click here for UPSC notes related to IUCN Red List from the Best IAS Institute in Bangalore 

Recent updates:  

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) updated the red list of the threatened species.  
  • An additional 31 species are extinct in the wild including species of fishes, sharks, and frogs. There are now 112,432 species on the IUCN Red List and nearly 1/3rd (30,178) of species are threatened with extinction. 
  • Findings related to Indian species:  
  • No confirmed sightings of the Jerdon’s Courser (CR) since 2009: Jerdon’s Courser is a nocturnal bird known only from the Eastern Ghats (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) and is found on the fringes of Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary. It inhabits open patches within scrub-forest. This habitat is under tremendous pressure due to various anthropogenic activities.  
  • Himalayan Quail (CR) was last spotted in 2010 however, it may still be extant, with an estimated year of extinction of 2023: The Himalayan quail is a medium-sized bird belonging to the pheasant family, with distinctive red or yellow bill and legs, and prominent white spots around the eyes. It is native to India, found only in the mountains of Uttarakhand in north-west Himalayas.  
  • All five freshwater dolphin species – Ganga, Amazon, Indus, Irrawaddy and Tucuxi – are threatened with extinction. 

About IUCN: 

Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species. The IUCN Red List is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity.  It provides information about range, population size, habitat and ecology, use and/or trade, threats, and conservation actions that will help inform necessary conservation decisions. The IUCN Red List is used by government agencies, wildlife departments, conservation-related non-governmental organisations (NGOs), natural resource planners, educational organisations, students, and the business community.  

The main objectives are: 

1. Identification and documentation of endangered species. 

2. Providing a global index of the decline of biodiversity. 

3. Developing awareness about the importance of threatened biodiversity. 

4. Defining conservation priorities at the local level and guiding conservation action. 

Every four years, IUCN convenes the IUCN World Conservation Congress to set the global conservation agenda. 

IUCN Red List: 

The IUCN system uses a set of five quantitative criteria to assess the extinction risk of a given species. In general, these criteria consider: 

1. The rate of population decline. 

2. The geographic range. 

3. Whether the species already possesses a small population size. 

4. Whether the species is very small or lives in a restricted area. 

5. Whether the results of a quantitative analysis indicate a high probability of extinction in the wild. 

Red List divides species into nine categories:  

  • Not Evaluated (NE) 
  • Data Deficient (DD) 
  • Least Concern (LC) 
  • Near Threatened (NT)  
  • Vulnerable (VU)  
  • Endangered (EN) 
  • Critically Endangered (CR)  
  • Extinct in the Wild (EW)  
  • Extinct (EX) 

Exceptions to classification: All else being equal, a species experiencing an 90 percent decline over 10 years (or three generations), for example, would be classified as critically endangered. Likewise, another species undergoing a 50 percent decline over the same period would be classified as endangered, and one experiencing a 30 percent reduction over the same time frame would be considered vulnerable. It is important to understand, however, that a species cannot be classified by using one criterion alone; it is essential for the scientist doing the assessment to consider all five criteria when determining the status of the species. 

Red List Updation: 

The Red List is updated a few times per year. To ensure a regular flow of assessments on to the website, The IUCN Red List is updated at least twice each year. IUCN often tries to time IUCN Red List updates to coincide with major events in the conservation calendar (e.g., CBD CoP meetings, CITES meetings, the IUCN World Conservation Congress, etc.) to maximize its power to inform international conservation efforts. In years when there are many such events scheduled, The IUCN Red List may be updated more than twice. 

Extinct (EX) The last individual has died or where systematic and time-appropriate surveys have been unable to log even a single individual. 
Extinct in Wild (EW) Species whose members survive only in captivity or as artificially supported populations far outside their historical geographic range. 
Critically Endangered (CR) Species that possess an extremely high risk of extinction as a result of rapid population declines of 80 to more than 90 percent over the previous 10 years (or three generations), a current population size of fewer than 50 individuals, or other factors. 
Endangered (EN) Species that possess a very high risk of extinction as a result of rapid population declines of 50 to more than 70 percent over the previous 10 years (or three generations), a current population size of fewer than 250 individuals, or other factors. 
Vulnerable (VU) Species that possess a very high risk of extinction as a result of rapid population declines of 30 to more than 50 percent over the previous 10 years (or three generations), a current population size of fewer than 1,000 individuals, or other factors. 
Near Threatened (NT) Species that are close to becoming threatened or may meet the criteria for threatened status in the near future. 
Least Concern (LC) Species that are pervasive and abundant after careful assessment. 
Data Deficient (DD) Species in which the amount of available data related to its risk of extinction is lacking in some way. Consequently, a complete assessment cannot be performed. Thus, unlike the other categories in this list, this category does not describe the conservation status of a species. 
Not Evaluated (NE) A category used to include any of the nearly 1.9 million species described by science but not assessed by the IUCN. 

Taxas included on The IUCN Red List: 

Animals, plant and fungi species, subspecies, varieties (plants only) and subpopulations can be assessed on the Red List. However, an assessment of the animal, plant or fungi at the species level is required before subspecies, varieties and subpopulations can be assessed. The listing of undescribed species is discouraged, but can be included in exceptional circumstances where there is a clear conservation benefit. Hybrids of species, domesticated taxa and micro-organisms are not included on the Red List. 

National Red List: 

Many countries develop their own national Red Lists to help them monitor the status of biodiversity within their borders and to help them to develop appropriate conservation policies and actions. Each country is responsible for managing and publishing their own national Red List data. The primary aim of The IUCN Red List is to provide global extinction risk assessments for species. 

To date, many species groups including mammals, amphibians, birds, reef building corals and conifers have been comprehensively assessed. For example, good news such as the downlisting (i.e. improvement) of a number of species on the IUCN Red List categories scale, due to conservation efforts. The bad news, however, is that biodiversity is declining. Currently, there are more than 134,400 species on The IUCN Red List, with more than 37,400 species threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 26% of mammals and 14% of birds. Far more than a list of species and their status, it is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. 

The Red list uses: 

Helping Global Conventions and Agreements: 

  • The IUCN Red List is used to inform decisions taken by Multilateral Environmental Agreements. It is often used as a guide to revise the annexes of some important international agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). 
  • Data from The IUCN Red List are used to calculate the Red List Index (RLI), which is one of the biodiversity indicators used by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to monitor progress towards achieving the targets set out in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. 
  • The IUCN Red List also provides data for the indicators needed to measure progress towards the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 15. 
  • The IUCN Red List assessments of freshwater species have also contributed to the work of the Ramsar Convention in selecting sites that are important for freshwater biodiversity. 

Influencing resource allocation: 

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has included information from The IUCN Red List in its resource allocation framework since 2008. Other foundations and funding instruments, such as the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF); SOS – Save Our Species; and Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, also use data from assessments on The IUCN Red List to guide their investments in conservation. 

Informing conservation planning 

Several conservation planning methodologies use The IUCN Red List to identify Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) for conservation including: Important Bird Areas; Important Plant Areas; and Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites. For example, one of the criteria that AZE sites must meet is that they contain at least one Endangered or Critically Endangered species, as listed on The IUCN Red List. 

Improving decision-making 

The IUCN Red List can help inform environmental impact assessments, which are often used to inform decision-makers of the potential environmental consequences of implementing proposed projects. For example, data from The IUCN Red List are included in the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT), an innovative decision support tool available to both the business and conservation sectors. The wealth of information on habitats and threats to species is also used in biodiversity management and site rehabilitation planning processes. Combining conservation planning analyses with information on threats from The IUCN Red List has also lead to partnerships with industry to explore opportunities to reduce the negative impact on biodiversity and promote more sustainable production.  

Human Health and Livelihood: 

Information on The IUCN Red List contributes to human health and livelihoods. Red List data are often used by researchers in the health sector investigating the distributions of species that are known or suspected vectors of human and domestic-animal diseases. This helps them to develop models on predicted future occurrences of the diseases and work towards effective solutions. 

Many species assessed for the Red List are also key species for human health and livelihoods. For example, assessment projects that focus on medicinal plants and crop wild relatives help to highlight those species that have the potential to develop new medicines and to secure the future of agricultural crops in a changing climate. Highlighting the status of such species and working towards securing their future also helps to secure the future of humans as whole. 

Increased assessments will help to build The IUCN Red List into a more complete ‘Barometer of Life’. The IUCN Red List measures the pressures acting on the species, which guides and informs conservation actions to help prevent extinctions. This is why The IUCN Red List is often referred to as a Barometer of Life. To do this, the number of species assessed needs to be at least 160,000. This will improve the global taxonomic coverage and thus provide a stronger base to enable better conservation and policy decisions. The IUCN Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species needing targeted recovery efforts, but also for focusing the conservation agenda by identifying the key sites and habitats that need to be protected. Ultimately, The IUCN Red List helps to guide and inform future conservation and funding priorities. 

November 2023