A list for the Optimist: The IUCN Green List of species

What is the goal of species conservation? Many would say that it is to prevent extinctions. However, while this is a necessary first step, conservationists have long recognised that it should not be the end goal. Once a species is stabilised, we can then turn our attention to the business of species recovery: trying to restore species as functional parts of the ecosystems from which humans have displaced them. However, to do this, there must be a rigorous and objective way to measure recovery.

In this paper published today, we present a framework for an IUCN Green List of Species, which will measure recovery and work in tandem with the assessment of extinction risk (IUCN Red List) to tell the story of a species. For example, a species that is in no danger of disappearing from the planet (Red List assessment) might nonetheless be absent from many parts of the world in which it was previously found, and so cannot be considered fully recovered (Green List assessment). The local loss of a species can have cascading effects on the rest of the ecosystem.

The Green List of Species also assesses the impact that conservation efforts have had, and could have in the future. For example, the charismatic saiga antelope (Saiga tartarica), found throughout Central Asia, is currently considered “Critically Endangered” on the Red List. However, our Green List assessment shows that in the absence of past conservation efforts, many more populations would be extinct or in worse shape today. We also show that with continued conservation, the saiga’s future prospects are bright—a low risk of extinction, reestablishment of populations where they are locally extinct, and some functional populations.

We hope that the Green List of Species will help incentivise more ambitious conservation goals—moving beyond triage at the edge of extinction.


Dr Molly Grace is a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow working to develop the IUCN Green List of Species to include a new set of metrics for assessing successful conservation.

This article was first published on the MPLS website here.