Project Overview

Global Wildlife Conservation’s mission is to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. At the species level, this means preventing extinctions, maintaining viable populations, and enabling the recovery of declining and depleted populations. Much conservation has, appropriately, focused on avoiding extinctions and reducing rates of declines, and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has proven an invaluable tool for assessing species risk and demonstrating conservation success when a species is down-listed based on a real change in status. If we envision a thriving Earth where species live in balance with their ecosystems, however, we don’t just want to avoid extinctions but we wish to strive for the recovery of species populations.

To inspire a conversation and empower a movement focused on the demonstrable recovery of species populations, it is important that we develop a global standard on how to quantify conservation success in order to incentivize the conservation community to increase our ambitions.

The concept of a Green List of Species* came from a desire to do just that: to incentivize conservation action for species. Having a global standard for quantifying species conservation success will help communicate, quantify and incentivize conservation efforts. For example:

  • Vast amounts of resources can be spent preventing a species going extinct but its Red List status may not change from Critically Endangered. How can we quantify the impact of such work, without which the species would have gone extinct?
  • We often talk about a species being conservation dependent but there is currently no way to quantify what would happen if existing protections (funding for conservation actions, legal protection, safeguards, etc.) would be removed—which unfortunately happens all the time.
  • Successful conservation of a species is not just about avoiding extinction; we want species to move toward ‘fully recovered,’ which means healthy populations across its former range interacting with its ecosystem how it should be. Of course not all species can recover to their former range and populations but we should be trying to recover and not just ‘save’ species where possible, which means being able to clearly state what is possible in terms of progress toward a ‘fully conserved’ state.

(Top image: A ranger on Anchor Islands uses telemetry as part of the Kākāpō Recovery Program. Photo by Laura Patience. Jamaican Iguana image by Robin Moore.)

The Framework

Conservation action: GWC partners at Aussie Ark are actively recovering the Tasmanian Devil and other Australian species. (Photo courtesy of Aussie Ark)


GWC’s director of species conservation co-chairs an IUCN Task Force developing the Green List of Species. This seeks to present a framework for quantifying measures of species recovery and conservation success in a globally standard way so that we can incentivize conservation action for species.

It starts with proposing a system that a “fully recovered” species is defined based on three dimensions of recovery:

  • Has the attributes necessary for long-term persistence (e.g. large, stable, healthy, genetically robust, with replicated populations) and therefore a very low risk of extinction.
  • Exhibits the full range of its ecological interactions, functions, and other roles in the ecosystem.
  • Is present, viable, and ecologically functional in a representative set of ecosystems and communities throughout its indigenous range.

In order to tell the whole story of the conservation status, conservation impacts, and potential of conservation on a species, the proposed framework of the IUCN Green List of Species proposes four additional concepts to complement the IUCN Red List status:

  • The conservation legacy of the species, i.e., the impacts of past conservation.
  • The conservation dependence of the species, i.e., what would happen if all current conservation action ceased.
  • The conservation gain, i.e. the closer a species moves toward ‘fully recovered’ as the result of conservation action, and
  • The long-term recovery potential of a species, i.e. how close to ‘fully recovered’ a species can get with effective conservation action within a designated period of time.

The aim is to launch the IUCN Green List of Species in 2020. GWC and a number of our partners has published a framework for the system and the next steps involve:

  • Conducting extensive testing with many different species across the world’s biomes from long-lived trees to insects that live only a few days, from wide-ranging birds to single-site endemic fungi.
  • Further refining the key technical issues as well as investigate the sensitivity of various parts of the framework.
  • Identifying good terms for each part of the framework that translate easily into many languages.
  • Develop a visual identity for the system.
  • Discuss with policymakers and industry to see how we can refine the framework to help them better make decisions from it.

*Title is a working draft and may be adjusted in the coming months.

Fast Facts


Incentivize conservation action for species

# of dimensions of recovery


# of additional concepts


Launch goal


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