The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems – a valuable tool for supporting future conservation decisions and investments

Healthy ecosystems have given us our wellbeing and survival for millennia. This year’s theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity speaks to just that, highlighting and celebrating how “Our Solutions are in Nature”. We need to rediscover the many ways that nature can provide solutions and build this into the core of our society and economy. If we do not manage the threats placed on the ecosystems that sustain nature, we risk repeating past mistakes and compromising nature’s solutions not just for our present, but also for our future generations.

Not all is lost – in the past decades, we have come to better understand and take actions towards reducing loss of the planet’s natural resources. But we are still a long way from core notions of prevention is better than cure or better safe than sorry! Degradation of nature and restoring ecosystems come with a heavy price tag… not just in terms of money but social impacts as well, such as poverty and crime amongst people who depend on these natural resources. We also then pay the price of losing unique systems that no amount of human intelligence and innovation can fully recover!

Can we continue to afford this erosion of our natural capital? Or can we turn the trend of degradation around?

Since 2011, MAVA has supported the development of a global and standardized framework to assess the risk of losing the world’s ecosystems – the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLE).  “It can be challenging to find donors who are willing to invest in new conservation ideas and without the financial support of MAVA Foundation it would have been impossible to achieve all that we have done with RLE” says Radhika Murti, Director of the IUCN Global Ecosystem Management Programme.

How can RLE help manage risks to ecosystems?

Comparable to the risk categories of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, RLE helps to assess and understand risks faced by ecosystems. With RLE, we can identify whether a lake ecosystem is vulnerable or which forests are critically endangered, and why. The information can help countries in making informed decisions on policies and actions that need to be put in place to help reverse the risks and, ultimately avoid the collapse of the ecosystem. If we can repeat assessments every 5 years, RLE information can become the reliable tracking tool for monitoring whether risks to ecosystems are increasing or decreasing and how actions need to be modified in response.

RLE is already being used in countries such as Colombia, Chile, Finland, France, Senegal and South Africa to inform conservation policy and action through legislation, land use planning, expansion of protected areas and ecosystem management.  In Colombia, a national assessment completed in 2018 found that almost half of the country’s ecosystems were either ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’. These results prompted the government to focus on the amount of land with protected area status, and to consider the restoration of critically endangered ecosystems.

Can we mobilise a global effort to reduce risks to our ecosystems?

Yes – there is hope! Partnerships amongst scientists, conservation actors and MAVA have been critical in moving RLE from the pilot phase to the accepted global standard. The last 10 years of testing, applications and learning has informed the robust, widely applicable and reliable tool that it is today. A growing community of RLE partners is emerging, committed to building scientific capacities, and sharing what they have learnt from using the tool. IUCN and partners are also working closely with the biodiversity post-2020 processes to embed an ecosystem risk management approach based target that countries can support around the world. Currently, having the cost (both current and potential) of loss of ecosystems recognized in the upcoming UN System for Environmental Economic Accounting is a priority for RLE partners. Through leveraging these multi-lateral processes, RLE can provide a strong, scientific basis to inform the future of the world’s ecosystems, providing another step towards turning the tide on loss and regret.

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