Commission on Ecosystem Management

Red List of Ecosystems

A key tool that allows for tackling, globally and nationally, different aspects of the public policies and easing the achievement of international goals regarding conservation
King George Island

Thematic Group Lead:

David Keith  and Emily Nicholson 

CEM Focal Point:
Bernal Herrera 


Since the Industrial Revolution, the biodiversity we know has experienced major losses with an increased acceleration over the last 60 years. Ecosystems around the world continue to decline, despite their value not just for biodiversity, but also for people, whose well-being depends on the healthy ecosystems through benefits such as clear air, clean water, food and culture.

In 2008, at the IV World Congress of Conservation, the IUCN laid the foundations to create the Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) – a new framework for assessing risks to ecosystems. The RLE was officially adopted as the global standard by the IUCN in 2014. Together with species approach such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the RLE provides a complementary approach for conservation and sustainability. It is scalable from local to global, providing a standardised approach to assessing change in ecosystem extent and function, for all terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Since 2014, the RLE has seen application in 100 countries across all continents. Its impacts on environmental policy and practice range from conservation planning to legislation to regulation of industry, and monitoring biodiversity change at global scales. The goal is to have all ecosystems of the world assessed by 2025. To obtain more information please visit

IUCN’s work on the RLE

Main objectives

The primary goal of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) is to support conservation in resource use and management decisions by identifying ecosystems most at risk of biodiversity loss. By assessing relative risks of biodiversity loss at the ecosystem level, the RLE accounts for broad scale ecological processes and important dependencies and interactions among species. The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems also shines a light on common species, which define the identity of many ecosystems, are involved in key interactions with large numbers of cooccurring species, and can have major influences on ecosystem form and function.

Impact/results to date

The RLE has had substantial outputs, outcomes and impacts since it was established in 2014. Practical tools to support ecosystem assessment include guidelines, apps and tools, all available on the RLE website. With thousands of case studies now published, this provides a source of material and knowledge for assessors and conservationists world-wide. The RLE team regularly runs short-courses and workshops around the world. One of the team’s latest products is a global ecosystem typology, to support conservation, natural capital accounting and sustainability worldwide.

Importantly the RLE has influenced conservation policy and action. The RLE is included in the Key Biodiversity Area guidelines, has been adopted into law and legislation in many countries, and has influenced conservation planning and land-use practices. It forms part of the post-2020 global monitoring framework.

Planned activities

Our current plans include increasing the global coverage of assessed ecosystems, expanding policy influence and mainstreaming across sectors, and facilitating assessments by continuing to develop our online and in-person training.

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