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IUCN Red List Outdated and Unreliable

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    3rd Dec, 2023


Existing practice disallows wider participation and use of researcher knowledge, defeating purpose of conservation

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List

  • Outdated Data: Scientists and conservationists across the world have expressed concerns that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species is outdated and unreliable.

About IUCN

  • Formation: Formed in 1964, the Red List — an extinction risk assessment tool — serves as the most extensive and credible listing of species’ extinction risk and acts as a significant resource for species conservation.
  • Effects of IUCN:Even though the Red List has been “instrumental” in improving species conservation status, 25 scientists have expressed multiple concerns about the Red List affecting conservation efforts, especially in the Global South.
  • IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC): The paper is the first time that scientists, researchers and conservationists across diverse taxa have critically reviewed the flaws in the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) system of assigning species status.
  • Low Assessment by IUCN: There are only 150,000 species assessed by IUCN, the manuscript stated, which contributes less than 10 per cent of the two million described species in the world. The percentage gets skewed dramatically after considering the recent global biodiversity estimates, which suggest animal species exceeding 50 million. 
  • Red List: While the Red List has about 42,100 species threatened, the IPBES, on the other hand, states that more than a million species are facing potential extinction threats. 
  • Undescribed Species: Furthermore, more undescribed species may face extinction threats, and many classified species may already be threatened, but IUCN-recommended reassessments every 10 years have not been completed. 
    • For instance, in the marine realm, over 40 per cent of top-fished species have outdated assessments. Overall, 28 per cent of assessments have already been declared outdated, potentially undermining the long-term use of the Red List.
  • Challenges in IUCN: He shared that threatened species don’t receive adequate funding or it becomes challenging to seek the same for a species that is not threatened.

IUCN Classification:

As per the IUCN, species are classified into nine categories of extinction risks: Not evaluated, data deficient, least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild and extinct. 

  • Locally Endangered Population: The need for conservation of locally endangered populations, as species extinction occurs one population at a time.
  • Need for version 2.0 of the Red List: To overhaul the systems.
    • There are several examples highlighting the need for a new version of the Red List.
    • Woolly-necked storks were erroneously elevated to the vulnerable category using the assumption that farming was harming this species.
    • However, scientists across south and southeast Asia showed the birds to be faring very well, with the majority of their populations thriving in farmlands.
    • In Myanmar, more woolly-necked storks were seen on farmlands compared to protected forests.
  • Downlisting of Species: The Greater adjutant stork has recently been downlisted to least concern from endangered despite submissions from several scientists that this is incorrect. The species status assignment to this species is a strong example of the existing hegemony in some parts of the IUCN SSC, leading to incorrect Red List statuses for species.
  • Issues with List: One of the major problems with these assignments is the assumption that all farmlands are poor stork habitats. While farming is a threat to some stork species in some regions, it is not the case in India and many African countries. The assignment of stork statuses has been due to the predicament a couple of species face and the assumption that all farmlands are affecting all stork species similarly.
  • Resources for Least Concern Species: Researchers have strongly advised that even species categorised as least concern require resources so that they are monitored and managers can ensure that common species stay common. Once such species decline, it is usually exceedingly difficult and expensive to restore them.
  • Extinction risk as Criteria: Extinction risk alone is not adequate to direct conservation efforts and have recommended broadening conservation planning and decision-making without entirely depending on the Red List.
  • Top-Down Approach: The entire exercise that disallows a wider participation and use of researcher knowledge in favour of a top-down approach defeats the purpose of both the IUCN ethos and the Red List.

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