Red List Index to Assess the Global Biodiversity Change

Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

15.5 Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.

Indicator 15.5.1: Red List Index

“Look after the land and the land will look after you, destroy the land it will destroy you.” Economic growth is taking place at the cost of environment for past couple of decades and its speed is increasing now at very fast pace mentions Laura.  Earth’s natural resources have been used in ways that are environmentally inefficient and wasteful, with dangerous consequences. It is estimated that by the year 2050, our population will reach 9 billion people which will put immense pressure on the biodiversity and its habitats, especially the forests. The UN explains: “Forests cover 30 per cent of the Earth’s surface and in addition to providing food security and shelter, forests are key to combating climate change, protecting biodiversity and the homes of the indigenous population. Thirteen million hectares of forests are being lost every year while the persistent degradation of drylands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares.” The challenge of sustainable development is to move forward in such a way that we all people and our next generations will be able to enjoy a substantial quality of life without being detrimental to our natural resources. Goal 15 focuses specifically on managing forests sustainably, restoring degraded lands and successfully combating desertification, reducing degraded natural habitats and ending biodiversity loss. This goal aims at securing sustainable livelihoods that will be enjoyed for generations to come. An annual report is prepared by the Secretary General of the United Nations evaluating the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The FAOs report, 2020 stated that key biodiversity and species remain threatened with extinction and forest areas continue to diminish. Habitat loss, unsustainable hunting, the introduction of invasive species and other factors have led to the extinction of 322 terrestrial vertebrate since 1500. An important goal in 2021 is for the world to agree on a new biodiversity framework at the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the CBD in Kunming, China. Throughout 2020, UNEP advocates an ambitious and measurable framework that supports more, larger and better managed protected areas, agriculture and fisheries that actively promote biodiversity, an end to harmful subsidies, and a shift from destructive extraction resource to sustainable consumption and production patterns.

At the same time, the numbers of most living species have declined. According to a detailed assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature & Natural Resources (IUCN), 24,307 species are now seriously threatened with extinction.A report in 2018 stated that “biodiversity must be mainstreamed across these sectors and spatial planning integrated accordingly.” It also tackles the importance of taking care of land degradation and restoring them where possible.

Indicator 15.5.1: Red List Index

The Red List Index (RLI), is an indicator developed by IUCNs (International Union for Conservation of Nature  and Natural resources), to measure the changing state of global biodiversity. It defines the conservation status of major species groups, and measures trends in extinction risk over time. IUCN headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland. IUCN has observer and consultative status at the United Nations. At the global level, the Red List is a powerful instrument to assess the health of the world’s biodiversity and to take conservation actions. At the national level also the Red List Index has an equal importance.By conducting conservation assessments at regular intervals, changes in the threat status of species in a taxonomic group can be used to monitor trends in extinction risk. RLIs have been calculated for birds and amphibians, using changes in threat status for species in each of the groups.As well as taxonomic groups. RLIs can show trends in extinction risk according to biogeographic realm, habitat type, and dominant threat process. 

It basically shows trends in overall extinction risk for species, and is used by governments to track their progress towards targets for reducing biodiversity loss. the values determine the status of the species. For example an RLI value of 1.0 equates to all species qualifying as Least Concern (i.e., not expected to become Extinct in the near future). An RLI value of 0 equates to all species having gone Extinct. A constant RLI value over time indicates that the overall extinction risk for the group is unchanged. Thus, the Red List Index allows comparisons between sets of species in both their overall level of extinction risk (i.e., how threatened they are on average), and in the rate at which this risk changes over time. An SDG Tracker further elaborates on various conditions of the state of biodiversity. A downward trend in the Red List Index over time means that the expected rate of future species extinctions is worsening (i.e., the rate of biodiversity loss is increasing). An upward trend means that the expected rate of species extinctions is abating (i.e., the rate of biodiversity loss is decreasing), and a horizontal line means that the expected rate of species extinctions is remaining the same, although in each of these cases it does not mean that biodiversity loss has stopped.

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria are intended to be an easily and widely understood system for classifying species at high risk of global extinction. It divides species into nine categoriesNot EvaluatedData DeficientLeast ConcernNear ThreatenedVulnerableEndangeredCritically EndangeredExtinct in the Wild and Extinct.

Few limitations of the list include the scope of the measurement i.e., relatively broad measures of status, and thus the Red List Index for any individual taxonomic group can practically be updated at intervals of at least four years. As the overall index is aggregated across multiple taxonomic groups, it can be updated typically annually. In addition, the Red List Index does not capture particularly well the deteriorating status of common species that remain abundant and widespread but are declining slowly.  Far more than a list of species and their status, it is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive.


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