International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)

Content Cover Image

Rock Island, Palau Photo: IUCN Jerker Tamelander


caption IUCN logo. (Source: IUCN)

The IUCN is the world's largest conservation organization, bringing together 82 States, 111 government agencies, more than 800 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership.

The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

Also known as the 'World Conservation Union' since 1990, the IUCN is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1,000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland. The IUCN is currently divided into six commissions. These are:

a) Ecosystem Management
b) Education and Communication
c) Environmental, Economic and Social Policy
d) Environmental Law
e) Protected Areas
f) Species Survival

Each of these commissions has a chair on the IUCN Council, which also includes representatives from each of the Union's eight regions, as well as the President and Treasurer. Like other boards of directors, this council directs the policies of the union, as well as approving the finances and deciding on strategy.


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) was founded in October 1948 as the 'International Union for the Protection of Nature' (or IUPN) following an international conference in Fontainebleau, France. The organization changed its name to the 'International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' in 1956.

Mission of the World Conservation Union

The IUCN supports and develops cutting-edge conservation science, utilizing the results of research in the many field projects it sponsors in facilitating conservation dialogue between governments, the civil sector and private organizations. IUCN is currently looking at building recognition of the importance of sustainable management of natural resources within human society.  Furthermore, it is also heavily involved in the conservation of biodiversity in the face of global climate change.

Functions of the World Conservation Union

caption Livingstone's Fruit Bat (Pteropus livingstonii) is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN red data list. The bat is the primary conservation objective of the Comoran NGO Action Comores, who are working with partners (including Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Bristol Zoo) and are following IUCN guidelines, to study the ecology of this species, monitor its population numbers and use the bat as a flagship species to address the environmental problems found on these endemics-rich islands. (Reprinted with permission of: Will Masefield)

Primarily concerned with species loss and ecosystem integrity, the IUCN is the world's largest environmental knowledge network, and is the collective author and publisher of the Red List of Threatened Species, while it is a regular and important contributor to CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species. It provides policy advice and technical support on conservation and ecosystem management, including national biodiversity strategies and action plans, to governments, the UN, international conventions and other groupings, such as the G8. It assesses sites nominated for the World Heritage Site listing.

Examples of IUCN Participation

Red Data Books & Red Lists

IUCN's Species Survival Commission has been assessing the conservation status of species and their populations for about 40 years in order to identify those taxa threatened with extinction and to promote their conservation. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is globally recognized as the most authoritative, objective analysis of species at risk of extinction. The IUCN categories are widely used in publications to highlight the plight or otherwise of species, subspecies, varieties and individual populations. Last updated in 2003, the assessment highlights the plight of more than 18,000 species, with 25 percent of known mammals and about 13 percent of birds being classed as threatened. These updates highlight the deterioration in the status of these species and the new updates, which will classify 38,000 species will show this worsening problem.

World Heritage Sites

The World Conservation Union has been instrumental in the development of natural heritage UNESCO 'World Heritage' sites. To date, about 200 sites have been incorporated into this list, although some of these are classified as 'in danger' (that is, undergoing environmental problems that are detrimental to the survival of the site). Some of the World Heritage Sites listed are famous, e.g. Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A. (included, or 'inscribed,' in the list in 1978) and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania (inscribed in 1979), while others have, to date, had little publicity, e.g. the Central Sikhote-Alin mountains of the Russian Federation (inscribed in 2001). A full list of these World Heritage Sites can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage Website. Sites are being added to this list every year, for instance in June 2007, IUCN announced three further sites being inscribed, namely the primeval beech forests of the Carpathian mountains (Eastern Europe), representing the ancient forests that once covered much of Europe, Teide National Park (Canary Islands), representing the third tallest volcano in the world, and holding an including a diverse volcanic landscape, and Lopé National Park in Gabon (Africa), which acts as an important refuge to many threatened species of large mammal, including gorillas and elephants.

Further Reading



Caley, K. (2014). International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Retrieved from


To add a comment, please Log In.