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International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
International organization
Founded October 1948, Fontainebleau, France
Key people Julia Marton-Lefèvre (Director General)
Zhang Xinsheng (President)
Area served Worldwide
Focus(es) Mission 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
Employees Over 1,000 (worldwide)

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, Union internationale pour la conservation de la nature [UICN], in French) is an international organization dedicated to finding "pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges".[1] The organization publishes the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which assesses the conservation status of species.[2]

IUCN supports scientific research, manages field projects globally and brings governments, non-government organizations, United Nations agencies, companies and local communities together to develop and implement policy. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network—a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by more than 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. The Union’s headquarters are located in Gland, Switzerland, near Geneva.[1]

IUCN's stated vision is "a just world that values and conserves nature". Its mission is to "influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable".[3]


IUCN began when the first Director General of UNESCO, Sir Julian Huxley, sponsored a congress to establish a new environmental institution to help serve this purpose.[4]

At that first congress (held at Fontainebleau, France), on 5 October 1948, 18 governments, 7 international organizations, and 107 national nature conservation organizations all agreed to form the institution and signed a "constitutive act" creating an International Union for the Protection of Nature.[4]

From this beginning, the overriding strategy and policy of the institution has been to explore and promote mutually beneficial conservation arrangements that suit those promoting development as well as assisting people and nations to better preserve their flora and fauna.[4] When approached in 1978 by primatologist Richard Wrangham to contribute funds to the new Digit Fund to prevent further poaching of mountain gorillas near Dian Fossey's Karisoke Research Station in Rwanda, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declined to provide funds to the cause. Instead, IUCN supported opening the Virunga Volcanoes to tourism as a way to encourage the Rwandan government to preserve the gorillas.[5]

At all times, the institution (in all its forms) has heavily emphasized as a key operating principle the strong need to cater to and address the needs of local nations, communities and peoples, so that those nations, communities and peoples can take ownership of future, long term conservation goals and objectives in their local areas:[4]

Protected areas and threatened species could most effectively be safeguarded if local people considered it in their own interest to do so. Working with rather than against local people became a major working principle for IUCN.

IUCN's World Conservation Strategy (1980)[6] was founded upon this kind of principle, and clearly announced the IUCN's ambitions to more effectively enter into dialogue with the promoters of human development. The strategy was internationally applauded by many and served to secure IUCN funds from several donors who did not themselves feel they could open up effective dialogue in the world's developing countries, nor that United Nations organizations and international banks would effectively engage in such dialogue.[4]

With the pre-eminence of the concept of sustainable development, IUCN has expanded into many of the nations around the world, making available the services of a large pool of mainly voluntary specialists, providing local level advice and conservation services, and expanding its networks of Committees and regional advisory bodies into increasing numbers of countries.[4]


Some key dates in the growth and development of this organization include:[4]

  • 1956: Name very soon changed from International Union for the Preservation of Nature (IUPN) to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
  • 1956: IUCN creates the IYF= "International Youth Federation for the Study and Conservation of Nature", which creates in 1983 YEE=Youth Environment Europe[7]
  • 1959: UNESCO decides to create an international list of Nature Parks and equivalent reserves, and the United Nations Secretary General asks the IUCN to prepare this list
  • 1961: After more than a decade of funding difficulties, eminent science and business personalities (including Sir Julian Huxley) decide to set up a complementary fund (the World Wildlife Fund) to focus on fund raising, public relations, and increasing public support for nature conservation
  • 1969: IUCN obtains a grant from the Ford Foundation which enables it to boost, substantially, its international secretariat.
  • 1972: UNESCO adopts the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage and the IUCN is invited to provide technical evaluations and monitoring
  • 1974: IUCN is involved in obtaining the agreement of its members to sign a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), whose secretariat was originally lodged with the IUCN
  • 1975: The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) comes into force, and its secretariat is administered from the IUCN's headquarters
  • 1980: IUCN (together with the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Wide Fund for Nature) collaborate with UNESCO to publish a World Conservation Strategy
  • 1982: Following IUCN preparation and efforts, the United Nations General Assembly adopts the World Charter for Nature
  • 1990: Began using the name World Conservation Union as the official name, while continuing using IUCN as its abbreviation. This name change proved to be short-lived.
  • 1993: IUCN (together with United Nations Environment Programme and the World Wide Fund for Nature) publishes Caring for the Earth
  • 2001: Establishment of the IUCN Business and Biodiversity Programme
  • 2008: Stopped using World Conservation Union as its official name and reverted its name back to International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • 2008: More than 6,600 leaders from government, the public sector, non-governmental organizations, business, UN agencies and social organizations attended IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
  • 2012: IUCN Programme 2013-2016


  • 1948–1954: Charles Jean Bernard, Switzerland[8]
  • 1954–1958: Roger Heim, France[8]
  • 1958–1963: Jean Georges Baer, Switzerland[8]
  • 1963–1966: François Bourlière, France[8]
  • 1966–1972: Harold J. Coolidge, USA[8]
  • 1972–1978: Donald Kuenen, Netherlands[8]
  • 1978–1984: Mohamed Kassas, Egypt[8]
  • 1984–1990: Monkombu Swaminathan, India[8]
  • 1990–1994: Sridath Ramphal, Guyana[8]
  • 1994-1996: Jay D. Hair, USA
  • 1996–2004: Yolanda Kakabadse, Ecuador[8]
  • 2004–2008: Valli Moosa, South Africa[8]
  • 2008–2012: Ashok Khosla, India[9]
  • 2012: Zhang Xinsheng, China[8]

Directors General

Organizational structure

The Union has three components: its member organizations, its six scientific commissions, and its professional secretariat.[1]


The Union unites both States and non-governmental organizations. They set the policies of the Union, define its global programme of work and elect its Council (comparable to a company board) at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. Member organizations organize themselves into National and Regional Committees.[1]


There are six commissions that "assess the state of the world’s natural resources and provide the Union with sound know-how and policy advice on conservation issues":[10]

  • Commission on Education and Communication (CEC)

CEC champions the strategic use of communication and education to empower and educate stakeholders for the sustainable use of natural resources.[10][11]

  • Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP)

CEESP provides expertise and policy advice on economic and social factors for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.[10][11]

  • Commission on Environmental Law (CEL)

CEL advances environmental law by developing new legal concepts and instruments, as well as by building the capacity of societies to employ environmental law for conservation and sustainable development.[10][11]

  • Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM)

CEM provides expert guidance on integrated ecosystem approaches to the management of natural and modified ecosystems.[10][11]

  • Species Survival Commission (SSC)

SSC advises the Union on the technical aspects of species conservation and mobilizes action for those species that are threatened with extinction. It produces the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.[10][11]

  • IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA)

WCPA's mission is to promote the establishment and effective management of a world-wide representative network of terrestrial and marine protected areas.[10][11]

IUCN is also the governing body responsible for the development of the Management Categories into which each Protected Area is divided depending on its conservation requirements and management aims.


The members and commissions work together with a professional secretariat consisting of over 1,000 people in more than 60 different countries. Julia Marton-Lefèvre, a global expert and leader in development and conservation, has been its Director General since 2 January 2007.

She succeeded Achim Steiner, who was appointed Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in June 2006. Poul Engberg-Pedersen serves as Deputy Director General and Managing Director.[12]

IUCN Programme

The IUCN Programme provides the framework for planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the conservation work undertaken by the Commissions and the Secretariat with and on behalf of IUCN Members.

The IUCN Programme 2013-2016 was approved by Member organizations at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in September 2012 in Jeju, South Korea.

The 2013-2016 Programme was developed as a result of a five-month consultation process across IUCN Members and Commissions.[13]

Working for people and nature

The IUCN Programme 2013–2016 aims to mobilize communities working for biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and poverty reduction in common efforts to halt biodiversity loss and apply nature-based solutions to global challenges such as climate change, food security and development..

The Programme builds upon IUCN’s niche as the world’s authority on biodiversity conservation, nature-based solutions and related environmental governance. It has three Programme Areas:

1. Valuing and Conserving Nature enhances IUCN’s heartland work on biodiversity conservation, emphasizing both tangible and intangible values of nature.

2. Effective and Equitable Governance of Nature’s Use consolidates IUCN’s work on people-nature relations, rights and responsibilities, and the political economy of nature.

3. Deploying Nature-based Solutions to Global Challenges in Climate, Food and Development expands IUCN’s work on nature’s contribution to tackling problems of sustainable development, particularly in climate change, food security and social and economic development.[13]

Key products and contributions

Among the IUCN key products and services, it has produced and continues to maintain and monitor:

  • IUCN Programme 2013-2016
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  • IUCN Categories for Protected Area Management
  • Protected Planet
  • World Database on Protected Areas
  • IUCN Red List of Ecosystems
  • ECOLEX – the gateway to environmental law
  • Global Invasive Species Database


IUCN has one of the world’s most comprehensive ranges of authoritative publications, reports, guidelines and databases for conservation and sustainable development,[14] publishes or co-authors more than 150 books and major assessments every year, along with hundreds of other reports, documents and guidelines.[15]

See also

  • Beaver eradication in Tierra del Fuego


External links

  • website
  • Review of the 2008 Red List of Threatened Species
  • IUCN publications
  • Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment
  • IUCN Rights-Based Approach to Conservation portal
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