GSPC Target 2

Objective I: Plant diversity is well understood, documented and recognized

Objective II: Plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved

Objective III: Plant diversity is used in a sustainable and equitable manner

Objective IV: Education and awareness about plant diversity, its role in sustainable livelihoods and importance to all life on earth is promoted

Objective V: The capacities and public engagement necessary to implement the Strategy have been developed


Once a plant species is named and recorded, we then want to assess its abundance or rarity in order to know if the species is at risk of extinction. We therefore need to know the species location, distribution and the number of plants or populations of the plant. Threats to plant diversity include loss of habitat due to land use changes, intensive agriculture and urbanisation, unsustainable levels of harvesting, invasive species and ultimately, climate change.

Threat assessments may be desk based, using computer records from previous surveys or involve additional data collection by field work. This process of assessing rarity is known as ‘Red Listing’: species which are rare appear on Red Lists. Global Red Lists are maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (see

Species shown in the IUCN Red Lists are categorized as: Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened, Data Deficient and Least Concern.

An assessment of which species are threatened allows resources for species conservation to be prioritised.

Despite the importance of this target, only a fraction of plant species have so far been assessed in a globally comparable way. However, at the national level, a growing number of countries have completed some form of Red List assessment for their plants.

Download an introduction to Target 2 here.

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Threat status is probably the most commonly used criterion in conservation priority setting and provides an idea of the risk of extinction for any given species.

The conservation status of many plant species has been assessed either through country-level processes and/or international initiatives. These assessments have been made either using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria or other systems. A compilation of these evidence-based assessments will provide a useful starting point to guide conservation action. A full assessment of all known plant species to a consistent international standard is the longer term aim.

Although the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria provide a robust framework for conservation assessments, it is not realistic to aim to assess all plant species using this system by 2020. Instead, it is suggested that a working-list of evidence-based conservation assessments is the only feasible approach to achieving this target at the global level by 2020.  Inclusion of the term 'evidence-based' in the target is intended to make clear that the assessments should be based on data which are verifiable. A variety of evidence-based approaches are acceptable as practical steps towards the achievement of the target.

Achieving this target is essential to ensure that progress towards Targets 7 and 8 is not hampered by a lack of information on which species are under threat.

The implementation of this target relates to Target 19 of the Aichi targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020:

T19: By 2020, knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.  

This target also relates to the Convention on the international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as CITES requires an assessment for each amendment proposal to its Appendices, as well as for the periodic and significant trade reviews.



The IUCN Red List  Categories and Criteria

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria represent the most accepted and widely used method of threat assessment. This is a consistent, transparent, repeatable, quantifiable and standardised system that provides clear guidance on how to evaluate different factors that affect the risk of extinction.

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria have undergone extensive review in recent years. This review has produced a clearer, more open, and easy-to-use system. The revised Categories and Criteria (IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria version 3.1) were adopted by IUCN Council in February 2000 and all new assessments and reassessments of taxa on the IUCN Red List must follow this revised system.

Guidelines on how to use the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria have been developed and are regularly updated; a PDF version of these guidelines is available in English only.

The direct link to the Guidelines PDF is:

Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria

IUCN offers training and support on Red Listing in multiple languages and supports the establishment of national lead institutions for Red Listing, which facilitates the identification of taxonomic experts in the respective countries.

An online resource is available to facilitate communication and knowledge-sharing about national and regional Red Lists, and to act as a centralised point for national and regional Red List data from around the world. This website includes a searchable species database, a library of downloadable documents, a network of individuals involved in national/regional Red Listing around the world, and a discussion forum for specific queries.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has developed a simple, user-friendly database for Red Listing, which is linked to the IUCN Species Information Service.

The Global Tree Assessment

BGCI is coordinating the Global Tree Assessent which aims to provide conservation assessments of all the world’s tree species by 2020. The assessment will identify those tree species that are at greatest risk of extinction. The goal of the Global Tree Assessment is to provide prioritization information to ensure that conservation efforts are directed at the right species so that no tree species becomes extinct.

Rapid assessment methods

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has developed a rapid assessment tool for the identification of the conservation status of plants based on herbaria specimens and their locations, which can help prioritize species for full IUCN Red List assessment. This tool can be seen here.

Similarly, other approaches to rapid assessments using herbaria specimens developed by New York Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian Institution are described in a poster that can be downloaded here.

General points

It is recommended that national herbaria should be involved in the process of conservation assessments. For example, they could be the focal point for the assessment of national endemic plant species. For plant species whose distribution covers more than one country, the corresponding national herbaria should coordinate with each other to achieve a global conservation assessment. Furthermore large 'northern' herbaria could assist 'southern' herbaria through the repatriation of specimen data information.

While priority should be given to red listing wild plants that contribute directly to human livelihoods (food, medicine, fuel, housing, fodder etc.), rapid assessments of the non-threatened status of the majority of plant species should also be achieved.



Various processes within CITES contribute to Target 2. The Periodic Review and Review of Significant Trade regularly assess biological and trade data of species listed in the Appendices in order to verify that the species is in the correct Appendix and that levels of trade are not detrimental to its survival in the wild.

The CITES trade database, maintained by UNEP-WCMC, represents one of the main sources of information that serves as the basis for the above analysis.



 Tools and resources

Please also check in the database of Tools of Resources for Case Studies relevant to this target.

Guidelines for application of IUCN Red List criteria at regional and national levels: version 4.0

IUCN has developed guidelines on how to apply the IUCN Red List Criteria appropriately for sub-global level assessments. These Guidelines have been reviewed and updated since the first version was published in 2003 


Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List (505KB)

This document explains how the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria should be applied to determine whether a taxon belongs in a category of threat, and gives examples from different taxonomic groups to illustrate the application of the criteria. 


Lessons learnt from assessing a megaflora: the South African experience of red listing >20,000 plant taxa. (261KB)

Between 2004 and 2008, South African botanists completed a comprehensive assessment of the status of the South African flora using the IUCN 3.1 Red List Categories and Criteria. In so doing becoming the first of the world’s megadiverse countries to fully assess the status of its entire flora 


National Red Listing Beyond the 2010 Target (310KB)

This paper by Zamin et al reviews National Red Lists (NRLs) produced globally and analyses existing data gaps in geography and taxonomy. The paper also discusses a correlation between NRL datasets and gross domestic product and vertebrate species richness. 


Plants under pressure

Plants Under Pressure – a global assessment. This is the first report of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants published by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK. 



In 2010, the global level of IUCN Red listed species was 14,000 accounting for less than 4% of the world’s species. By the end of 2013, 18,291 species were red listed (6% of the world’s species) with 3,419 new plant assessments being added in 2013. The total list is currently at 19,374 plant species and of these 10,487 (54%) are threatened with extinction.

The RBG Kew has also been actively involved in work towards Target 2, collaborating with IUCN to produce a list of plant conservation assessments using the current data-sets and IUCN red lists.  The list of plant assessments (for 2013) includes 58,494 unique plant assessments (approx. 16% of all plants). Of these, 43% plants assessed are categorised as ‘threatened’ with extinction, and more than half of the assessments are at regional/national level.

Other initiatives have been put in place to work towards Target 2, such as Plants for People which aims to assess the conservation status of high priority species in important economic groups such as crop wild relatives, medicinal plants, timber trees and palms.

In 2013 the IUCN committee published a Strategic Plan for 2013-2020 outlining key areas that IUCN should prioritize in response to measuring process towards the 2020 Aichi targets which are also relevant to the GSPC targets.

With these objectives in mind the report published key areas where progress has been made by IUCN

  • IUCN Red List taxonomic and geographic coverage is expanded such as working with Kew on Plants under pressure a global assessment report can be viewed here

  • More IUCN Red List Assessments are prepared at national and, where appropriate, at regional scales

  • The IUCN Red List is underpinned by cutting edge information management technologies such as GIS

  • The report contains detailed information for the areas mentioned above, providing information on how these objectives are being achieved, with updated time frames for current projects. The report can be downloaded as a pdf document here

An analysis of national red lists carried out in 2010 revealed that 96 countries had national plant red lists, making plants the most assessed taxonomic group in National Red Lists. Further details of this analysis are available in a paper published by Conservation Biology (Reference: Zamin, T.J et al., 2010, Conservation Biology, 24 (4), 1012–1020). A PDF of the paper can be accessed here

The maps below (Figure 1) are extracted from the paper by Zamin et al.

(Solid colour, countries with a national plant Red List less than 10 years old and hatched, countries with a Red List more than 10 years old)

Despite these efforts, evidence suggests that if the progress continues at the current rate completion of Target 2 is unlikely. Unless methods are developed to cross reference the national and global red lists.

Figure 1: Vascular plants



 Figure 2: Non-Vascular Plants


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