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.

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.



 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. 



At the global level, the IUCN Red List currently includes just over 14,000 plant species (only 3.7% of the estimated total number of plants). However, over 100,000 plant species have been assessed at either the global or national level for their conservation status in the past 25 years, many using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, but also many others using different assessment systems. There is an urgent need to record and synthesize all of these assessments in an accessible online database to better inform conservation actions.

A global analysis of a representative sample of the world's plants, conducted in 2010 by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew together with the Natural History Museum, London and IUCN, has revealed that one in five of the world’s plant species are threatened with extinction. The study, entitled IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants, is a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world’s estimated 380,000 plant species is known. For further information click 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 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)

Figure 1: Vascular plants



 Figure 2: Non-Vascular Plants


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