International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together. Created in 1948, IUCN has evolved into the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its 1,300 Member organisations and the input of over 10,000 experts. IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. Our experts are organised into six commissions dedicated to species survival, environmental law, protected areas, social and economic policy, ecosystem management, and education and communication.

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Business Type:
Non-governmental organization (NGO)
Industry Type:
Ecology and Nature Protection
Market Focus:
Globally (various continents)
Year Founded:
Over 1000

70 years

In 2018, IUCN celebrated its 70th anniversary.

Learn more about IUCN’s seven decades of  experience, vision and impact as well as events related to its anniversary.  

Our vision

A just world that values and conserves nature.

Our 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.

The ability to convene diverse stakeholders and provide the latest science, objective recommendations and on-the-ground expertise drives IUCN’s mission of informing and empowering conservation efforts worldwide. We provide a neutral forum in which governments, NGOs, scientists, businesses, local communities, indigenous peoples groups, faith-based organisations and others can work together to forge and implement solutions to environmental challenges.

By facilitating these solutions, IUCN provides governments and institutions at all levels with the impetus to achieve universal goals, including on biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development, which IUCN was instrumental in defining.

Combined, our knowledge base and diverse membership make IUCN an incubator and trusted repository of best practices, conservation tools, and international guidelines and standards. As the only environmental organisation with official United Nations Observer Status, IUCN ensures that nature conservation has a voice at the highest level of international governance.

IUCN’s expertise and extensive network provide a solid foundation for a large and diverse portfolio of conservation projects around the world. Combining the latest science with the traditional knowledge of local communities, these projects work to reverse habitat loss, restore ecosystems and improve people’s well-being. They also produce a wealth of data and information which feeds into IUCN’s analytical capacity.

Through their affiliation with IUCN, Member organisations are part of a democratic process, voting Resolutions which drive the global conservation agenda. They meet every four years at the IUCN World Conservation Congress to set priorities and agree on the Union’s work programme. IUCN congresses have produced several key international environmental agreements including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the World Heritage Convention, and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. We continue to help these conventions strengthen and evolve so that they can respond to emerging challenges.

Our Member organisations are represented by the IUCN Council – the governing body. Headquartered in Switzerland, IUCN Secretariat comprises around 900 staff in more than 50 countries.

Since its establishment in 1948, IUCN has become the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. The knowledge and the tools IUCN provides are critical for ensuring that human progress, economic development and nature conservation take place together.

IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, was established on 5 October 1948 in the French town of Fontainebleau. As the first global environmental union, it brought together governments and civil society organisations with a shared goal to protect nature. Its aim was to encourage international cooperation and provide scientific knowledge and tools to guide conservation action.

During the first decade of its existence, IUCN’s primary focus was to examine the impact of human activities on nature. It flagged the damaging effects of pesticides on biodiversity, and promoted the use of environmental impact assessments, which have since become the norm across sectors and industries.

Much of IUCN’s subsequent work in the 1960s and 1970s was devoted to the protection of species and the habitats necessary for their survival. In 1964, IUCN established the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, which has since evolved into the world’s most comprehensive data source on the global extinction risk of species.

IUCN also played a fundamental role in the creation of key international conventions, including the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (1971), the World Heritage Convention (1972), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, (1974) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992).

In 1980, IUCN – in partnership with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – published the World Conservation Strategy, a ground-breaking document which helped define the concept of ‘sustainable development’ and shaped the global conservation and sustainable development agenda.

A subsequent version of the strategy, Caring for the Earth, was published by the three organisations in the run-up to the 1992 Earth Summit. It served as the basis for international environmental policy and guided the creation of the Rio Conventions on biodiversity (CBD), climate change (UNFCCC) and desertification (UNCCD).

In 1999, as environmental issues continued to gain importance at the international stage, IUCN was granted official observer status to the United Nations. Today it remains the only environmental organisation with such status.

In the early 2000s, IUCN developed its business engagement strategy. Prioritising sectors with a significant impact on nature and livelihoods, such as mining and oil and gas, its aim is to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

Later in the 2000s, IUCN pioneered ‘nature-based solutions’ – actions to conserve nature which also address global challenges, such as food and water security, climate change and poverty reduction.

Today, with the expertise and reach of its more than 1,300 Members – including States, government agencies, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations – and over 10,000 international experts, IUCN is the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network. It continues to champion nature-based solutions as key to the implementation of international agreements such as the Paris climate change agreement and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.