An article by Kennedy Warne, National Geographic.

For 50 years, conservation efforts on behalf of the world’s endangered species have been guided—and goaded—by the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This list—with its familiar categories including “least concern,” “vulnerable,” “critically endangered,” and the irreversible “extinct”—has provided a way of keeping tabs on the state of the planet’s biodiversity.

Now the IUCN has launched a new list—not for plants and animals, but for the protected areas that are often crucial to their survival.

The Green List of Protected Areas was announced Friday at the IUCN’s once-per-decade World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. The list gives recognition to protected areas that are successfully meeting their objectives.

The initial crop of 24 green-listed reserves comes from eight countries, the first to have their protected areas assessed. They include an Australian national park recognized for its cooperation with the traditional Aboriginal landowners, a Kenyan protected area that allows low-impact community cattle ranching to take place within its boundaries, and a French marine reserve that has seen the recovery of marine species and now draws dive tourists, who take an underwater safari through its Mediterranean waters.

Eight countries is a small start, considering there are more than 209,000 terrestrial and marine protected areas across the globe. The IUCN expects the process of certifying these protected areas to take many years, but that these newly listed sites will set a high bar. Countries next in line for Green List assessment include Mexico, Croatia, and several countries in North Africa and Micronesia.

Trevor Sandwith, director of IUCN’s global protected areas program, says the new accolade is not intended to create categories of winners and losers. Instead, it will provide an incentive for governments, communities, and conservation agencies to ensure that protected areas achieve their potential ecological, economic, and social value.

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