How does the IUCN Green List work


The IUCN Green List of Protected Areas – How does it work?

James Hardcastle, IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme – GLPA Manager Simon Hodgkinson, Sisu Consulting Ltd, GLPA business planner and advisor

The IUCN GLPA requires a robust yet simple governance architecture and operations framework. This is continually evolving during the current pilot phase. Progress in all partner countries and jurisdictions will be discussed, presented and a new development phase will be launched at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 in November. In the next two to three years, IUCN will progressivey test and ground-truth the flow of operations, and explore the opportunities to link recognition through the GLPA with conservation impact in and around GLPA protected areas.

James Hardcastle and Simon Hodgkinson answer five key questions received during the pilot phase on the GLPA:

1. How does a protected area begin to take part in the GLPA?

James: The GLPA is currently operating at a local ‘jurisdictional’ level, so interested protected areas should first encourage their agency or authority to work with IUCN to establish a partnership for that locality. This could be a province, ecoregion, State, nation, transboundary area or whole region, such as the Amazon or Micronesia. The GLPA is a voluntary scheme. Individual WCPA members will be a critical support to encourage and help establish the GLPA within their jurisdiction. Once IUCN establishes an accord with the relevant country and regional authorities, the process can begin. This entails the following steps:

  • Establish a Reference Group, usually between 8 and 15 experts with a diverse range of skills and experience, related to many facets of successful protected areas. This group should draw from WCPA membership but also encourage and engage new experts. In this way WCPA members can play an active, ‘hands-on’ role. IUCN requires that the Reference Group submit CVs, conflict of interest declarations and accept a clear ToR for the task.
  • IUCN assigns an independent GLPA Reviewer to work with the Reference Group. This person is an impartial and accredited reviewer for the GLPA process, and will help ensure that all GLPA processes are followed and that there are no deviations or non-compliance issues. Currently IUCN is working with Accreditation Assuran Services International to help develop a transparent, credible and cost-effective assurance process, fit for purpose.
  • The Reference Group adapst the GLPA Standard into the context of their jurisdiction. This is done by taking all the Global criteria and refining the indicators and means of verification for each criterion, and making it applicable to the local situation. In this way the GLPA can capture the core elements of success in all criteria, as defined by the local conditions and context. The adapted GLPA Standard is then approved by IUCN for that locality.
  • With the Reference Group, the Reviewer, and an adapted Standard, the GLPA structures are in place, and individual protected areas are now able to register their interest in the GLPA. This is the first step. A simple registration form is completed, to ensure that the PA meets the basic requirements and has the potential and commitment to work towards the GLPA Standard.
  • Once registered, a PA works with a mentor (focal point) appointed by the Reference Group to help the PA manager compile the GLPA nomination. The GLPA will not require new assessments, but will build on existing data and available evidence, especially management effectiveness and information relating to conservation impact and stakeholder engagement and equitable sharing of costs and benefits of conservation.
  • The current GLPA requirement for demonstrated conservation and equity impacts and outcomes (Pillar 4 of the GLPA Standard) may require further adaptation to include more qualitative evidence alongside documented, quantitative means of verification, especially peer review and stakeholder judgements. The current pilot phase will help develop the process.
  • The compiled nomination, or ‘prospectus’, will be submitted to the Reference Group, which will provide review and feedback. Twice per year, with the watchful input of the GLPA Reviewer, the Reference Group will submit a handful of nominations that have achieved the GLPA Standard to IUCN for approval. Those that are not yet at the GLPA Standard will be provided detailed feedback and encouraged to work on key areas to improve performance for re-nomination.
  • The IUCN GLPA Committee will, based on recommendations from the Reference Group and independent input from the Reviewer, take a decision on awarding GLPA status to successful protected areas. They may ask for clarifications and further information. If successful, the PA is added to the global roster of successful PAs.

2. How do you know there is a demand for the GLPA?

Simon: The credibility of the GLPA among its key stakeholders in the conservation community, civil society organisations and ultimately the de velopment and business  communitywill be a critical factor in its long-term success. It is for this reason that we started the business planning work on the GLPA by conducting a survey of key stakeholders from the global conservation community to establish whether they thought the concept a good idea, and to understand what they saw as the critical success factors. We wanted to know not just whether they felt the GLPA was a good idea, but also how to design and operationalize it to meet their expectations. We interviewed over 125 stakeholders and discovered that:

  • IUCN is considered the best placed organisation to convene and lead a Global Standard and ‘Green List’ scheme for protected areas.
  • Respondents agree strongly that critical success factors include: independence, rigour and objectivity in the assessment process; the assessment process should involve wide consultation; the protect areas that should be seen to be excellent; the scheme must cost effective and affordable to all protected areas who are qualified to apply - respondents believe that it is important that assessment process involve a combination of protected area managers, in-country and out of country evaluators, including IUCN representatives. About a third of respondents thought it important that civil society and business representatives were involved
  • Protected area managers are busy people. The GLPA should not draw resources away from daily management and operational tasks, but should provide enough incentive to encourage improvements in performance, and to ensure that the GLPA offers recognition to all staff and stakeholders involved in making a PA successful
  • The GLPA should not just be about the best resourced, best-endowed protected areas in the most enabled countries and regions. The GLPA should reward success in its context, which should include countries and places with a more dynamic interaction between PA and other land-uses, or even to demonstrate relative success in a challenging social, governance and economic environment.
  • We have been careful in developing the operational approach of the GLPA to ensure that these stakeholder expectations are met, while at the same time keeping things as simple and cost-effective as possible.

3. What makes the GLPA unique from other labels and schemes?

Simon: We have researched several other schemes, both long-running, currently developing, or already defunct. Firstly, there is no other global scheme for certification or ‘listing’ of protected areas. Different regions have their initiatives, such as the European Protected Area diploma, and several international awards that have included a PA theme, such as the UN Equator Initiative. The best lessons have come from organisations like the Forest Stewardship Council (, with whom we are still working on possible collaboration over forest PAs; and the Blue Flag global beach certification award, which has provided valuable insights into the needed simplicity of process and the requirement for effective, transparent data management.

James: The GLPA adds value to many core areas of IUCN’s global work on protected areas, including the Protected Area Management Category assignment; Protected Area Management Effectiveness work; and the more recent guidelines on Protected Area Governance Assessment. The GLPA will also relate closely to other flagship IUCN Knowledge Products, especially to draw evidence from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the Key Biodiversity Area methodology. The GLPA will encourage the use of these tools and recognise the exemplars of good practice and success in the application of these and other PA support methodologies. Ultimately, the information on sites registered with the GLPA should correspond and feed-in to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) managed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) ( The GLPA is also partnering with other initiatives that relate to species conservation and protected areas, principally the WWF-led collaboration called CA|TS (Conservation Assured – Tiger Standards) (; but also with the London Zoological Society ( to examine financing for rhinoceros protection through a similar use of specific protected area and species conservation standards.

4. What happens if a GLPA protected area is no longer meeting the GLPA Standards?

James: This is a common question that leads to the heart of the GLPA – credibility. If IUCN recognises that a PA is of the GLPA Standard, we have to be sure that it can demonstrate this achievement over time. Towards this end, a number of ‘triggers’ are being proposed and tested. Principally, a time-bound review, of 5 years. Other options include a ‘whistleblower’ function, whereby a stakeholder or public alert can trigger a possible review of GLPA status.

Simon: The use of different triggers requires a very dynamic information management system and architecture for a web-based platform. For example, public access to the core GLPA data and rationale behind the listing should be available. We are still considering the merits of a public interface, but certainly stakeholder engagement and consultation is part of the GLPA Standard but also a core element of the assurance process. We need to make sure that the public plays an ongoing role in supporting the maintenance of GLPA status for a PA.

5. What is the role of the private sector and how will you ensure long-term sustainability of the GLPA?

Simon: These two are linked but separate questions. There is a huge potential to mobilise the IUCN GLPA to encourage and channel private sector support for protected areas. This could happen at a local level, such as a company that invests in rehabilitation and protection of a nearby wetland; or at a regional or global level, through channelling resources and investment into performance through registration and measured progress against the GLPA Standard. The potential of the GLPA as a brand needs much more development, but with careful planning and targeted outreach, the structure and architecture of the GLPA will certainly allow it to engage with private sector interests as it evolves.

James: The initial pilot phase of the GLPA has provided initial feedback on the costs and benefits of various approaches. Obviously, the start-up costs are much higher than the longer-term recurrent costs will be. Both of these can now be better mapped out. As the IUCN GLPA moves into a development phase following the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014, we are looking for partners to help us guarantee that the short-term start-up costs are met and that we put in place the precise structures and resources to carry the GLPA through a measured growth pathway and meet the required costs in the medium-term.

Simon: New countries joining the GLPA will have the benefit of the trials and experience of the few pioneer partners, such as Colombia, Kenya and New South Wales, but the continued role out of the GLPA over the coming development phase will provide the critical test of our assumptions and measures in place.

James: We already have several countries and regions ready to join us in advancing the GLPA, including Mexico, Japan, Croatia and the Amazonas and Micronesia as regional jurisdictions. We invite your support and look forward to the challenge!

Green List queries

Green List queries

Photo: James Hardcastle