South Africa’s Red List of Terrestrial Ecosystems (RLEs)

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Ecosystem level indicators are emerging as important pillars of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity; at the same time, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLEs) is experiencing rapid global uptake. We applied a systematic RLE assessment to 456 terrestrial ecosystems in South Africa between 2017 and 2021. What sets South Africa apart in this endeavour is that an independently formulated ecosystem threat status indicator was developed between 2004 and 2008 and the list of threatened ecosystems (effectively a proto RLE) was integrated into the national environmental regulatory framework in 2011. Through this, Critically Endangered and Endangered types were afforded a form of statutory protection through increased regulation of land-use change activities. We describe the transition to the IUCN RLE framework and focus on both the technical steps of incorporating the best available data into a credible assessment, and the unique social and legal processes to ensure that the biodiversity conservation sector in South Africa understood and supported the proposed replacement of the existing list of threatened ecosystems (2011) with the RLE (2021). We discuss the policy development steps required in South Africa, and the pros and cons of maintaining a legislative link for RLE implementation.