The International Union for the Conservation of Nature will debate the formulation of its new "red list" of ecosystems,
which measures an ecosystem's risk of collapse, during the World Conservation Congress, held this week in South Korea.
The World Conservation Congress is held once every four years. According to LiveScience.com, some 8,000 people from 170 countries gathered on Jeju Island in South Korea, representing government agencies and nongovernmental organizations as well as scientists, business and community leaders.
The IUCN is known for its authoritative Red List of Threatened Species, which set the globally accepted criteria for assessing extinction risk
and currently includes over 100 of the world's most threatened species.
The new list aims to take a similar approach to entire ecosystems, determining the danger to an individual ecosystem, comparable to measuring the danger of a species going extinct.
The IUCN's executive board is expected to adopt the Red List criteria in early 2013. Funding is already in place for identifying vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered ecosystems across the Americas, from Alaska
to Patagonia, by 2014 and hopefully, global coverage will be completed by 2025.
According to the report, the IUCN hopes that the list will "help guide conservation action, including land use planning and investment priorities, by evaluating the risks of ecosystem collapse."
"The risk assessment will help people identify where key threats are, and then identify what can we do about it," said Edmund Barrow, head of the IUCN's Ecosystem Management Program.
"We limit the assessment to the likelihood of an ecosystem disappearing… We're letting others take it a step further into the priority-setting world."
According to the report, not all ecosystems experts agree with the idea of the list, saying "it doesn't make sense" to compare ecosystems to species, since it is unlikely that an entire ecosystem will cease to exist when one species disappears and another moves in.
The IUCN has launched a pilot program to assess the criteria using projects in the Sipapo Forest Reserve and Falcon State in Venezuela; China's Liaohe Delta; New South Wales, Australia; and in Senegal and New Zealand.
In the United States, the IUCN commission is interested in assessing the Midwest's shortgrass prairie and the Mississippi catchment basin, Barrow said. The organization also plans to study Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador.
The IUCN also plans to introduce a "Green List" to recognize efforts to prevent ecosystems from becoming more threatened. "There are some direct benefits of having the carrot and stick, though the Red (List) is not quite a stick," Barrow said.