As the most important and largest international organisation for nature conservation, the IUCN, founded in 1948, plays a special role among international actors in this field.
In 1999, the IUCN was given observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. IUCN members comprise countries as well as governmental and non-governmental organisations active in the area of nature conservation. German members include the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and 20 NGOs. Every four years, members come together at the World Conservation Congress (WCC), the organisations general assembly. Every ten years, the World Parks Congress takes place; it deals with protected areas and draws up strategies and targets for their protection.
The objectives of the IUCN are "to 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." (Part II of IUCN Statutes and Regulations)
The IUCN had significant influence on shaping
- the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),
- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
- and the Ramsar Convention.
The IUCN also closely cooperates with:
- Traffic (wildlife trade monitoring network in collaboration with the WWF and IUCN),
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its World Heritage Committee, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
- and other international programmes.
Six commissions are responsible for implementing IUCN activities [for example the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and the Species Survival Commission (SSC)].
The IUCN is organised in operational regions. The European Regional Office is located in Brussels and focusses on European policies. It is widely recognised as an expert body.