Aichi Target 12 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) contains the aim to ‘prevent extinctions of known threatened species’. To measure the degree to which this was achieved, we used expert elicitation to estimate the number of bird and mammal species whose extinctions were prevented by conservation action in 1993–2020 (the lifetime of the CBD) and 2010–2020 (the timing of Aichi Target 12). We found that conservation action prevented 21–32 bird and 7–16 mammal extinctions since 1993, and 9–18 bird and two to seven mammal extinctions since 2010. Many remain highly threatened and may still become extinct. Considering that 10 bird and five mammal species did go extinct (or are strongly suspected to) since 1993, extinction rates would have been 2.9–4.2 times greater without conservation action. While policy commitments have fostered significant conservation achievements, future biodiversity action needs to be scaled up to avert additional extinctions.