Biodiversity indicators and assessments need greater investment

18 September 2009 | News story

For the world’s governments to understand adequately how their actions and policies are impacting the planet’s species and ecosystems, more investment is needed in the set of biodiversity indicators that has been developed to measure these impacts. This is the conclusion of a review published today in the journal Science by a group of the leading scientists and organisations working on this issue.

In 2002 the world’s leaders adopted a target of significantly reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. In October next year, the international community will convene in Nagoya, Japan for the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) to review whether the target has been met.

The answer lies in a set of 22 biodiversity indicators being developed by over 40 international organizations participating in the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership. In their article “Tracking progress toward the 2010 biodiversity target and beyond”, the authors have assessed the development of these indicators, and found that the set is by no means complete. Five of the headline indicators are not being developed, and only a minority of the datasets used to underpin the other 17 have good global coverage and time series data to detect trends.

"There is certainly a need to invest in biodiversity indicators but more importantly in baseline assessments underpinning those indicators. This is what IUCN has been pushing for and what the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has been doing for years. As shown in our latest publication Wildlife in a Changing World, the IUCN Red List index by itself shows that we are far from reverting the decline of wildlife throughout the wold.. More action is needed quickly while there is still a window of opportunity. The more we wait, the bigger the cost" said Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head, IUCN Species Programme.

Besides highlighting the limited development of indicators, the review also raises questions over whether the current suite of indicators will provide all the right answers. For example, the indicators do not include any measure of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, and few that shine a light on the benefits, the goods and services, that we gain from biodiversity and natural ecosystems. “Biodiversity monitoring and indicators will only be successful if they help to answer the questions that decision makers are asking” says Robert Höft, Environmental Affairs Officer of the CBD Secretariat.

The CBD meeting next year in Nagoya will see decisions made about future biodiversity targets beyond 2010 and with it the continuation and future development of the indicator set. “Nagoya will provide the perfect opportunity to build on the accomplishments of the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership and refine the suite of indicators for meeting the needs for global decision makers over the next decade and beyond” says Robert Höft.

The new indicator set is already a hot topic within the biodiversity sector. Seventy experts from governments, non-governmental organisations and universities met in Reading, UK, in July this year to create a list of indicator recommendations for the Nagoya meeting. “We are eagerly anticipating the outcomes of Nagoya. If the right indicator set is chosen, the global community can look to the future with greater optimism for adequate and accurate biodiversity monitoring, an essential component of sustainable development” added Dr Walpole.


The Article
The article is available from the AAAS Office of Public Programs. Tel +1-202-326-6440 or scipak@aaas.org. The full citation is: Walpole, M. et al. (2009) Tracking Progress Toward the 2010 Biodiversity Target and Beyond. Science 325, 1503-4.

The 2010 Biodiversity Target
In April 2002, at the 6th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), governments committed themselves ‘to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth’. This ‘2010 Biodiversity Target’ was later endorsed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), and has been included in UN Millennium Development Goal 7 (MDG 7) under the ‘reducing biodiversity loss’ target.

The biodiversity indicators
The CBD has identified 22 headline indicators from seven focal areas for assessing progress towards, and communicating the 2010 target at a global level. Each headline indicator may be made up of a composite of indicators, also termed measures. Many of the biodiversity indicators are fully developed and ready for immediate use at the global scale, whilst others require further development and testing. Although developed principally for global use, a number of the indicators can be disaggregated to assess biodiversity trends at regional, national and sub-national scales. A full indictor list and information on individual indicators is available from the 2010 BIP website (www.twentyten.net).

The 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership
The 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (2010 BIP) is a global initiative to track progress towards achieving the “2010 biodiversity target” to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. The Partnership is a collaboration of over 40 international organizations and agencies developing global biodiversity indicators and is the leading source of information on trends in global biodiversity.

The 2010 BIP has been established with major support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The Secretariat of the 2010 BIP is hosted by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, U.K.

The Convention on Biological Diversity
Signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. The Convention was inspired by the world community's growing commitment to sustainable development. It represents a dramatic step forward in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

The Global Environment Facility
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is a global partnership among 178 countries, international institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives. It provides grants for projects related to six focal areas: biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.