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Biodiversity A Global Outlook

3. What is the role of biodiversity indicators?

  • 3.1 What indicators are being used?
  • 3.2 Are those indicators suitable for assessing progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target?

3.1 What indicators are being used?

The source document for this Digest states:

Chapter 2

The 2010 Biodiversity Target: establishing current trends

To assess progress at the global level towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target, and to communicate effectively the trends related to the three objectives of the Convention and the seven focal areas referred to earlier, Parties to the Convention have established a number of indicators (Box 2.1).

Biodiversity indicators are communication tools that summarize data on complex environmental issues. They can be used to signal key issues to be addressed through policy or management interventions. Indicators, therefore, are important for monitoring the status and trends of biological diversity and, in turn, feeding back information on ways to continually improve the effectiveness of biodiversity policies and management programmes. When used to assess national, regional or global trends, they build a bridge between the fields of policy-making and science. Indicators that focus on key issues are referred to as “headline indicators”.

The global headline indicators established under the Convention are applied in this edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook. They provide a framework for assessing a broad cross-section of issues fundamental to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and to the equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. Although the indicators cannot cover all aspects of biodiversity, as a suite they assess key aspects of biodiversity from a number of different, complementary angles. Considering the suite of indicators in an integrated way allows for a more detailed analysis than the pure enumeration of the individual factors measured.

It should be noted that it is too early to determine whether progress is being made towards the 2010 target, since data collection generally does not have sufficient resolution to allow changes in rates of loss to be determined in the years since the target was adopted in 2002. This section therefore aims to establish current trends, against which progress can be judged in future editions of the Global Biodiversity Outlook.

Box 2.1 Headline indicators for assessing progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target

Source & ©: CBD  Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 (2006),
Chapter 2: The 2010 Biodiversity Target: Establishing current trends, p.21-22.

3.2 Are those indicators suitable for assessing progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target?

The source document for this Digest states:

Suitability of the indicators for assessing progress towards the 2010 target

The set of headline indicators developed under the Convention has been used to assess and communicate trends in biodiversity for the first time in Global Biodiversity Outlook 2. As demonstrated in this chapter, the headline indicators available for testing vary in the length of underlying time-series data, temporal and spatial resolution, and the confidence with which statements about current trends in biodiversity, the drivers of change, and some response options can be made.

Of the indicators available for immediate testing (decision VII/30, SBSTTA recommendation X/5), the following have been used in Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 with time-series data: trends in extent of selected biomes, ecosystems and habitats; trends in abundance and distribution of selected species; change in status of threatened species; coverage of protected areas; Marine Trophic Index; water quality in aquatic ecosystems; nitrogen deposition; trends in invasive alien species (for selected countries and regions only); ecological footprint and related concepts; and official development assistance provided in support of the Convention. In addition, the indicator for connectivity/ fragmentation of ecosystems (for forest biomes, and inland waters), has been used, but with no time series data.

In light of the testing of the use of the indicators in Global Biodiversity Outlook 2, and taking into account also the use of indicators in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the following conclusions can be drawn concerning the suitability of the indicator framework for assessing progress towards the 2010 target:

  • Information is already available to use several of the indicators of the Convention on Biological Diversity to describe current trends in biodiversity, the drivers of change, and some response options;
  • Only a sub-set of these indicators, however, are likely to have sufficient resolution to determine a change in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. (Such indicators might include: trends in extent of selected biomes, ecosystems and habitats in certain types of ecosystems; trends in abundance and distribution of selected species; change in status of threatened species; and the Marine Trophic Index);
  • There are a number of indicators recommended for immediate testing for which available data cover too short a time period to determine current trends at the global level, or for which further indicator development work is required. (These include: trends in genetic diversity of domesticated animals, cultivated plants, and fish species of major socioeconomic importance; area of forest, agricultural and aquaculture ecosystems under sustainable management; connectivity/fragmentation of ecosystems; and trends in invasive alien species).

In summary, while we still lack comprehensive global scale measures to assess progress towards the 2010 target, it is possible to describe trends in the status of biodiversity using this framework.

Taken together, the indicators allow us to establish current trends regarding some important aspects of biodiversity, particularly when they are analysed and interpreted as a suite of complementary and interdependent variables. However, research efforts that focus on improving the coverage and quality of underlying data and related indicator methodologies are required in order to obtain sufficient resolution to determine, with confidence, the general change in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. Furthermore, indicators and data are still lacking for certain focal areas under the framework, in particular, for trends in access and benefit-sharing. Additional indicators under the focal area related to protecting traditional knowledge, innovations and practices are also needed. On the basis of the information available to date, a common message emerges: biodiversity is in decline at all levels and geographical scales, but targeted response options—whether through protected areas, or resource management and pollution prevention programmes—can reverse this trend for specific habitats or species (Table 2.1).

It is important to recognize the important linkage between our ability to assess progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target and the likelihood of achieving this target. The adoption of the 2010 Biodiversity Target in 2002, and of a flexible framework for assessing progress towards the Convention’s Strategic Plan in 2004, has focused the attention of many researchers, segments of civil society, the private sector, representatives of indigenous and local communities, organizations and decision-makers on two related questions: where do we stand in relation to the 2010 target and what needs to be done to achieve it. There is no doubt that the ongoing debate on the need to reduce, and eventually halt the loss of biodiversity, and our ability to assess the effectiveness of actions undertaken in this regard, have already made a significant impact on decision-making and implementation of biodiversity-related activities.

The next chapter discusses the tools and mechanisms established under the Convention to further assist Parties and stakeholders in overcoming key challenges and in expanding efforts necessary to achieve the 2010 target and the longer-term goal of eventually halting biodiversity loss.

Source & ©: CBD  Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 (2006),
Chapter 2: The 2010 Biodiversity Target: Establishing current trends, p.40-43


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