Abstract

At the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, 190 countries endorsed a commitment to achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national levels. A wide range of approaches is available to the monitoring of progress towards this objective. The strengths and weaknesses of many of these approaches are considered, with special attention being given to the proposed and existing indicators described in the other papers in this issue. Recommendations are made about the development of indicators. Most existing and proposed indicators use data collected for other purposes, which may be unrepresentative. In the short term, much remains to be done in expanding the databases and improving the statistical techniques that underpin these indicators to minimize potential biases. In the longer term, indicators based on unrepresentative data should be replaced with equivalents based on carefully designed sampling programmes. Many proposed and existing indicators do not connect clearly with human welfare and they are unlikely to engage the interest of governments, businesses and the public until they do so. The extent to which the indicators already proposed by parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity are sufficient is explored by reference to the advice an imaginary scientific consultant from another planet might give. This exercise reveals that the range of taxa and biomes covered by existing indicators is incomplete compared with the knowledge we need to protect our interests. More fundamentally, our understanding of the mechanisms linking together the status of biodiversity, Earth system processes, human decisions and actions, and ecosystem services impacting human welfare is still too crude to allow us to infer reliably that actions taken to conserve biodiversity and protect ecosystem services are well chosen and effectively implemented. The involvement of social and Earth system scientists, as well as biologists, in collaborative research programmes to build and parameterize models of the Earth system to elucidate these mechanisms is a high priority.

Footnotes

  • Current address: Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa.

  • One contribution of 19 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Beyond extinction rates: monitoring wild nature for the 2010 target’.

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