New POSTnote on Effective Biodiversity Indicators

The UK is committed to targets under international biodiversity agreements to value, conserve and restore the variety of life on earth (biodiversity). Progress towards targets is tracked using indicators, which are designed to summarise complex monitoring data. This POSTnote reviews indicator use and development in the context of the post-2020 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Global Biodiversity Framework.

Biodiversity refers not only to the diversity of the biological components of a system (genes, species, ecosystems), but also more broadly to the interactions between species, structures of biological networks, and the overall functioning or resilience of ecosystems. These broader concepts are often hard to understand, define and measure. This complexity can be measured in various ways but no single metric can adequately describe biodiversity as a whole. Indicators are composed of one or more measures that summarise complex data into simple, standardised and communicable figures. 

The UK is committed to multiple international biodiversity goals and targets, such as those set out by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Oslo/Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East AtlanticBiodiversity is rapidly declining, and most of the Aichi Targets set out in the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 20112020 have not been met, either globally or in the UK. The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the CBD in 2021 will agree new 10-year post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework objectives. Global, regional, national and local biodiversity indicators will be used to measure and communicate progress towards the new targets. The development and use of biodiversity indicators are challenging, but they can provide a basis for communicating progress towards targets and can also be used to evaluate policies underpinning conservation measures. 

This POSTnote describes the challenges surrounding the effective use of biodiversity indicators. These challenges are interlinked and include the types, varieties and number of indicators used; challenges of assessing progress towards targets; and data availability. Possible future indicator developments and advances in monitoring are also outlined. 

Key Points: 

  • Links between biodiversity loss and drivers of change are complex; indicators are used to describe and communicate trends in aspects of biodiversity, and can be used to aid policy decisions. 
  • The types, varieties and numberof indicators can be a source of confusion, but they can help to identify important location-specific trends in biodiversity. 
  • The difficulty of setting appropriate baselines for reference, the ambiguity of biodiversity targets and the differing sensitivity of indicators to change over time create challenges for assessing progress towards biodiversity targets. 
  • The quantity and quality of representative data available for indicator development is a key limitation. Researchers suggest greater clarity about global biodiversity targets would aid the selection of indicators. 

Read the full POSTnote.