The experience of indicators at the regional level – SEBI2010
Streamlining European 2010 Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI2010)141is a pan-European initiative led by the European Environment Agency (EEA) to facilitate the development and uptake of a common set of biodiversity indicators to track progress towards the target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 adopted by both the European Union and pan-European processes. Development of the indicator set involved a wide range of individuals and organizations contributing directly and through working groups, and has so far resulted in a technical report describing the indicators and how they are calculated and used,142 and a first assessment of progress based on the indicators143. SEBI2010 has identified 26 indicators under seven focal areas, and not unsurprisingly there is considerable overlap with the content of CBD indicator framework. Indeed this was deliberately and actively worked towards so as to ensure a degree of coherence.
Some of the key challenges identified in initially developing the set of indicators was in finding indicators which could be calculated for as many pan-European countries as possible, given variation in data availability in particular, in reducing the set of proposed indicators to a manageable number, and in ensuring that the indicators chosen were the ones most helpful for understanding achievement of policy objectives. In addition, as the availability of data from public bodies varies, use was made of data from non-governmental environmental organisations, with the hope that the existence of the set of biodiversity indicators and their recognition in policy documents would motivate countries to improve data collection.
However it is important to recognise that these indicators essentially draw primarily on existing data and indicators, and that this brings inherent bias in terms of what data can be used, and the existing were developed for different purposes by different institutions. A working group was therefore established to explore how interlinkages between indicators could increase their value and address some of the concerns.
In a preliminary report,144 the working group considered that while the indicator-set has the potential to enable policy makers to evaluate the progress towards the 2010-target it is questionable whether on the currently produced indicatorsscientifically sound conclusions could be drawn. The working group considered that improvements were required to inform policy makers in a proper manner, and made the following preliminary recommendations in addition to a list of suggested short-term actions.
On the representativeness of the indicators:
improve or extend the existing indicators and the databases underlying them to take account of additional species groups and additional genetic resources;
seek ways to make more effective use other existing data sources where data are collected in an harmonised way;
develop and improve indicators in those areas currently not properly covered, such as those addressing threats, use (goods and services, and sustainable use), ecosystem integrity and responses; and
extend monitoring systems to improve coverage and consistency, using harmonised standards and being appropriately quality controlled.
On interlinkages between the indicators:
build models of the major cause-effect relationship using the DPSIR framework in a concerted scientific manner;
make temporal scales, spatial scales, baselines, assessment principles and critical levels more coherent so that indicators have the potential to provide a more coherent picture when taken together;
determine critical levels in order to assess whether marine ecosystems, forest and agriculture are sustainably managed; and
ensure that those facilitating development of national and regional biodiversity research strategies address these issues.
The preliminary report goes on to say that indicators inform policy makers about the actual change in biodiversity and its use over time and space, and that in combination with models they are an indispensable tool for determining the major causes, their relative contribution, and finding cost-effective measures. Evaluation of the progress to the target is important, but using indicators as a continuous feed back to adjust and fine tune policies is of much higher value. They go on to say that while the cost of implementing their recommendations is high, the societal cost of policy inaction or wrong policies based on invalid information will be much higher.
Other working groups are reviewing communications, and biodiversity and climate change.
Strengthening the linkages between biodiversity indicators at the global and national scales
Two brief notes follow, the first an analysis of what has been said on indicators in the national reports submitted to the CBD by Parties, and the second a series of personal observations by someone who has been involved in running indicator workshops at national and regional levels. Both are included, despite a degree of overlap in the messages they convey, because they each illustrate the current situation from a different perspective.
Reports to the CBD on national level indicators
National governments recognise the need to develop their own indicator monitoring programmes, both for national biodiversity planning and for reporting against international commitments like the CBD 2010 Target and the MDGs. This is also encouraged by a number of decisions taken by intergovernmental processes.
A review of the available 3rd and 4th National Reports to the CBD suggests that national indicators have been adopted using the CBD framework as a guide, but designed to fit the specific context of a specific country. There is widespread recognition of the importance of national indicators and reference is made in both 3rd and 4th National Reports to a very wide range of indicators. These span all seven CBD focal areas, although overall there is a greater reference to indicators under three focal areas: status and trends of the components of biodiversity; threats to biodiversity, and; ecosystem integrity and ecosystem goods and services.
Despite much progress, there is a general perception that further development of national capacity to develop, monitor and report against agreed indicators is required in large parts of the world. National focal points for conventions like the CBD are often required to complete indicator-based reports without access to all of the necessary data (or the technical agencies capable of delivering it) to facilitate accurate, up-to-date, scientifically credible and comparable reporting.
A more detailed review of the 47 4th National Reports to the CBD available in June 2009, which asked specifically about indicators, suggested the following observations.
Parties are in different stages as far as the use of national indicators to specifically measure progress towards the 2010 target is concerned. Some indicated that they do not have national indicators; some indicated that indicators are being developed; some mentioned indicators in their report but no further detail or data were provided, some eluded to indicators in the report and presented information showing trends in status of biodiversity and ecosystems. Few Parties reported on the indicators with evidence of use.
Numerous Parties mentioned they have not developed national biodiversity indicators. Reasons for this include a lack of administrative and technical capacity, inadequate funding available to the government, and political instability meaning routinely monitoring indicators was not feasible.
The majority of Parties listed indicators that were in development. Quantitative indicator data was not often presented as evidence of change. Some Parties used simple (qualitative) scoring to show if there has been progress, no change or negative development with regard to specific global 2010 indicators.
The majority of developing countries blamed their inability to routinely apply indicators on lack of capacity, lack of consistent trend data, absence of ecological baselines against which change is measured and lack of established monitoring systems. “Marginalisation” of environmental ministries and limited knowledge on the definition of indicators to measure progress towards the 2010 CBD target also hinders progress.
Although there is often a vast body of national data available on various aspects of biodiversity in a country, many of the data sets are “one-off” studies, often covering only a portion of the country. As a result, it can be a challenge to find ways of integrating different data sets and making them comparable to produce time series statistics.
A lack of institutional responsibility and accountability for biodiversity survey and monitoring makes it very difficult for some countries to establish and verify biodiversity trends. Data ownership and management were common problems. Many government institutions do not have data management structures in place so that data and information is often ‘person-bound’ rather than ‘institution-bound’.
Sustaining good biodiversity monitoring systems over time is a major challenge in some cases, particularly after donors exit.
Strengthening the linkages between biodiversity indicators at the global and national scales – a personal perspective
The following is based on experience UNEP-WCMC has gained from leading two indicator-related GEF projects, and one project supported by the UN Development Account. The Biodiversity Indicators for National Use involved experience in Ecuador, Kenya, Philippines and Ukraine, and the ongoing 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership project (which has some national support components) and Building national capacity for policy-making and reporting on MDG-7 environmental sustainability and the 2010 Biodiversity Target project have so far involved regional workshops in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand and Trinidad.
The CBD Conference of the Parties emphasised that national biodiversity strategies and action plans, as the primary mechanisms for the implementation of the Convention and its Strategic Plan, should be developed and/or reviewed with due regard to the relevant aspects of the four goals of the Strategic Plan, and the goals established by decision VII/30. The COP also invited Parties and Governments to use existing national indicators or to establish national indicators, as well as emphasising the need for capacity-building.
Having said that, experience from the 2010BIP workshops on national biodiversity indicators suggests that most of these countries are not developing indicators within the CBD 2010 target indicator framework per se, although some have carried out one-off exercises to compile relevant information for the purpose of the CBD 4th National Report.
The linkages between global and national biodiversity indicator production and use would appear to currently be weak, and there is even a risk of actions for global biodiversity indicator reporting being a distraction from national biodiversity conservation actions. One of the reasons for the few linkages of data and reporting between global and national biodiversity indicators is that they are mostly produced for different users and differed purposes.
Global scale: The motivations for global-scale indicators are usually: for reporting on progress in achieving global targets; as a communication tool by interest groups to raise awareness of particular topics; and to support global-scale strategic planning and prioritisation.
National scale: The aims of national-scale indicator development commonly include: to aid the design and monitoring of conservation strategies; to assist the development of policies and management plans for commercially important biodiversity; and to raise awareness and actions for topics of importance to interest groups, including NGOs and academia.
For an indicator to be produced on a consistent basis over time it is necessary for there to be an agency with this responsibility. This agency also has to have the capacity to obtain and analyse the data and communicate the results. One of the reasons for the very limited development of national biodiversity indicators in developing countries is that there is rarely an institution with a clear role and capacity for the consistent production of biodiversity indicators. And while there is usually some relevant data for the production of indicators, this is often not systematically gathered and used as indicators to support decision-making.
The principal need for biodiversity information at the national scale is to support the design and implementation of NBSAPs and biodiversity-relevant decision-making by all sectors of society. Very few developing countries have information management systems suitable for the inclusion of biodiversity and ecosystem service considerations in the design of their country’s development plans. Currently issues such as land use change for biofuel production or intensifying food production, or programmes for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are those that will require detailed information on the biodiversity values of major land areas, and changes in those values over time. These information needs may or may not coincide with those of international indicators and reporting requirements, but they will inevitably be the priority at the national level.
Based on these observations, it is suggested that the following two points need to be considered closely when developing successful biodiversity indicators to support management actions:
Indicators must be seen as part of a process of understanding and managing biodiversity and the natural environment. They are not the start or the end points for analysis and decision-making, but information tools to help identify and understand important issues and to monitor progress.
Indicators for reporting and management decision-making should be designed in relation to a description of the desired state or behaviour of a process or issue. Ideally the definition of desired states and behaviours of an issue should be informed by conceptual models including both biophysical and socio-elements and their relationships. Conceptual models and indicators of their variables also form the basis of models for scenario analysis, to explore possible consequences of policy options.
While global biodiversity indicators are undoubtedly important, in order to best support national efforts, further development of the indicator frameworks for MEAs and other international processes with national implications should probably focus on strengthening the information for actions to implement those agreements and processes at the national level, with global scale reporting and analysis a vital but secondary objective. This will help ensure that not only are national needs directly supported, but that there is therefore a clear “interest” in maintaining the relevant data into the future.
International expert workshop on the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators and Post-2010 Indicator Development (6-8 July 2009)
In July 2009, UNEP-WCMC convened a workshop with the CBD Secretariat and the support of the UK Government to review the use and effectiveness of the 2010 biodiversity indicators, and to consider implications for development of the post-2010 targets and indicators. Discussions at this workshop, which involved 70 stakeholders from some 25 countries, focused on four key areas: sufficiency of the current 2010 biodiversity indicator set; its scientific rigour; the policy relevance of the indicators; and their effective communication.
The key lessons learnt were identified by participants as:
the framework is comprehensive, and can be mapped to other frameworks (such as DPSIR), but there have been problems showing how it fits together to integrate the indicators into a coherent story, and the complexity of biodiversity and of the framework is a continuing problem in terms of communicating to disparate audiences;
the framework is primarily structured around CBD priorities, but its relevance to other sectors and MEA processes is less clear, thereby hindering its uptake and use beyond the CBD, meanwhile the parallel development of the CBD targets/ goals and the indicator framework has led to a disconnect which was not intended;
the framework is flexible, thereby enabling implementation at a variety of scales, and focusing on outcomes has focused minds and spurred engagement, and this has facilitated political adoption, but the absence of clear targets and awareness raising is a barrier to arousing public interest;
there is a tension between scientific rigour and communicating the results of the indicators to a variety of audiences (both are needed), and methods for assessing the significance of change, and distance to target are underdeveloped, which is a problem for both scientific rigour and communication of the results;
some indicators are well developed, others are still under developed, and the current indicator set is incomplete in a number of areas, including wild genetic resources, human well-being, ecosystem quality and services, threats, sustainable use, ABS and so on; and
there is no clear process or criteria for evaluating the scientific rigour of the indicators; the representatively and adequacy of the data underlying them needs to be transparently documented, and their geographic, taxonomic and temporal coverage needs to be improved;
the communication that has taken place has been ad-hoc, opportunistic, and more focused on reporting than a systematic effort to convey the lessons from the indicators, meanwhile biodiversity means different things to different sectors, and the messages from individual indicators and the set as a whole do not take this fully into account.
The full report was still being prepared when this gap analysis was completed, but the preliminary conclusions of the three day meeting pending review of the meeting report included the following.
A small set of (10-15) broad head-line indicators, clearly linked to the main target and/or sub targets, should be maintained/developed, based on a set of sub-indicators/categories in order to communicate the indicator set through key storylines and clear, policy relevant messages, while maintaining a flexible framework to cater for national/regional needs.
The current framework of global indicators should be modified and simplified into four focal areas: threats to biodiversity; state of biodiversity; ecosystem services; and policy responses. Existing indicators should be re-aligned with the new framework, as appropriate, in order to maintain continuity and enhance their use. The relationships between the focal areas and indicators and new post-2010 targets should be clearly explained and documented, including the scientific basis and assumptions.
Some additional indicators on threats to biodiversity, status of species diversity, ecosystem extent and condition, ecosystem services and policy responses should be developed in order to provide a more complete and flexible set of indicators to monitor progress towards a post-2010 target and to clearly link actions and biodiversity outcomes to benefits for people.
National capacity for framework application, indicator development, data collection and information management should be further developed and properly resourced in order to strengthen countries’ ability to develop, monitor and communicate on a participatory, sustained and integrated basis.
Priority should be given to developing a communication strategy for the post 2010 targets and indicators in order to inform policy discussions and ensure effective communication of the multiple messages coming from the indicators into all sectors, ensuring that the relevance of the message to human wellbeing was clearly understood.
Additionally participants recognised that a flexible and inclusive process/partnership for post-2010 indicator development should be maintained and adequately resourced in order to increase collaboration in the development, quality control, implementation and communication of indicators at all levels, including the sharing of experience and the building of capacity.
Areas of overlap of various indicator processes with the CBD biodiversity indicator framework, an example using selected processes145
Ramsar Indicators of Effectiveness
Global 2010 indicators
A: The overall conservation status of wetlands
(i) Status and trends in ecosystem extent
(ii) Trends in conservation status of wetlands – qualitative assessment
Trends in extent of selected biomes, ecosystems and habitats