More data and better systems for assessing the number of plant and animal species are needed to ensure that progress towards global targets on biodiversity is tracked effectively, according to the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's leading scientific organisation.
In a report released this week, the society says that "no sound scientific basis currently exists for assessing global performance" against the target, agreed at last year's World Summit on Sustainable Development, of significantly reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.
"We already know enough about what is causing the loss of biological diversity, and where this is occurring, to appreciate that this is a huge problem," says Georgina Mace, director of science at the Zoological Society of London and a member of the working group that produced the report, Measuring Biodiversity for Conservation.
"However, we need to be able to tell if the loss of species and their habitats is speeding up or slowing down, and whether conservation is having any impact."
The report draws significantly different conclusions to a meeting in London of more than 100 environmental scientists and development professionals earlier this year, which urged against new research initiatives to measure progress towards meeting global targets on biodiversity loss. (see New research 'unneeded' to monitor species protection).