The information "is still not there", Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), told a session on scientific approaches to biodiversity at the CBD's 11th Conference of Parties (COP 11) in Hyderabad, India, this week (9 October).
The lack of data may affect the fourth Global Biodiversity Outlook, scheduled for 2014, which will rely on actions and progress on targets (known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as agreed in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010), experts said.
The targets aim to reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and improve its status by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.
There is no integrated system to monitor biodiversity of Earth as a whole — information is available from only some parts. "We need to bridge that gap" and build partnerships that bring together scientific capacities of various institutions, with government support, Dias said.
He said early access to data is crucial to achieving the Aichi targets, adjusting actions where needed. But he cautioned against the use of past baselines that undermine long-term perspective and simplified indexes that may hide trends or problems.
The problem is particularly acute in developing countries, which are home to most global biodiversity and which are facing the brunt of environmental change, but "have the least capacity for monitoring", he added.
Many countries lack datasets with geographically accurate information on key components of biodiversity, at genetic, species and ecosystem levels, Georgios Sarantakos, a biodiversity specialist at the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), told the session.
Countries also lack the capacity and tools to use and combine sets of information, he said.
Most countries do not openly share field data that is available, and where data is shared, it is often not in a consistent format that can be used effectively by international groups.
Sarantakos said biodiversity funders should push for open access of data, and governments should invest more in ground and remote sensing observations.
Linda Krueger, vice president for policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society, who is engaged with the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) network, said biodiversity data is scattered among different institutions, people and projects.
Data is "inconsistent" because of different methodologies, which makes it difficult to synthesise the various datasets; and it suffers from a "geographical bias", with most data that feeds into indicators coming from temperate zones, Kruger said.
Indicators without data are not helpful, she added.
Biodiversity assessments also require social science inputs, and an understanding of how much different components of biodiversity benefit ecosystems and social actors, Natalia Pérez Harguindeguy, from the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, said.