The irresistible target meets the unachievable objective: what have 8 years of GSPC implementation taught us about target setting and achievable objectives?




We review the available information regarding progress towards the Targets of the Global Strategy of Plant Conservation (GSPC). The diverse review processes are inconsistent in their evaluation of how successful implementation has been. Differences between national and global perspectives are key to understanding these discrepancies. There are also differences of implementation at national and global levels. The greater part of GSPC implementation is at national level and reliable monitoring of progress requires consistency of national reporting against a baseline, over time. The critical limitation to assessing implementation success objectively is the lack of baselines and mechanisms for measuring and monitoring progress. Targets tended to be more effective in stimulating conservation action when they identified outcomes that could be delivered primarily by a single community or discipline and where there was a clear way of identifying progress, gaps and success. If a Target is to mobilize and focus resources to achieve tangible conservation outcomes, active participation of actors who are closely aligned to the scope of the Target may be more important than whether the Target is actually achievable. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 166, 250–260.


The adoption of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) represents a landmark in international conservation since the 16 GSPC Targets included the first quantitative and time-bound Targets to be adopted by the international conservation community. Now, among myriad reviews of progress towards these Targets and others subsequently adopted, it is timely to consider not only what has been achieved but also the extent to which the existence of the Targets and the nature of the individual Targets influenced implementation.

The origins of the GSPC can be traced back to the 16th International Botanical Congress, held in St Louis in August 1999, at which delegates called for action to promote the conservation of plant diversity (Anon, 1999; Wyse Jackson & Kennedy, 2009). Following this, in April 2000 an ad hoc meeting of leading botanists and conservationists representing international and national organizations and other bodies from 14 countries, produced the Gran Canaria Declaration (BGCI, 2000) outlining the major elements of a Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. This document was forwarded to the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) held in Nairobi in May 2000. COP requested the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) to make recommendations to the next meeting of COP regarding the development of the GSPC and also to consult with relevant organizations in the development of these recommendations (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2000). Following 2 years of consultation, during which the formulation of the Targets and the technical rationale for each of these Targets were discussed by a wide range of specialists (UNEP, 2002a, b, c, d), the GSPC was formally adopted by COP VI as Decision VI/9 in The Hague, the Netherlands, in April 2002. The contribution of the ‘Gran Canaria Group’ in developing the Strategy was welcomed and relevant organizations were invited to contribute to the further development of the Strategy (UNEP, 2002e). In 2003, as a result of individual invitations from the Executive Secretary of the CBD, several organizations facilitated stakeholder consultations to further refine the implementation of the Targets by suggesting milestones and clarifying baselines for monitoring progress (UNEP, 2003a, b). The Targets and their facilitating organizations are presented in Table 1. Following from these activities, Decision VII/10 of COP welcomed ‘the establishment, by the Executive Secretary, of a flexible coordination mechanism for the Strategy, comprising: liaison groups to be convened as necessary according to established procedures; national focal points, as determined by Parties; the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation; and the Secretariat, including the Programme Officer supported by Botanic Gardens Conservation International’ (UNEP, 2004).

Table 1.  Targets of the Global Strategy of Plant Conservation (GSPC), proposed post-2010 Targets and the current facilitating organizations
GSPC TargetProposed post-2010 GSPC Target (UNEP, 2010c)Current facilitating institution* (UNEP, 2003a)
  • *

    CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; FAO, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations; IPGRI, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, now Bioversity International; IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature; UNEP, United Nations Environment Programme.

  • n/a, not available.

Target 1. A widely accessible working list of known plant species, as a step towards a complete world floraTarget 1: An online flora of all known plantsRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK
Target 2. A preliminary assessment of the conservation status of all known plant species, at national, regional and international levelsTarget 2: An assessment of the conservation status of all known plant species, as far as possible, to guide conservation actionIUCN–World Conservation Union
Target 3. Development of models with protocols for plant conservation and sustainable use, based on research and practical experienceTarget 3: Information, research and associated outputs, and methods necessary to implement the Strategy developed and sharedn/a
Target 4. At least 10% of each of the world's ecological regions effectively conservedTarget 4: At least 15% of each ecological region or vegetation type secured through effective management and/or restorationWorld Wide Fund for Nature
Target 5. Protection of 50% of the most important areas for plant diversity assuredTarget 5: At least 75% of the most important areas for plant diversity of each ecological region protected with effective management in place for conserving plants and their genetic diversityPlantlife International and IUCN
Target 6. At least 30% of production lands managed consistent with the conservation of plant diversityTarget 6: At least 75% of production lands in each sector managed sustainably, consistent with the conservation of plant diversityFAO and IPGRI
Target 7. Sixty per cent of the world's threatened plant species conserved in situ.Target 7: At least 75% of threatened plant species conserved in situ.UNEP–World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Target 8. Sixty per cent of threatened plant species in accessible ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and 10% of them included in recovery and restoration programmesTarget 8: At least 75% of threatened plant species in ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and at least 20% available for recovery and restoration programmesBotanic Gardens Conservation International and IPGRI
Target 9. Seventy per cent of the genetic diversity of crops and other major socio-economically valuable plant species conserved, and associated indigenous and local knowledge maintainedTarget 9: 70 per cent of the genetic diversity of crops including their wild relatives and other socio-economically valuable plant species conserved, while respecting, preserving and maintaining associated indigenous and local knowledgeFAO and IPGRI
Target 10. Management plans in place for at least 100 major alien species that threaten plants, plant communities and associated habitats and ecosystemsTarget 10: Effective management plans in place to prevent new biological invasions and to manage important areas for plant diversity that are invadedGlobal Invasive Species Programme
Target 11. No species of wild flora endangered by international tradeTarget 11: No species of wild flora endangered by international tradeCITES
Target 12. Thirty per cent of plant-based products derived from sources that are sustainably managedTarget 12: All wild harvested plant-based products sourced sustainablyFAO and IPGRI
Target 13. The decline of plant resources, and associated indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices that support sustainable livelihoods, local food security and health care haltedTarget 13: Indigenous and local knowledge innovations and practices associated with plant resources, maintained or increased, as appropriate, to support customary use, sustainable livelihoods, local food security and health careFAO, IPGRI and People and Plants International
Target 14. The importance of plant diversity and the need for its conservation incorporated into communication, educational and public-awareness programmesTarget 14: The importance of plant diversity and the need for its conservation incorporated into communication, education and public awareness programmesBotanic Gardens Conservation International
Target 15. The number of trained people working with appropriate facilities in plant conservation increased, according to national needs, to achieve the Targets of this StrategyTarget 15: The number of trained people working with appropriate facilities sufficient according to national needs, to achieve the Targets of this Strategy.n/a
Target 16. Networks for plant conservation activities established or strengthened at national, regional and international levelsTarget 16: Institutions, networks and partnerships for plant conservation established or strengthened at national, regional and international levels to achieve the Targets of this Strategyn/a

Decision VI/9 and VII/10 established two principles, which are the subject of discussion in this paper. First, the use of outcome Targets was established as a pilot approach for the use of Targets within the Convention generally. Second, since inception of the GSPC, the development and implementation of the Strategy and Targets have evolved in close collaboration with relevant organizations with the aim to ‘avoid duplication of effort, promote collaboration and synergies among existing initiatives, and facilitate analysis of the status, trends, and effectiveness of different measures on the conservation and sustainable use of plant diversity’ (UNEP, 2002e). Our aim here is to provide an overview of the available information regarding progress towards the Targets and by comparing progress in different Targets, try to identify strengths and weaknesses of approaches and identify factors that contribute to success. In particular, we aim to examine how effective the Target-setting approach has been generally and how effective the Target-setting approach was in individual Targets. We hope these findings will be useful in guiding the next phase of implementation of the GSPC after 2010.


Progress towards the 16 Targets of the GSPC has been reviewed from a variety of viewpoints and at different times. Several in-depth reviews have focused on progress and challenges relating to a single Target (Nic Lughadha, 2004; Paton et al., 2008; Schatz, 2009). These provide useful insights into how progress and barriers are perceived and described by stakeholders with differing perspectives. However, the foundation of our study must be across-the-board reviews, which attempt to consider all 16 Targets at the same time using broadly the same criteria. Five such reviews comprise the evidence base for our analysis: the Third National Reports of Parties to the CBD; an in-depth review of the implementation of the GSPC considered by SBSTTA XII in June 2007 and by COP IX in May 2008, and Decisions arising from there; the Plant Conservation report; an online consultation and a recent review of implementation in botanic gardens. Here, we outline the nature and content of each review before attempting inter-review comparisons.

National reports

All Parties to the CBD commit to the submission of regular National Reports providing information on measures taken for the implementation of the Convention and the effectiveness of these measures (CBD, 2010a). For their Third National Report, which was due for submission by 15 May 2005, Parties were requested, for the first time, to provide structured information on the implementation of the GSPC. Specifically, Parties were asked, with respect to each of the 16 GSPC Targets, whether the Party had ‘established a national target corresponding to the global target’ and whether, ‘your country incorporated the above global or national target into relevant plans, programmes and strategies’. Although the Third National Reports were due in May 2005, they were in fact submitted over a period extending far beyond the due date. As of June 2010, some 150 of the 193 Parties to the Convention had submitted their Third National Report, with 132 submitting in a format compatible with the CBD analysis tool (CBD, 2010b). As a result, the material collated from the reports should not be interpreted as a single snapshot of the status of GSPC implementation as of early 2005, but rather as a series of national snapshots presenting the status of implementation by particular Parties at particular points in time over the period 2005–2010. Nonetheless, we can assume that any individual report covers a defined period of time and that between-target comparisons derived from the same suite of reports are therefore valid.

A priori, it might have been anticipated that the Fourth National Reports would provide an important source of information for this study, but this proved not to be the case. The Fourth National Reports were due in March 2009. The format differs from that requested for the Third National Report and does not include structured questions on GSPC implementation, but simply provides opportunities for Parties to comment in Annex III of the report. As a result, some countries provide a wealth of information on implementation of GSPC, for example Germany (UNEP, 2010a), whereas others provide little information. As of July 2010, just 120 of the 193 parties had submitted their Fourth National Reports, and Africa, South America and the Caribbean were under-represented in the returns, relative to the level of returns seen for the Third National Report.

In summary, although the Fourth National Reports provide more up-to-date information on GSPC implementation for many countries, we preferred to use the Third National Reports for this study because overall coverage is more comprehensive and less skewed towards developed countries. Also, GSPC coverage is more comprehensive and standardized and therefore lends itself more readily to comparisons.

The results of the Third National Reports are summarized in Table 2. Overall, there was a greater tendency for Parties to incorporate Targets into relevant plans than to establish national Targets corresponding directly to the GSPC Target. In general, Parties reported greater progress in implementing Targets 1 and 2 under the objective of ‘understanding plants’ and Target 14 under the GSPC objectives of ‘promoting education’, than under Targets 5–13 dealing with ‘conserving plants’ and ‘sustainable use’ and Targets 15 and 16 related to ‘capacity building’. Although some of these reports are now 5 years old, they do demonstrate the relative ease and difficulties of setting and mainstreaming the GSPC Targets into national policy. With reference to Target 4, the Third National Reports differ in comparison with most of the other reviews studied here. These National Reports suggest that countries have generally set national targets and incorporated Target 4 into national plans, whereas most other reviews identify Target 4 as requiring enhanced implementation.

Table 2.  Summary of the Third National Report responses on the Global Strategy of Plant Conservation (GSPC). Lower numbers indicate reduced levels of implementation by establishing relevant national Targets or mainstreaming Targets into national plans
 Parties which have established national Target corresponding to this GSPC Target (%)Parties which have incorporated this Target into relevant plans (%)
Understanding plants
Conserving plants
Sustainable use
Promoting education
Capacity building

SBSTTA XII and COP IX: in -depth review

An in-depth review of the implementation of the GSPC was presented to the 12th meeting of SBSTTA in June 2007 (UNEP, 2007). This review was based on: information compiled from the Third National Reports, additional information submitted by Parties and other stakeholders and partners; input from the meeting of a liaison group convened by the Executive Secretary in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation in October 2006; and comments received on draft review documents. Following discussion of the content of the in-depth review, SBSTTA XII recorded ‘notable progress’ in Targets 1, 5, 8, 9, 11,14, 15 and 16 and ‘limited progress’ in Targets 2, 4, 6, 10 and 12 and noted problems with progress in Targets 3 and 7, and thus recommended enhanced implementation of Targets 2, 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12. However, in considering the in-depth review in May 2008, COP IX, in decision IX/3, identified Targets 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 15 as requiring enhanced implementation; and further requested SBSTTA to carry out further review of implementation of Targets 3, 6, 9, 11, 12 and 13 that are related to sustainable use of plant diversity when considering work in that area (UNEP, 2008). Thus, COP and SBSTTA reached different conclusions when considering the in-depth review.

Plant conservation report

SBSTTA XII also requested the preparation of a Plant Conservation Report (PCR) to provide input into the third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook and serve to communicate and raise awareness of implementation of the Strategy. The report was published in 2009, compiled from information provided by technical experts involved in implementation of the Strategy working as members of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (, GSPC focal points from UK, Canada and Ireland and the CBD secretariat (SCBD, 2009). The report noted ‘limited progress’ in Targets 2, 4, 6, 12 and 15 and recognized ‘substantial progress’ in eight Targets: 1, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14 and 16.

Online consultation

As part of the process to consider the development of the GSPC post-2010, The Executive Secretary invited Parties, GPPC partners and relevant stakeholders to provide their input, contributions through an online consultation on the GSPC conducted from 1 to 30 April 2009 (UNEP, 2009a, b). The online consultation addressed the effectiveness and relevance of the Strategy generally, but also requested input on the development of the 16 Targets specifically. Although open to all, the part dealing with the individual Targets was targeted at technical experts who had been involved in the implementation of the Strategy. Seventy-seven respondents provided input, with an average of 40 respondents per Target.

The online consultation found that there was a need to define the Targets more clearly, ensure that they were SMART (specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and time-bound) and that baselines and milestones needed to be identified. In particular, Targets 3, 13, 14, 15 and 16 were identified as enabling Targets and considered difficult to measure and monitor. The consultation recommended maintaining Targets 1, 11, 14 and 16 as they were; improving measures for the implementation of Targets 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 15 and updating Targets 4 and 10.

Review of implementation in botanic gardens

Williams & Sharrock (2010) surveyed botanic gardens to investigate the degree of influence the GSPC has had upon individual botanic garden activities and to assess what activities botanic gardens are currently undertaking that contribute to each of the GSPC Targets. Information was provided by 252 botanic gardens worldwide. Seventy-five per cent of gardens indicated that GSPC had been influential in their activities. The survey found that Targets 1, 8, 14, 15 and 16 were well supported, with over 50% of gardens identifying actions on their part contributing to implementation of these Targets. Targets 4, 6, 9 and 12 displayed weaker implementation, with fewer than 15% of responding gardens conducting activities supporting these Targets.

Reconciling the reviews

Table 3 attempts a Target-by-Target summary of the views expressed by the different reviews. There is striking variation from report to report in perceptions of how well a Target is being implemented. Only Target 12 is consistently identified as requiring enhanced implementation. Only Target 14 is not identified by any of the reviews as being problematic in its implementation. Targets 3, 6, 9, 11, 12 and 13, related to sustainable use of plant diversity, are most frequently identified as problematic.

Table 3.  Comparison from different viewpoints of Global Strategy of Plant Conservation (GSPC) Targets requiring enhanced implementation or changes in target in the case of the online consultation
Viewpoint*DateTargets requiring enhanced implementation
  • *

    CBD, Convention on Biological Diversity; COP, Conference of Parties; SCBD, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; UNEP, United Nations Environment Programme.

CBD Parties Third National Report (Table 2)2005–20103, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 15
CBD COP decision IX/3 (UNEP, 2008)20081, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 15 (3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13 – further review requested)
Plant Conservation report (SCBD, 2009)20092, 4, 6, 12 and 15
Online consultation (UNEP, 2009 a, b)20092, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 15
Botanic Gardens (Williams & Sharrock, 2010)20104, 6, 9, 10 and 12


Any discussion of relative effectiveness of Targets must be undertaken with the recognition that the targets varied widely in their level of ambition, although all were carefully analysed and considered realistic at the time of adoption in 2002. Although we cannot entirely factor out differences in the scale of the challenge presented by different Targets, we attempt to reduce the impact of these by emphasizing comparisons of more similar Targets. For example, under the broad theme ‘Understanding and documenting plant diversity’, Targets 1 and 2 are more comparable than Target 3.

Target 1 has generally been regarded as successful except by COP Decision IX/3, whereas Target 2 has generally been regarded as problematic in its implementation (Table 3). Comparison of these Targets gives an interesting insight into not only what has worked well, but also the causes of differing opinion on the progress on implementation. Globally, Target 1 can be seen as a success, and was achieved by the end of 2010, with the production of The Plant List, coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Missouri Botanical Gardens ( The Third National Reports also indicate that most Parties have set national targets corresponding to Target 1 and have incorporated Target 1 into relevant national plans. However, discussions at COP IX highlighted the lack of taxonomic capacity at national level to compile and maintain national lists, although the lack of capacity is not specified in detail. There is also a need to integrate work at the global and national levels to ensure the longer-term maintenance of the data and its quality and to ensure the Target meets the needs of the Parties (SCBD, 2009; UNEP, 2010b).

In comparison, progress towards Target 2 at a global level has been limited, with only approximately 4% of plants assessed using the current global standard of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List (IUCN, 2010). Mechanisms are still in the early stages of development, with a view to bring national resources together to create a product consistent with requirement of Target 2 for a preliminary assessment of all known species; for example, National Red lists – a focal point for national red lists and action plans ( However, at a national level, some two-thirds of Parties have incorporated Target 2 into national plans and many national lists exist, although they have not yet been cross-referenced into a global recording system (Schatz, 2009).

When progress at global and national levels is considered, a key difference in implementation between Targets 1 and 2 is the extent to which facilitating organizations have managed to deal with data from global and national initiatives in a flexible, integrated way. Target 1 has advanced through world-scale listing for particular families in parallel with national and regional efforts, culminating in a ‘final push’ to bring major data sets from these two approaches together in a single (imperfect) Target 1 product. A considerable barrier to progress in Target 2 has been the delay and lack of willingness to compile assessment data at global level that is not entirely consistent with IUCN Red List standards. Importantly, Target 2 does not call for all species to be assessed to these standards, but, more realistically, for a preliminary assessment. However, at global level, progress with Target 2 is more or less imperceptible. A range of interrelated factors underlie this disappointing result. The data underpinning Target 2 are, for example, more complex. However, a major reason for the difference in approach and the resulting difference in outcome would appear to be the drivers at work within the different facilitating organizations. Institutions closely identified with Target 1 deal with data from a variety of data sources as part of their normal business and, as the deadline loomed, recognized the need for a more flexible approach, working together to integrate available data sets into a more heterogeneous product than had originally been envisaged; IUCN, who coordinate the Red List, need to preserve the quality and standards of the Red List as part of their business objectives. Thus, comparison of progress in Targets 1 and 2 indicates that strong coordination is required, but suggests that this may be more easily achieved if the business aims of the facilitating organization/s are closely allied not only to the aim the Target, but also to the full range of methodologies which exist to implement it, rather than to a single ‘branded’ approach. For both Targets, closer links between national and global implementation are vital to the long-term implementation and success.

Targets 1 and 2 both aim to develop a better understanding of the state of plant diversity and both aim for 100% coverage, providing a foundation against which implementation of the Convention, conservation action, sustainable use and benefit sharing can be planned and monitored. Implementation of many of the other Targets involves not only understanding the current state, but also responding to the current state with some form of conservation action. As a result, implementation of such Targets typically requires a broader range of stakeholders, from a broader range of backgrounds. In 2002, these Targets were set lower thresholds, between 10 and 70%, although, post-2010 Targets, these thresholds have been mostly raised by 15–25% (Table 1).

Target 8 provides an example of a Target where some progress has been made, but which requires a more complex response than Target 1 or 2. Accurate measurement of Target 8 relies on Target 2: a reliable list of threatened plants. Although this does not yet exist at a global level, there have been some successes. The PCR suggests that 30–40% of all species are in in situ conservation of some form and that 5% are in recovery programmes (SCBD, 2009; BGCI, 2010). The Millennium Seed Bank project of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has banked 10% of species (, although the percentage of threatened species these instances are likely to be lower. The virtual seed bank of the European Native Seed Conservation Network (ENSCONET) project records 27% of seed plants of the BGCI European Threatened Taxa list and 44% of the seed plants on Annex II list of the European Community Habitats Directive in storage (Eastwood & Müller, 2010). There are also good examples of national implementation, for example 37% of the species listed in the most recent national Red List for China are already held in Chinese botanic gardens (Huang, 2010, this volume). This illustrates how national lists of threatened plants can support implementation and reporting on Target 8 at a national level. Factors underlying this progress include building capacity in key areas, greater collaboration, creation or enlargement of existing programmes, botanic garden redevelopment and technical advances: genetic characterization, storage and cryopreservation. Factors limiting progress include the lack of a baseline list of threatened species (the missing Target 2 deliverable), genetic diversity of collections being insufficient for recovery programmes, gaps in capacity in particular regions and lack of recovery plans to support sustainable use (SCBD, 2009).

It is interesting to compare Target 8 with some of the plant conservation and sustainable-use Targets where progress has been identified as being limited. Generally, the scope of these Targets is broader and less well defined than that of Target 8. Also, the lack of agreed measures and methodologies make monitoring progress much harder than in the case of Target 8. Even although Target 2 is not complete, it does provide a clear context within which progress towards Target 8 may be judged, whereas the framework for measurement has not been established for many of the other Targets. Most of the other Targets also involve a much broader range of stakeholders and lack obvious coordinators with business aims closely aligned with the Target. For Target 8, in situ conservation and, increasingly, recovery plans, are core business for botanic gardens. Close alignment between the business aims of the organizations involved and the work necessary to implement the Target also allow effective fundraising and permit the use of existing funding that was not necessarily raised specifically for implementation of the GSPC. Breadth of activity and lack of baselines and monitoring also make targeting capacity building far less effective. Capacity can only be effectively built if the intended outcomes of the capacity building can be well defined and suitable actors identified.

Looking forward to the next phase of implementation of the GSPC, it is important to establish baselines for monitoring progress and establish milestones such as those proposed for post 2010-Targets (UNEP, 2010b) early in the process. The scope of the Target may be too broad to easily coordinate the production of meaningful baseline information and methodologies to monitor progress or to deliver action. Division of Targets into thematic sub-targets, for example thematic areas of use such as medicinal plants, timber or non-timber forest products, might make both the establishment of baselines and the coordination of actors interested in those areas easier to achieve, and it might also be easier for facilitating organizations with business aims that closely align with the sub-targets to come forward to assist implementation.

Capacity building as outlined above, and recognized by Target 15, is frequently cited as a major barrier to implementation of the GSPC. The Plant Conservation Report identified the lack of a coordinator for Target 15 as a barrier, but what would a coordinator coordinate? What constitutes sufficient capacity? Capacity needs to be defined by output, but many targets lack clarity as to the actions and outputs most required to assist implementation, making it difficult to define capacity-building needs. The GSPC needs capacity building not for the sake of capacity building, but for capacity to implement the Targets and achieve conservation outcomes. Baselines, milestones and supporting organizations are necessary to assess capacity needs, and any needs assessments need to be built upon and resources dedicated to fund nationally identified priorities.


The reports we reviewed in preparing this paper present widely varying interpretations of how well the individual Targets are being implemented. One factor underlying these differences in interpretation is differing national and global viewpoints. For example, for Target 4, which appears to have been well incorporated into national plans, the national view might be that it is possible to achieve a Target of conserving 10% of a country's natural areas, whereas the global outlook of the other reviews might be that achieving ‘at least 10% of each of world's ecological regions [be] effectively conserved’ is more problematic.

In addition to the viewpoint of the various reviews, another important factor in gauging progress is the time over which that progress is measured. For example, Target 5 is generally considered to have progressed well, but as pointed out in the PCR, this progress reflects actions on the ground over 3–5 years. However, longer-term conservation action and effective management need to be linked to legislative and institutional frameworks, which can take 10–20 years to develop (Kapos et al., 2008). The success of the GSPC in terms of its impact on conservation action has to be viewed in the long term. The various reports considered here do not provide an adequate baseline for monitoring progress over time. They were developed at different times for different purposes and the conclusions on progress were often subjective, lacking quantitative data to support them. This reflects many Targets not having adequate baselines and methodologies for monitoring progress. The Third National Reports did provide a basis for examining adoption and mainstreaming of GSPC Targets into national plans and strategies. However, the unstructured nature of the Fourth National Report made it impossible to measure progress. This point should be borne in mind when considering future National Reports. The greater part of GSPC implementation is at national level and reliable monitoring of progress requires consistency of national reporting against a baseline, over time. Where possible, reports should focus on plant conservation outcomes rather than processes to give a more reliable indication of whether plant conservation benefits have been delivered (Kapos et al., 2009). Consideration should be given to broadening the scientific input into the development of indicators, methodologies and the review of individual Targets, particularly those related to in situ conservation and sustainable use. Similar issues have been raised in reference to monitoring progress towards the 2010 Target and relevant indicators (Balmford et al., 2005; Gordon et al., 2010).

As Parties adapt the Targets to their own particular requirements, for example, Mexico (Davila, this volume), implementation methodologies and target milestones will vary according to national needs. A global report that seeks to generalize across countries will inevitably have a higher level of subjectivity and will be influenced by the conditions under which it is prepared. An example of this is that the Plant Conservation Report, written by a comparatively small group of people with global perspectives, offered a much more positive outlook on progress with implementation, than the nationally focused consensus view of COP IX.


Considering the effectiveness of target-setting approach as a whole, the GSPC Targets collectively were effective in providing a common framework for discussion, planning and activity by the plant conservation community at national and international levels. The Targets also helped improve networking by existing plant conservation players by providing a focus for joint activities. The Targets appear to have been less effective in raising the profile of plant conservation issues among new audiences, particularly those who can bring additional skill and knowledge to assist in the implementation of the Targets, especially those related to sustainable use.

We found no evidence of the Targets mobilizing significant new resources for plant conservation. In general, the lack of baselines and methodologies for monitoring progress in implementation have been barriers to building a more detailed and accurate picture of the current status of plant conservation.

Individual Targets tended to be more effective when they identified outcomes that could be delivered primarily by a single community or discipline and where there was a clear way of identifying progress, gaps and success. Implementation of the Target was also more effective where it was close to the existing business aims of facilitating organizations. Conversely, individual Targets tended to be less effective when they depended on a wide range of stakeholders of different types for delivery, lacked clear baselines and methodologies and encompassed differing views as to how to measure and monitor progress.

What makes an irresistible and achievable Target? A Target does not have to be met in order to promote conservation action (Bridgewater, this volume), but it does have to be sufficiently ambitious to excite interest at the same time as being sufficiently credible to serve as a realistic vision to engage the range of participants that are necessary to deliver effective action (as in the case of Target 1 at the global level). If a Target is too broad in scope, then the difficulties of coordination between all the necessary participants may hinder action (as, for example, in the case of Targets 6, 9, 12 and 13). Implementation has been more effective in cases where the scope of the Target is clear and those organizations facilitating/coordinating activities have business aims closely aligned with that scope. Establishing methodologies and baselines early in process facilitates long-term, consistent monitoring against the baseline and renders success easier to articulate, enthusing and encouraging others to assist in implementation. Even for a relatively narrowly defined Target, extended debate and lingering doubts over what constitutes success, and even over what counts as a contribution towards the Target (as in the case of Target 2), may reduce the effectiveness of the Target as a policy tool. Thus, where the aim is to mobilize and focus resources to achieve tangible conservation outcomes, considerations of specificity may be as important, or even more important, than those of achievability. Ultimately, an effective Target may be one which is ambitious enough to attract interest beyond the current core-stakeholder community, but not so ambitious as to lack credibility. However, it also needs to be specific enough that those best equipped to promote its implementation will identify and align themselves with it unambiguously, committing themselves and their available resources to implementation of the Target and, where necessary, to growing the resources and capacity required to enable implementation.