Fifth Of All Countries Worldwide Facing Ecosystem Collapse From Mass Biodiversity Loss, Report Finds

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A fifth of all countries in the world are now threatened with ecosystem collapse as biodiversity continues to be eroded, a new report has revealed. With more than half the global GDP dependent on high-functioning biodiversity, from water security to regulating air quality, analysts are warning of the enormous losses that the world will face if we do not take action. 

The new report, published by insurance firm Swiss Re, compiles an index based scientific data that maps the state of the ten primary ecosystem services at a resolution of one square kilometre across the world’s land. Among the services factored into the index are clean water and air, pollination, food provision, timber, arable soil, coastal protection, erosion control and how intact the habitat is – all of which are vital to ensure the health and stability of communities. It also underpins the global economy, with over half (55%) of global GDP – equal to US$41.7 trillion – dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

According to the index, a staggering fifth of countries globally (20%) are now at risk of their ecosystems collapsing due to biodiversity and wildlife loss, and its related beneficial services. While major economies across the world, including in Southeast Asia, U.S. and Europe are all exposed to biodiversity and ecosystem decline, 39 countries were flagged up for having more than one third of their land already eroded. Ranking lowest on the index include Malta, Israel, Cyprus, Bahrain and Kazakhstan. 

Borneo orangutans exploring what is left of their habitat in Indonesia (Source: Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images)

Read: Scientists warn that SDGs inadequate to protect biodiversity

There is a clear need to assess the state of ecosystems so that the global community can minimise further negative impact on economies across the world.

Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re Group CEO

Among the G20 economies, South Africa and Australia top the rankings for having a fragile ecosystem, especially in terms of water scarcity, lack of coastal protection and pollination. Within this group, Brazil and Indonesia have the highest intact ecosystems, but analysts highlight that their economic dependence on natural resources still puts them at risk of threats in the longer-term. 

Looking at the list of countries with fragile ecosystems and a high economic dependency on natural services, resource-rich developing countries with large agricultural sectors are emphasised as vulnerable to ecosystem collapse – Kenya, Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria were flagged. 

The index was developed by Swiss Re to help governments and businesses compare and benchmark the state of local ecosystems upon which economies rely on, as well as helping the insurance industry to identify the strongest risk factors. 

“There is a clear need to assess the state of ecosystems so that the global community can minimise further negative impact on economies across the world,” explains Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re Group CEO. “This important piece of work provides a data-driven foundation for understanding the economic risks of deteriorating biodiversity and ecosystems. In turn, we can inform governmental decision-making to help improve ecosystem restoration and preservation.”

Coral bleaching in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (Source: Kyodo News / Getty Images)

Read: United Nations calls for urgent action to save biodiversity on World Environment Day 2020

Insights from the report could also help inform policies to target nature conservation and provide evidence-based data to back up the economic savings that preventing biodiversity loss will bring. For instance, restoring the ecosystem along the coast of Louisiana in the U.S. could translate to a cost saving of US$5.3 billion per year. Globally, if the world took greater steps to ensure the functioning of coral reefs, it would help lower flood damages that are expected to increase by an astonishing 91% in the coming years

“The study highlights the dangers of these economies potentially reaching critical tipping points when essential natural resources are disrupted…[and] the value of ongoing economic diversification combined with conservation and preservation efforts in such countries,” say the analysts.

As the world continues to reel from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus on biodiversity is especially relevant. Scientists have continually pointed out that humanity’s destruction of wildlife and nature are one of the leading drivers of deadly emerging diseases, and say that the planet must not tip the balance of nature any further if we are to prevent deadlier zoonotic pandemics in the future.


Lead image courtesy of Cris Bouroncle / AFP / Getty Images.


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