15 Weeks to Davos: The Economic Impact of Biodiversity
17 weeks to Davos. 17 global goals to achieve a sustainable future. 17 blog posts exploring the UN’s vision for humankind. Here is number 15.
Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
How do you define an asset? Is it a piece of heavy machinery, an oil rig, a power plant, or a building? Is it financial bonds or stocks that have a current and future economic value?
Manufacturing companies maintain their assets to ensure operational excellence and a solid balance sheet, because “sweating” assets can increase financial returns. Asset failure or downtime has an immediate cost impact, because the asset does not deliver the expected service.
What about the world’s natural assets?
Bees and other insects form the largest workforce in the agri-business. Do you ever think of them as an asset?
According to a fact sheet released by the U.S. government, these pollinators reportedly affect 35% of the world’s crop production as they increase the outputs of 87 of the leading 115 food crops worldwide. The fact sheet notes that pollinators contribute $24 billion to the U.S. economy, while other sources estimate their worldwide contribution is close to $250 billion globally.
Clearly, bees are a valuable asset to the world and their welfare has a major economic impact. But like forests, water supplies, and other natural assets around the globe, bees are endangered. The number of managed colonies of honey bees, which contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy, is in a steady decline. In 1947, there were 6 million colonies (beehives) and today, there are just 2.5 million. This decline poses a significant threat to agriculture, especially for crops such as almonds, which are pollinated exclusively by honey bees. Failure of this natural asset will have dire consequences for humanity.
Our well-being depends on biodiversity
Biodiversity encompasses all the different types of life found on earth and is a way to measure the variety of organisms present in the wide array of ecosystems on the planet. The United Nations issued a statement in conjunction with its September 2015 Sustainable Development Summit which says:
Biodiversity and sustainable development are inextricably linked. Biodiversity, at the level of ecosystems, species and genes, forms the foundation of the Earth’s life support systems and provides the services that underpin human lives and prosperity. Our social and economic well-being depends on biodiversity, as does our future.
Global Goal 15 aims to address biodiversity with urgent and significant action. With ambitious targets for the next five and ten years, this goal hopes to ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems. It also will address the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity, and protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species. And much, much more.
Biodiversity is now a critical economic imperative
Global Goal 15, like each of the U.N.’s goals, needs worldwide support. The good news here is that there are already significant efforts underway that are having a major impact on biodiversity, thanks to innovative technology.
Take New Zealand for example. It has some of the best natural and cultural features and ecosystems found anywhere in the world. However, much of the country’s biodiversity is at risk from introduced pests, weeds, biosecurity incursions, and potential impacts from climate change.
Enter the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). DOC’s mission is to conserve the country’s natural and historical heritage – in other words, it’s chartered with protecting New Zealand’s natural assets. To fulfill this mission, DOC is taking a holistic approach at creating positive economic, social, and environmental gains. For its tens of thousands of visitor and tourism assets, DOC uses a standard plant maintenance solution, utilizing the same technology and innovative best practices that a manufacturing company would employ to protect its assets.
Using this industrial-grade technology, DOC initially focused on visitor, asset, and economic risk reduction, ensuring a safe and excellent experience for the three million New Zealanders who make over 38 million visits annually. Now, DOC is creating a fully integrated asset management and mobility practice across its entire ranger workforce. Similar to industrial assets, mobile work management enables fast transfers of field data, complete with greater accuracy and streamlined processes that allow the rangers to focus on quality care for biodiversity.
The impact? DOC is protecting its stunning natural environment that is such a big part of New Zealand’s history and culture. The places DOC manages indirectly support one in ten jobs in the country’s tourism industry and generate over NZ$26 billion (US$17.3 billion) annually for New Zealand’s economy.
Like DOC, other existing conservation programs and organizations can more efficiently achieve their goals by applying technical innovations and proven management practices.
A key starting point: How many natural assets are there?
Part of the challenge for Global Goal 15 is understanding exactly how many natural assets the world has. Scientists believe there are more than 10 million species on earth, but less than two million of them have been identified.
Here again technology is helping. Barcode of Life is an organization dedicated to identifying species by its DNA. Its tool, DNA barcoding, helps identify biological specimens and manage species diversity using a short genetic sequence, from a standard part of the genome, which acts as a unique identifier.
DNA barcoding is critical to efficiently monitoring the earth’s biodiversity. Traditionally, armies of taxonomist experts who have years of education would go out and collect and identify species. But there is no way this approach can scale and correctly identify the more than eight million species that are still undiscovered before many of them go extinct.
But DNA barcoding, which uses a Big-Data approach, can scale to a global level, and still be relevant at the local level. For example, this technique was used to study moths in Africa. DNA barcoding facilitated the efficient identification of future irruption events that periodically occur on the continent, such as when somewhere between 800 million and 1.5 billion moths were being preyed on by birds and monkeys.
In another effort, Australian scientists have launched a $2.5 million project to rapidly and accurately identify key animal and plant species using DNA barcoding. The project will speed up the discovery and identification of unknown species, advancing conservation, and environmental management with economic benefit for the mining, fisheries and forestry industries.
In a related use of DNA barcoding technology, everyday people can now help identify the millions of species yet unidentified. LifeScanner is an app for iPhone and iPad devices designed to help people discover the diversity of living organisms around them through DNA. At the same time, this contributes to a global understanding of existing species and the identification of new ones.
Efforts like this will expand the worldwide knowledge base on biological diversity and help organizations across the globe protect previously unknown and already known species.
SAP is doing its part
As part of fulfilling our vision and purpose to improve people’s lives, SAP provides technology that helps with the achievement of each and every U.N. Global Goal. For this goal, our technology is helping the DOC, Barcode of Life, and LifeScanner as they enable others to do their part in the world’s biodiversity efforts.
To learn more about the Global Goals, and to view previous blogs in this series, visit: http://www.digitalistmag.com/tag/17-weeks-to-davos.
This article originally appeared on Digitalist Magazine, in the Improving Lives section. See here