Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Life on Land

Towards an Inclusive Bio-Economy

The Current Challenge:

For wildlife
The 2016 International Union for the Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) International Congress in Hawaii garnered headlines
around the world by drawing attention to startling research
that showed the world is currently undergoing a mass
extinction event.12
Extinction is a natural phenomenon, occurring at a
frequency of between one and five species per year – a
natural background rate. Today however, the rate of species
going extinct is from 1,000 to 10,000 times the background
rate, with dozens going extinct every day: a mass extinction
event in only one generation.13
The Living Planet Index of the environmental organization
WWF released at the 2016 IUCN Congress showed an
astonishing 58% overall decline in the world’s vertebrate
population abundance from 1970 to 2012 (Figure 1).
During this period, terrestrial populations declined by
38%, freshwater populations declined by 81% and marine
populations declined by 36%.14 This means those born
since 2012 have inherited a planet with fewer than half the
number of animals on land and below water than those born
before 1970. This is a sobering reality.

For habitats
The main driver for habitat and species loss on land is the
destruction of tropical forests for industrial livestock and
agriculture. To a lesser extent, infrastructure buildout to
support energy generation, oil, gas and mining plays a role.
The world lost a record 29.7 million hectares of tree cover
in 2016 – an area about the size of New Zealand. This
loss is approximately 51% higher than in 2015.15 Brazil
was a success story between 2004 and 2014 when
deforestation dropped by 80%, but the Amazon is under
threat again. Deforestation rates are on the rise, principally
due to converting forests for pasture and soy (often to feed
livestock), which is responsible for more than half of all
tropical deforestation in South America.16
The loss of tropical forests is important. These habitats are
home to more than 80% of all known terrestrial species
of animals, plants and insects.17 The Amazon basin
alone comprises at least 15% of the world’s land-based
biodiversity. Deforestation drives biodiversity loss and
species extinction.
The gross domestic product (GDP) of the Amazon basin
is estimated at $250 billion per year.19 On the one hand,
this contributes significantly to the economic development
of Amazonian countries. However, this economic activity
also plays a part in deforestation and forest ecosystem
degradation by exploiting water for hydropower, land for
soya and cattle, wood for timber, and from the extraction
of minerals, oil and gas. The Brazilian Amazon region alone
exported $31 billion of commodities in 2014 (the latest
available data).20
The Amazon basin provides ecosystem services also. It
stores an estimated 10 years’ worth of global greenhouse
gas emissions, removes over 2 billion tonnes of carbon
dioxide every year, and presents a mosaic of ethno and
linguistic diversity. Its ecosystems harbour a minimum of
15% of the world’s land biodiversity. The abundant rainfall in
the Amazon generates close to 20% of the freshwater input
into the world’s oceans.
Given continued deforestation, the frequency of forest
fires and climate change, an equilibrium shift could be
triggered in the Amazon. Earth system models predict that
up to 60% of the Amazon forest could be transformed to
degraded savannahs by 2050,21 with much wider and more
catastrophic consequences for the earth’s atmospheric
circulatory systems.
Indeed, in the last 12 years, the Amazon basin experienced
multiple megadroughts and megafloods, each with a
probability of occurrence of about one in 200 years. The
occurrence of so many rare and extreme events in such a
short space of time signals a potential change in the status
quo of the natural system. Such fluctuations between
extremes could be early signals of collapse of the Amazon
biome, and help propel it.

Fuente: WEF

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