Goal 15: Life on Land

Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; sustainably manage forests; combat desertification; and halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.

All 10 million species of life found on earth should be safeguarded as valuable natural assets. Global Goal 15 aims to address biodiversity with urgent action and hopes to ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems. Technology solutions can help protect the nearly two million known natural assets while facilitating the identification of the remaining eight million species on land and in water that are still undiscovered.

The Economic Impact of Biodiversity

How do you define an asset? Is it a piece of heavy machinery, an oil rig, a power plant, or a building? Is it a financial bond or stock that has current and future economic value? All of these are examples of assets.

Manufacturing companies maintain their assets to ensure operational excellence and a solid balance sheet, because “sweating” assets, or getting the most from them, 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 agribusiness. Do you ever think of them as an asset?

According to a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 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. Between US$235 billion and US$577 billion worth of annual global crop production is directly impacted by pollinators.

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 (beehives) of honey bees, which contribute more than US$20 billion to the U.S. economy, is in a steady decline. In 1947, there were 6 million colonies; 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 (UN) issued a statement in conjunction with its September 2015 Sustainable Development Summit that 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.”

A recent study reports a 76% decline in biomass of flying insects in 63 nature reserves in Germany over the past 27 years. Changes in weather, land use, or habitat characteristics alone cannot explain this decline. This loss of insect biomass has significant impact on the functioning of ecosystems and the nature services required in the agriculture business in Europe.

Global Goal 15 aims to address biodiversity with urgent and significant action. With ambitious targets for the next 5 and 10 years, the hope behind this goal is 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 UN’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.

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 that less than 2 million of them have been identified.

Here again technology is helping. Barcode of Life is an organization dedicated to identifying a species by its DNA. Its tool, DNA bar coding, 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 bar coding 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 8 million species that are still undiscovered before many of them go extinct.

But DNA bar coding, 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 bar coding 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 a related use of DNA bar-coding 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.

Next to understanding how many species there are, more and more engineers understand that millions of years of natural evolution resulted in highly optimized structures or processes. For example, from the more than 285,000 natural products derived from the world’s biodiversity, as of today only 10,000 of them can be synthesized. To understand and conserve this treasure of natural intellectual property, the Amazon Third Way (A3W) innovation initiative created the public open platform the Earth Bank of Codes. The main objective of A3W is to share knowledge about bio-inspired innovations and leverage this economic potential of biological functions and biomimetic and biological assets to incentivize the protection of the unique environment of the Amazon.

The recent report “Building Block(chain)s for a Better Planet” describes 65 use cases where distributed ledger technology can create the required transparency to manage and protect natural habitats. In addition to sustainable trade by “see-through” supply chains, Earth management platforms can help control pollution, disease, or invasive species. Combining geospatial services with the smart contract technology will enable standardization and simplification of land reforms, like land titling, to clarify property rights especially in regions like the Amazon basin.

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 UN Global Goal.

The Amazon rainforest is the largest, most diverse biosystem on our planet. It supplies a significant portion of the world’s natural resources, including 20% of the planet’s oxygen. But deforestation is threatening the rainforest’s role as the “lungs of the world.” Indigenous communities safeguard the Amazon jungle, but reaching them can be extremely challenging. SAP partners with Fundação Amazonas Sustentável to ensure conservationists have the right tools to succeed.

Elephants, Rhinos & People (ERP) is using SAP technology to save wild elephants and rhinos from the threat of poaching and provide reliable income to local communities through wildlife protection instead of illegal killing. By adopting the SAP HANA business data platform, the nongovernmental organization is collecting, organizing, storing, and retrieving data generated from drone surveillance and GPS collars fitted on these giants. Now, ERP operators and rangers can track the movement of herds and locate possible poachers with accuracy and speed. Strategically, ERP creates sustainable economic alternatives for rural communities living adjacent to areas where these threatened species roam, helping them resist becoming instruments of well-organized poaching syndicates.

SAP technology is helping Barcode of Life, LifeScanner, ERP, and indigenous people of the Amazon as they enable others to do their part in preserving the world’s biodiversity.

Next:

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions