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 2 million known natural assets while facilitating the identification of the remaining 8 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 financial bonds or stocks that have 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 agribusiness. 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 US$24 billion to the U.S. economy, while other sources estimate their worldwide contribution is close to US$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 US$15 billion to the U.S. economy, is in a steady decline. In 1947, there were 6 million colonies (beehives); 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 previously unknown 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, 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 UN’s goals, needs worldwide support. The good news here is that there are already significant efforts under way 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). The 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, the DOC is taking a holistic approach at creating positive economic, social, and environmental gains. For its tens of thousands of visitor and tourism assets, it 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, the DOC initially focused on visitor, asset, and economic risk reduction, ensuring a safe and excellent experience for the 3 million New Zealanders who make more than 38 million visits annually. Now it 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? The DOC is protecting its stunning natural environment that is such a big part of New Zealand’s history and culture. The places it manages indirectly support 1 in 10 jobs in the country’s tourism industry and generate more than NZ$26 billion (US$17.3 billion) annually for New Zealand’s economy.

Like the 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 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 another effort, Australian scientists have launched a US$2.5 million project to rapidly and accurately identify key animal and plant species using DNA bar coding. 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 sectors.

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.

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 proportion 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 wild life 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 the DOC, 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.

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