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Bad news for biodiversity

Growing populations, expanding urban and declining forest areas and increasing economic activity put increased pressures on terrestrial and marine biodiversity. The growth in infrastructure alone to meet growing demands has a large and increasingly significant impact across the region in all scenarios (see chart below). Better planning, coordination and enforcement of land use policies alleviates this somewhat in Policy First and Sustainability First. The lack of such policies in a Security First world, coupled with higher population growth, leads to impacts almost as large as in Markets First, even with much slower economic growth.

Land area impacted by infrastructure expansion: Asia and the Pacific (% of total land area)

All sub-regions in Asia and the Pacific show a similar pattern between scenarios as infrastructure expands.

Source: GLOBIO (see technical annex)

Natural Capital Index: Asia and the Pacific

An index of 100 is the situation when total land area is undomesticated and all pressures are below the minimum threshold (see technical annex). Reduction in the Natural Capital Index indicates habitat loss and increasing pressure on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Pressures on biodiversity increase between 2002 and 2032 in all scenarios.

Source: IMAGE 2.2 (see technical annex)

Key to charts

At the same time as infrastructure is expanding, changing climate affects biodiversity, resulting in significant reductions in the quantity and quality of natural capital in some sub-regions over the next 30 years. As with other pressures, these differ significantly across the sub-regions, with the most significant pressures on biodiversity occurring in South and Southeast Asia under all scenarios (see above).

Finally, increases in trade affect biodiversity, particularly in the worlds of Markets First and Policy First. Under Security First conditions, reductions in trade and greater control of the exploitation of particular areas may actually benefit biodiversity in these areas, whereas other areas suffer from lack of control.

Some of these pressures on biodiversity are countered in a Policy First world by regional cooperation to reduce illegal extraction and establish more protected areas. In a world of Sustainability First, advances in technology enable real-time identification and monitoring of biodiversity assets and sensitive ecosystems. Communities are better equipped with knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of environmental systems, tools for strategic assessment and planning. Over time this results in a greater representation of species, communities and genes within protected areas. Maintenance of endemic genetic stocks provides valuable source materials for biotechnology advances, captures benefits for local communities and reduces opportunities for invasive species to take over.

Population living with hunger: Asia and the Pacific (%)

Average incomes rise in all subregions, contributing to a drop in the percentage of the population that is hungry. However, rapid population growth can lead to an increase in the incidence of hunger, even as the percentage of people at risk declines.

Source: PoleStar (see technical annex)

Population living with hunger: Asia and the Pacific (million persons)

All the pie charts show total region impacts. The top left pie shows the current situation, the relative size of the others reflects the magnitude of impacts by 2032 under the four scenarios.

Source: PoleStar (see technical annex)

Relevant environmental trends, along with the distribution of economic growth and effectiveness of social policies, are reflected in the incidence of hunger in the region (see charts above). The percentage of people experiencing hunger remains high in much of the region in Markets First and Security First. With growing populations, this implies only slight reductions in absolute numbers in the former and small increases in the latter. Dramatic improvements are possible, though, as seen in the Policy First and Sustainability First results where there are steep reductions in both the percentage and the total hungry. In the Policy First scenario this is achieved through a combination of relatively high growth and more equitable income distribution. In the Sustainability First scenario it comes about as greater equity both between and within countries is reflected in rapid economic growth and a narrowing of income distributions.

Imagine ... widespread surface and groundwater contamination in Asia and the Pacific

Rapidly growing populations and economies escalate demand for food and living space, leading to greater intensification of agriculture. More irrigation and fertilizer use in rural areas, together with unimpeded growth of urban centres and mega-cities, mean more competition for water resources between geographic regions and economic sectors. This rivalry reaches crisis proportions around 2010, when the quality of surface and ground waters across the region begins to go into widespread, rapid and accelerating decline. The surface water changes are a reaction by aquatic ecosystems to the cumulative loading of nitrogen and other organic materials from inadequately treated agricultural and municipal solid waste. The impacts on groundwater arise from the run-off of chemical fertilizers and pesticides from agriculture as well as toxic materials from industry. The effect is enhanced by the more rapid extraction of groundwater resources, resulting in a further increase in the concentration of these pollutants in the remaining groundwater as well as increased rates of salt water intrusion in the region's extensive coastal areas.

In the case of ...

Markets First
  • Some agricultural production is affected and food prices rise significantly, stimulating increasing food trade within the region and imports from other regions.
  • Private biotechnology companies compete to provide genetically engineered pollutant-eating bacteria.
  • Private companies contract with urban governments to transport uncontaminated water from other regions, including freshwater in the form of icebergs from the Antarctic.
Policy First
  • Policies to move industry toward zero emissions production are accelerated.
  • Public investment into genetic engineering in order to produce pollutant-eating bacteria increases.
  • Water rationing is introduced and water saving devices distributed to urban populations, where treatment is unable to make up for water lost due to quality declines.
  • Policies to integrate water resources management into development plans are promoted, with a focus on the integration of land and water related issues within a river basin or water catchment area.
Security First
  • Water resources are placed under public and private military control.
  • There is a sharp increase in deaths related to water-borne diseases such as cholera.
Sustainability First
  • The move toward more organic and low-input sustainable agriculture receives a major boost as producers using these methods cope better with the disruptions and are seen as having a neutral impact on the problem.
  • Urban areas that have already implemented advanced water-saving, waste reduction and waste treatment practices expand their campaign to accelerate the introduction of similar practices across the region.

The lessons
It can often take crisis situations to induce necessary changes that lead to more sustainable practices. In any case, coping with issues such as freshwater quantity and quality requires an integrated perspective that recognizes interactions between sectors and the potential for threshold effects in natural systems from cumulative pressures. Part of this shift involves encouraging diversity in agricultural and other economic systems so that when surprises and crises occur, a versatile repertoire enables new strategies to be formed.