20% of Countries at Risk of Ecosystem Collapse

Swiss Re report lays open climate challenge with new biodiversity index

Over half (55%) of global GDP, equal to USD 41.7 trillion, is dependent on high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystem services. However, a staggering fifth of countries globally (20%) are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing due to a decline in biodiversity and related beneficial services.


A recent report from reinsurance company Swiss Re finds that one in five countries worldwide are at risk of ecosystem collapse.

  • 39 countries have ecosystems in a fragile state on more than a third of their land – Malta, Israel, Cyprus, Bahrain and Kazakhstan have the lowest Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (BES) ranking

  • 55% of global GDP depends on high-functioning BES

  • Major economies in Southeast Asia, Europe and the US exposed to BES decline

  • Swiss Re Institute BES Index enables businesses and governments to factor in biodiversity and ecosystem issues into economic decision-making.

The big takeaway is that over half (55%) of global GDP, equal to USD 41.7 trillion, is dependent on high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Countries across the world are reliant on a range of services that are based around their natural ecosystems. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES) include such necessities as food provision, water security and regulation of air quality that are vital to maintaining the health and stability of communities and economies.

The report shows that both developing and advanced economies are at risk. The insights from the index serve to highlight the importance of nature conservation for a functioning economy. Among the top ten countries with fragile ecosystems and high GDP dependency on natural services, it is the resource-rich developing countries with large agricultural sectors that stand out, such as Kenya, Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria. Many industries and countries rely on natural resources from such countries. And, as we know, natural resources are finite.

The report discusses how addressing BES challenges through simple preservation actions can have significant impacts. For example, ecosystem restoration along the coast of Louisiana could reduce expected flood costs by USD 5.3 billion annually. Steps to ensure functioning coral reefs globally could lower estimated flood damages for 100-year storm events that would otherwise increase by 91% across the globe.

The report provides stark, data driven analysis of the nature-based climate challenge that we face. Perhaps equally importantly it demonstrates the benefit of private sector companies providing sector specific analysis and insights into environmental degradation and support for climate based initiatives. This is natural capital in action.

For Swiss Re it is a corporate necessity to understand more about climate change as global insurance claims related to climate catastrophes are starting to swell. Someone has to pay for the rebuilding of insured homes after wildfire storms or flood damage.

And our natural environment is in desperate need of repair. Over the last few decades we have lost 68% of our animals. Scientists are currently predicting that we could lose 40% of our natural plant life. Our sea levels have risen by 7cms.

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It is vital that we continue to make the case for the specific, sector by sector, economic risk attached to the climate crisis and the erosion of nature. We cannot leave it to stretched public sector budgets and philanthropic work alone. We need individuals and businesses across the board to help solve the climate crisis with their wallets, their data and their creativity. We believe that customers will reward them while both their products and brands will benefit from such climate action.

To make progress quickly enough we will need to harness the economic and research might of the private sector to tackle this universal, global issue. The BES index from Swiss Re is a good example of how corporations can play their part. The index is focused, fact driven and scientifically relevant.

We are starting to see certain other sector leading organisations betting their future on sustainability and climate solutions. Tetra Pak, the Swedish packaging group, has focused their ten year strategy on being the green leader in their space.

Last year they delivered 12.6 billion packages with bio-based plastic coatings. This a part of their move away from fossil-based plastic and towards plant-based alternatives.

Stella McCartney, the British fashion designer, has launched her latest collection, with the A to Z manifesto, as sustainability fashion with eco-friendly materials. This is an interesting direction for an industry so often at odds with climate friendly approaches.

It seems logical that as the Coronavirus pandemic rages on and the economic downturn develops, organisations will increasingly look to sustainability approaches with leaner, healthier and greener business methods and slogans to carve out a niche in the post pandemic bounce back.

Recently we published a 10 step climate action plan for businesses, which helps them to develop a few simple steps towards eco-sustainability. Many companies and business leaders have a desire to develop a more sustainable approach but are less clear about where to start.

Swiss Re, Tetra Pak and Stella McCartney are making larger strides. But we all have to start somewhere.


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