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12 October 2020updated 16 Sep 2021 4:50pm

Ecosystems at risk of collapse in one in five countries, report says

An insurance firm has highlighted the growing risk of climate change to the global economy. 

Swiss Re has issued a stark warning that ecosystems in a fifth of countries are at risk of collapse, according to a Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Index launched by the insurer.

The report underlines the risk to economies, claiming that 55 per cent of global GDP is dependent on “high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystem services”. It goes on to say both richer and poorer economies are being affected. While countries such as South Africa and Australia are vulnerable in part due to their water scarcity issues, the relative size of the agricultural sectors in Kenya and Nigeria is also of concern.

Even in countries with a more intact ecosystem there are risks. Brazil, for example, currently has a high percentage of these “intact ecosystems” but is also experiencing a significant rise in deforestation under its current president, Jair Bolsonaro. From 2019 to 2020, the rate of deforestation has increased by more than 10 per cent, according to the country’s space research agency.

Swiss Re’s analysis found that countries with large agricultural sectors and dependence on natural resources were most at risk. It recommends that countries facing ecosystem collapse look at diversifying their economies while conserving nature.

The insurance industry has been frequently criticised for its role in supporting environmental destruction. Last month, a group of 60 US businesses, including Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, called on their insurers to stop providing coverage or financing for fossil fuel companies.

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The biodiversity crisis has been highlighted by a number of recent reports, with a UN publication last year stating the decline of nature was “unprecedented in human history.” The scale of the biodiversity challenge is often equated with the threat posed by climate change.