Globio: global methodology for mapping human impacts on the biosphere

Dec 23, 2002 | Reports

The Arctic 2050 scenario and global application.

GLOBIO was initiated to provide an inexpensive, simple scientifically based communication tool for mapping, at large scale, the likelihood of human impacts on the biosphere resulting from increasing growth in resource utilization. GLOBIO is intended to bring scientific evidence on human impacts into a format suitable for policymaking. Conventional assessments of environmental impacts have usually been made through studies focused on specific ecosystems or species. Due to the complexity of the world’s ecosystems and the ecology of the Earth’s 10-30 million species, the conventional approach has led to the undertaking of a considerable number of case studies at various scales. Such a large number of studies render longterm planning and decision-making very difficult, as the latter would require the appraisal of all relevant studies at once in order to assess cumulative impacts. The different scales at which studies were undertaken compound this difficulty. Furthermore, most models require unrealistic amounts of input-data in order to be effective, and are not practical in national, industrial, or social planning procedures.

To ensure the realization of the objectives of sustainable development, there is a critical need for tools that help assess the likelihood of environmental impacts of different developmental proposals. This is particularly relevant for infrastructure development, the central nervous system of our modern world. Towards addressing this need, this pilot report presents a methodology that relates probability of impact on biodiversity and ecosystems to distance to infrastructure, based on existing impact assessment studies. Infrastructure brings primary industrial development, but also secondary, more uncontrolled development in terms of increased human immigration and settlement, with increased risks of deforestation, overgrazing, desertification, social conflicts, and water and land degradation. The methodology is applied to the Arctic region. This Arctic pilot study is intended to be the forerunner of a global scenario report.

In the last part of the 20th century, the Arctic has been increasingly exposed to industrial exploration and exploitation as well as tourism. The growth in oil, gas, and mineral extraction, transportation networks and non-indigenous settlements are increasingly affecting wildlife and the welfare of indigenous people across the Arctic. A considerable number of species of birds, mammals, and plants have already undergone a reduction in their populations or breeding success, or have been subjected to other types of impact in 15-20% of the land area of the Arctic. A 2050 scenario was made using reduced, stable, or increased rates of infrastructure growth as compared to the growth between 1940-1990. The scenario revealed that at even stable growth rates of industrial development, 50-80% of the Arctic may reach critical levels of anthropogenic disturbance in 2050, rendering most of these areas incompatible with traditional lifestyles of many subsistence-based indigenous communities. As most of these impacts are related to the establishment of permanent infrastructure and the exploitation of non-renewable resources, the reversibility of the estimated changes in the near future is most unlikely.

If similar patterns of human impacts apply at the global scale, the land area impacted significantly by human activities (such as reduced abundance of flora and fauna) may increase globally from 15-20% to 50-90% within 50 years. This will most likely result in a substantial increase in environmental problems related to habitats, biodiversity, food production, water resources and health in 2050, thereby impacting both ecological, social and economic aspects of the global environment. The rapid growth of infrastructure with its associated secondary human impacts underlines the urgency for scenarios and appropriate methodological improvement to provide the necessary platform for holistic policymaking and international agreements.

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C. Nellemann, L. Kullerud, I. Vistnes, B.C. Forbes, E. Husby, G. P. Kofinas, B. P. Kaltenborn, J.Rouaud, M. Magomedova, R. Bobiwash, C. Lambrechts, P. J. Schei, S. Tveitdal, O. Grøn and T. S. Larsen. 

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