Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021

The author is chairman of Moray Biosciences and a co-leader of the KAA initiative

The Amazon rainforest is the largest biodiversity repository in the world. It also plays a critical role in global water cycles and stores nearly 100 billion metric tons of carbon – about a decade’s global emissions.

But it is now under deadly threat. The Amazon basin has experienced three mega-droughts and three mega-floods in the past 12 years. We may be close to an irreversible shift: up to 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest could be transformed into degraded savannah, with catastrophic consequences for South America and the rest of the world.

To make matters worse, the largest pool of zoonotic viruses yet to be discovered may reside in bats, primates and rodents in the Amazon. “Disease X”, an unknown pathogen that could cause the next global pandemic, could emerge from the region if we do not immediately begin mapping the risks.

So far, well-intentioned public and private sector and civil society organizations have focused on tried and tested policies aimed at eliminating illegal deforestation and promoting economic and social development. But that in itself is not enough.

Instead, we need a revolution that combines a “Marshall Plan” – aimed at reconstructing the region’s highly degraded social, economic and environmental structure – and the equivalent of an Apollo program to create an inclusive to design bioeconomics that are in harmony with nature, and for the benefit of the people of the Amazon and the world at large.

Just like the US Marshall Plan billion dollars in aid to European countries devastated by World War II, a company with good resources is needed if we are to have a chance to fight to prevent large parts of the Amazon from being turned into grassland.

This will involve the reforestation of more than 200,000 sq km with native tree species. Reforestation on this scale has never been tried before. But a public-private partnership with wide social participation would be a major source of employment for the people of the Amazon.

This is where the Apollo program – the rediscovery of the region’s economic system – comes in. Building a new computational bioeconomy has the potential to reverse rapid deindustrialization in countries rich in biobates. It will also provide an example to the rest of the world of an alternative model of economic development.

One new species is discovered every three days in the Amazon, using existing analog methods. But the Amazon Library of Biological Knowledge is being destroyed to make way for low-productivity cattle farming, which is a huge costs about the global economy for future generations.

A combination of autonomous robotic systems and computational and synthetic biology will give us a new basis for biological discovery and innovation. For example, the use of the fungal and microbial genetic diversity of Amazon soils to bio-engineer “precision plant microbiome”, which optimizes pest, disease and drought resistance and improves soil fertility.

Where will the resources for this multi-billion dollar effort come from? My colleagues and I in risk transfer have argued for the creation of an Amazon Savannisation Recovery Bond. It would be kind of the other way around disaster band which will pay its public and private bondholders – pension funds, institutional investors and the like – based on an index that measures and verifies large-scale reforestation of native species in the Amazon to reduce overall risk.

Time is not on our side. We need more than the easy net zero commitments of governments and businesses that are likely to result from the COP26 summit in Glasgow. We need nothing less than a revolution.

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