UK Biodiversity: Future Threats and Opportunities


A two-day exercise in horizon scanning among UK policymakers, environmental scientists, science journalists and environmental NGOs has identified a list of 25 new potential challenges to UK biodiversity before 2050. Most of the issues present both hazards and opportunities for biodiversity. 3 Challenges

  • Nanotechnologies: Within a decade, the global economic benefits of these technologies are expected to approach $ 1 trillion annually. Advances in medicine, electronics, and environmental technologies are widely anticipated. The extraordinary behavior (and, conceivably, biological attributes) of nanoparticles makes forecasting their future influence on biodiversity and commerce difficult. New strategies to mitigate risk will be required as the use of such technologies becomes widespread.
    • Opportunities: Binding pollutants and other chemicals to nanoparticles in order to reduce their impact on biodiversity, thus reducing pollution
    • Threats: Toxicity and physical impacts on biological and environmental systems due to increased bioavailability
  • Invasive potential, and possible ecosystem impacts, of artificial life and biomimetic robots: Currently, there are two techniques for producing artificial life that has living attributes such as self-replication, self-governing metabolisms, and the ability to evolve. The two techniques are Man-made oligonucleotides and self-assembly of inanimate organic and inorganic components with metabolic activities driven by an independent source of free energy.
    • Opportunities: Pollution control, Military uses, Commercial
    • Threats: Possibility of becoming new invasive species when released into the environment
  • Unintended consequences of pathogens developed by modern biotechnology methods: Genetic engineering of pathogens may have possible future repercussions on the biodiversity of the UK. It is likely that engineered immunocontraceptives, specifically targeted to affect non-native pests in Australia, may either accidentally or purposely be released in the UK. As creating virally vectored pathogens becomes easier, restriction and management of this material will grow more difficult.
    • Opportunities: None currently identified
    • Threats: Virally vectored pathogens impact native species

3 Business Implications

  • Horizon scanning can be a useful tool for strategic planning and risk management for commercial institutions as well as for government and science. This report illustrates how horizon scanning can be used to highlight challenges—and novel opportunities—facing businesses and governments in the future.
  • Growing concern about biodiversity as an element of environmental protection could affect environmental regulations that govern land use and development. Protecting or enhancing biodiversity may play a larger role in environmental impact studies, and in wider scope for environmental impact analysis. Potential biodiversity effects could increasingly be used as a justification for “Not in My Back Yard”–type lawsuits and regulatory interventions.
  • Several issues identify for coastal ecologies negative consequences of a changing climate. Growing public confidence in these climate change forecasts could increase the perception of long-term risks for coastal and offshore development. Though direct impacts may be years or decades in the future, these shifting perceptions of risk could in the present increase the costs of insurance or financing for onshore or offshore construction. This could include for facilities like coastal housing or resorts, or commercial facilities like offshore energy platforms, ports, and coastal refineries.