Nature can provide some of the best opportunities for creating jobs and stimulating economies, while protecting the planet.
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, in the most dramatic and tragic way, the fragility of the foundations on which our world is built – both natural and human-made.
It has underlined the devastating impact of the global rise in diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans – diseases that are linked to environmental degradation and unsustainable agricultural practices that have driven an average decline in global wildlife populations of two-thirds since 1970 due to land use change.
Meanwhile, the collapse of economies, with the resulting loss of hundreds of millions of jobs and livelihoods, has revealed the inherent flaws in the economic structure of our societies.
At the height of lockdowns across the globe we witnessed a startling vision of clean, pollution-free skies caused by the temporary fall in greenhouse gas emissions as cars stayed off the streets and entire cities, factories and businesses shut down. Yet this dramatic reduction was only equivalent to what will be needed every year to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets.
Together, all these factors send a critical message – we must mend our broken relationship with nature. The equation is simple: without a healthy planet there can be no healthy economies.
If there is one vital lesson that we have learnt during this pandemic, it is that what affects one country, one region, affects us all. The same is true of the relationship between people and nature. What we do to nature, we do to ourselves.
As financial decision-makers come together this week for the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank, the focus must be on the urgent measures that are needed not only to restart economies but to do it in a way that helps heal that broken relationship.
Jobs, economies and nature
The 1.6 billion workers who are in immediate danger of losing their livelihoods because of the pandemic need jobs. Not just any jobs, but decent, productive work that delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for themselves and their families.
However, these jobs and the hundreds of millions of others that fuel economies around the world cannot be at the expense of nature, and the living planet on which we depend. Over half of the world’s GDP – equivalent to US$44 trillion – is moderately or highly dependent on nature, and globally, 1.2 billion jobs rely directly on ecosystem services.
In recovery, governments and the private sector have a choice – continue investing trillions in propping up outdated, polluting industries which lack long-term job security, such as those based on fossil fuels, or seize the opportunity to invest in retraining workers and creating the new, green jobs of the future in sectors such as low carbon development, reversing environmental degradation and restoring ecosystem functionality.
Ultimately, building a better future of work means building it green.
Fortunately, some of the best opportunities for stimulating economic recovery and job creation lie in “green” industries. For instance, addressing climate change could create 65 million new low-carbon jobs by 2030. Every million dollars invested in renewable energy could create 7.5 jobs compared to 2.7 jobs for the same investment in fossil fuel projects; and solar panel power generation delivers the highest employment per unit of energy produced while also being quick to construct and convenient for rural communities.
In addition, nature-based solutions which harness ecosystems to address key societal challenges can generate jobs and contribute to food security, disaster risk reduction and urban regeneration, and can help tackle the climate crisis. A new report by WWF and the ILO compiles international evidence on how nature-based solutions can drive a more sustainable, job-rich recovery.
In Africa, for instance, 21 countries and international organizations are developing the Great Green Wall Project, which aims to restore 100 million hectares of land and halt the advance of the Sahara Desert. This joint initiative aims to provide food security for 20 million people, create 350,000 jobs and remove 250 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere. In Germany, the Emscher Landscape Park, an urban forest and ecosystem restoration project across 19 German cities, has so far created over 100,000 jobs. There are many more examples of how jobs can be created through investments in green works, ecosystem restoration and sustainable natural infrastructure, such as forests and coastal wetlands.
A New Deal for Nature and People
Continued failure to tackle nature loss will further disrupt supply chains, threaten global food security and livelihoods, and cost the global economy at least US$479 billion a year – US$10 trillion by 2050. Those are numbers that financial decision-makers cannot ignore.
Just a few weeks ago more than 70 world leaders signaled their new relationship with nature by signing the Pledge for Nature and committing to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030. Financial decision-makers have the opportunity to put in place the regulatory frameworks and financial resources that are needed to drive economic system change that can meet this global ambition – a New Deal for Nature and People that values, protects and restores nature, and safeguards human health and livelihoods.
We must not go back to investing in sectors and technologies that pose risks to workers and to planetary health and our long-term future. The new “nature positive economy” must and can deliver economic development and jobs, while also reversing nature loss and restoring much of what we have lost.