The authors of the Future of Nature and Business Report from the New Nature Economy project, published by the WEF are calling for global economic restoration strategies to be rooted in a nature-led approach in order to create $10.1 trillion of business opportunity by 2030.
For several decades scientists have been warning that on the trajectory of destruction the natural world was facing pre-virus, alongside the effects of natural devastation, over half of global GDP is in danger. Indeed, in 2019, a UN report by world-leading scientists warned that human society was in jeopardy as a result of the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems. Therefore, as governments focus on rebooting economies countries following months of lockdown, they must strive to include restoration strategies that allow the natural world to recover from the damage it has suffered since the industrial revolution, as without doing so could put humanity at risk.
A new report estimates that if economies could implement ‘nature-positive’ solutions to restore economies following the pandemic, up to 395 million jobs could be created by 2030. Authors of the Future of Nature and Business Report from the New Nature Economy project, published by the WEF are calling for global restoration strategies that protect the environment whilst also driving employment and economic gain, estimating that by doing so, $10.1 trillion of business opportunity will be created by 2030.
As the report explains; “Decisions on how to deploy the post-Covid crisis stimulus packages will likely shape societies and economies for decades, but if recovery efforts do not address the looming planetary crises, a critical window of opportunity to avoid their worst impact will be irreversibly lost.”
Putting it more starkly, Alan Jope, chief executive of Unilever and a WEF partner said; “There will be no jobs or prosperity on a dead planet” yet “Nature can provide the jobs our economies need. There is nothing stopping businesses and governments from implementing these plans today, at scale, to re-employ millions” states Akanksha Khatri, head of WEF’s Nature Action Agenda.
So, where to start?
The report identifies food and land use, infrastructure and building and energy and mining as the three sectors responsible for the majority of damage done to the environment, yet for exactly this reason, it is these sectors that have the most to gain from a nature-led recovery. For example, the agri-food sector currently makes up around $10 trillion of global GDP and employs up to 40% of the global workforce. But, if nature-led innovations can be implemented across this industry, it could create 191 million new jobs and add $3.6 trillion of additional revenue or cost savings by 2030.
To become nature-led the sector needs to implement innovative technology that is already on the market on a mass scale, by utilising precision farming technology such as artificial intelligence, or machine learning sensors and satellite imagery. Doing so is a costly outlay yet research shows that this type of technology can help crop yields substantially improve. In Indonesia for example, a project to utilise smart farming solutions including sensors and precision disease treatment increased crop yields by an average by 60%, whilst in China, the Suzhou Industrial Park’s green development saw significant GDP gains from the green development facility that fully utilises ‘smart’ farming technology.
In addition, by supporting the industry to cut food waste, for example by providing metal silos and crates to keep food from rotting, or better management of fresh produce, billions more could be saved. For instance, the report suggests that nature-led management of wild fish could add 14m jobs and $170bn in value alone.
Meanwhile, infrastructure and cityscapes are also ripe for a revolution in nature-led solutions. Today, 55% of the world’s population – 4.2 billion inhabitants – live in cities and this trend is set to continue. With more than 80% of global GDP generated in cities, urbanisation can contribute to sustainable growth if managed well by increasing productivity, allowing innovation and new ideas to emerge. Therefore, by implementing nature-positive infrastructure strategies across cities, this figure could be further lifted. Indeed, ensuring the built environment is designed using nature-positive infrastructure such as energy and resource efficient solutions, biodiversity can be maximised resilience to climate change built. Nature-led solutions in cities, buildings and infrastructure could also create 117 million new jobs and $3 trillion in additional revenue or cost savings by 2030.
For instance, roof design can be used to increase energy production through solar panels, or designed to reduce flooding and even as a landscape for gardens that produce food. Indeed, the emergence of the ‘green roofs’ - whereby the top of buildings are utilised to positively affect the environment – is a market thought to be worth $9 billion already, and could grow at around 12% annually through to 2030 if positively encouraged through government support, creating an incremental annual opportunity of $15 billion according to the Grand View Research Market Analysis Report. Meanwhile live, green façades can reduce air pollution by up to 20% and traffic noise by up to 10 decibels and switching to LEDs and substituting natural light in cities could save over $650 billion by 2030 alone.
In addition, nature-led solutions allow reconfiguration of how cities manage waste. Smart sensors can reduce municipal water leakage and save $115 billion by 2030, whilst the the global waste management market could double in 10 years if investments in South Asia, East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are supported. As a result, the report predicts that making urban waste management more efficient could generate $305 billion of additional revenue opportunities.
So the potential exists, but how practical is this approach? As Inger Andersen, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme puts it; “As we enter into a historic decade of action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and address climate change, business has a critical role to play in environmental stewardship of our planet. They have the technology, innovation and financing to make the shifts we need towards increased investment in nature’s infrastructure and nature-based solutions.” But, in order to be successful, regulatory and policy frameworks must be designed and updated to support and nurture the potential of nature-positive strategies. For instance, mandatory standards for buildings’ energy efficiency and procurement rules that demand sustainable materials, alongside relevant subsidies and tax policies that reward positive choices are the only way businesses of every size and industry will change their behaviour, as without these frameworks, there is little incentive for innovation.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in adopting a nature-led approach is to redefine success to include environmental and social gains alongside financial success. Indeed, the benefit of having such a holistic, structured and universally agreed approach could genuinely change the world. For example, nature-led strategies could help achieve several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals - a set of objectives designed to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all - by addressing global challenges including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice that have suffered major setbacks as a result of the pandemic. For instance, by ensuring the agri-food sector takes a nature-led approach, there will be less wastage and higher crop yields, potentially easing hunger (Goal 2 and 3) and also addressing trade inequalities (Goal 8 and 10). Meanwhile, choosing strategies that are more environmentally friendly will help slow global warming and build more sustainable economies (Goal 6, 7, 12 and 13).
“Nature is critical to creating jobs, as well as supporting public health and resilience” explains report partner Jeremy Oppenheim, Founder and Senior Partner, SYSTEMIQ. Therefore, as governments look to “stimulate their economies amid the fragility exposed by COVID-19, they must also seize the moment to integrate nature into fiscal policy; both supporting businesses to invest in nature-positive opportunities and making sure nature is protected through the recovery” he continues.
Whilst a nature-led approach to economic restoration following the pandemic requires total transformation of industries and economies, the importance of taking a radical approach has never been greater. As Jennifer Morris, head of The Nature Conservancy, a US based organisation, says: “Nature simply cannot afford for us to waste any more time. None of this will be easy, system change at this scale never is, but this report underlines that it is our collective responsibility to transform the ways in which we eat, live, grow, build, and power our lives.” The consequence of inaction is simply too big to risk.
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