WEF sees $10.1 trillion windfall in ‘nature positive’ economy

As countries scramble to rebuild economies, WEF says ‘nature positive’ policies could create 395 million jobs by 2030.

Street vendors push their carriages crossing a railway after the government eased restrictions following the coronavirus outbreak, at a densely populated residential area in Jakarta, Indonesia [File: Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unleash havoc on economies around the globe and governments craft blueprints to rebuild them, placing a premium on biodiversity preservation could deliver $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by the end of 2030, the World Economic Forum (WEF) stresses in a new study. 

The WEF’s Future of Nature and Business Report argues that a “nature positive” economy that prevents further biodiversity loss can be achieved by fundamentally transforming three socioeconomic systems representing a third of global economic output and up to two-thirds of all jobs. Those systems encompass food, land and ocean use, infrastructure and the built environment, and energy and extractives. 

Making that transition to unlock the $10 trillion windfall, however, will require an upfront investment of $2.7 trillion, which advocates of the report argue is money well spent to secure a sustainable future for planet Earth.

“Building back better requires looking forward to a whole new reality coming out of the pandemic,” Carlos Alvarado Quesada, president of Costa Rica, told reporters during a panel discussion on Wednesday. 

Build back better is the name United States presumptive democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has given to his blueprint to revive the US economy. Biden unveiled a key plank of that plan on Tuesday by promising to invest $2 trillion during his first four-year term in office to promote a clean energy economy and create millions of new jobs.

I don't think that any of this will be easy but the opportunities on the other side will make us ask why it took us so long.

by David Perry, CEO of Indigo, an agricultural technology company based in Boston, US

The WEF argues in its report that “nature positive” legislation and policy is more critical than ever, now that COVID-19 has stripped countless people of their livelihoods and pushed millions into economic hardship. 

“This COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the pertinence of understanding what we have done to nature,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said during the panel discussion. “What we are seeing now is what environmentalists have shown and warned of before.”

The pandemic has indeed disrupted food supply chains, tipping millions into chronic hunger. Overwhelmed infrastructure left millions of laid-off workers stranded far from home, both in developed and developing countries.

The WEF says the way forward is to ensure a cohesive marriage of environmentally-sound policy and action with job creation and economic development.

‘Hard but necessary’

The WEF acknowledges that the transition to a nature positive economy will not be painless. 

“As much as we would like for this to be a smooth transition, inevitably as we wind down some industries change will be hard but it is necessary,” David Perry, president, CEO, and director of Indigo, an agricultural technology company based in Boston, United States, told Al Jazeera.

“There will be fewer coal miners in the future than there are today. But the result is a much more sustainable job. I don’t think that any of this will be easy but the opportunities on the other side will make us ask why it took us so long,” Perry added.

India woman
 Women planting rice saplings in Nagaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India [File: Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters]

The report outlines some success stories of change already happening on the ground.

In Indonesia, smart farming utilising sensors and satellite imagery improved crop yields on average by 60 percent. In Vietnam, people living in coastal communities saw their incomes more than double following the restoration of critical mangroves.

More than a statistic

The agriculture and food industry makes up about $10 trillion of global gross domestic product (GDP) and employs up to 40 percent of the global workforce. Nature-positive solutions can create 191 million new jobs and $3.6 trillion in additional revenue or cost savings by 2030, the WEF argues.

The study says that more than 4.3 million jobs and $195bn in business opportunities can come from precision-agriculture technologies by 2030.

Sustainable use of oceans is also critical. The decline of wild fish stocks could cost the industry $83bn, as boats will have to travel further and fish deeper.

The study also highlights that $500bn is lost every year as a result of discarded clothing. Reusing and recycling clothes could lead to $130bn in savings and prevent 148 million tonnes of textile waste by 2030, says the WEF.

We may think that the pandemic is bad but it is nothing compared to what climate change will do to us.

by Inger Andersen, director of the United Nations Environmental Programme

From the urbanisation of space to energy demand, the WEF calls for the building of nature-friendly office buildings, homes, and transport hubs and improving resource recovery in extraction.

Installing more efficient technology, switching to LEDs and green roofs will not only save billions in energy but also reduce pollution.

In the energy sector, there is an opportunity to create 87 million jobs and $3.5 trillion in business opportunities by 2030 by implementing nature-friendly policy.

The numbers can be overwhelming. Hence, experts emphasise the importance of remembering that people are at the very centre of all change and therefore should be brought to the forefront when considering all action.

“Nobody actually likes to be a statistic,” Akanksha Khatri, Head of the Nature Action Agenda at the WEF and one of the report’s authors, told Al Jazeera. “We have to remember the sensitivity [of the issue]. That number of 395 million jobs – those are actually people. Any transition has to be people and planet compatible.”

The WEF also warned that doing nothing is not an option, given the potential price to the planet and its people.

“We may think that the pandemic is bad but it is nothing compared to what climate change will do to us,” UNEP’s Andersen warned.

Source: Al Jazeera