How nature-based solutions can create jobs across key industries and support a green recovery post-COVID
More than a year after COVID-19 took center stage, economic figures remain bleak: global GDP dropped between 4,5 to 6 per cent, and 114 million jobs were lost worldwide. The strongest economies are now estimated to run below their potential until at least 2024, according to estimates from the US Congress. Pressed to act, governments are recognising that our recovery post-pandemic should not be a one-time fix that puts us back on the old track, but a package of green, long-term sustainable solutions that address our triple, interconnected problem: economic downturn, climate change, and biodiversity loss.
Nature-based Solutions can help us fix this problem, says a recent report from WWF and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The Nature Hires: How Nature-Based Solutions Can Power a Green Jobs Recoveryreport highlights how working with and for nature can deliver much needed jobs and boost the economy, while improving economic resilience in case of future crises.
Vanessa Perez-Cirera, Global Deputy Lead Climate & Energy for WWF International and one of the lead editors for the report said: “Nature-based Solutions which harness ecosystems to address key societal challenges can generate jobs and contribute to food security, disaster risk reduction, urban regeneration, and help tackle the climate crisis.”
About half of the world’s GDP is highly or moderately dependent on nature, with 1.2 billion jobs in farming, fisheries, and forestry directly dependent on maintaining healthy ecosystems. Meanwhile 1.6 billion workers, half of the world’s workforce risk losing their livelihoods. But nature can be a top employer, if countries decide to rebuild their economies using low-carbon, sustainable solutions; across the world, many green projects have shown their benefits for job markets and communities, providing capital gains and boosting well-being, the Nature Hires report shows.
NbS, which have long been championed by the UN-REDD Programme, provide a wide range of job opportunities. Here are some key areas to consider, according the WWF report:
A US-based study found that forest restoration and sustainable forest management create 39.7 direct and indirect jobs per million dollars of investment, more than agriculture, land transportation, or aviation (Garrett-Peltier and Pollin, 2019). For example, after the 2009 financial crisis, one forestry-based stimulus programme worth $36 bn estimated it could create between 10-16 million new jobs, while restoring and protecting 50 mil. ha of land
Reforestation and wetland restoration aiming to reduce disaster risk can create employment at large scales and for a longer-term than other nature-based solutions
Globally, between 370,000 and 1.7 million people could be employed as rangers working in protected areas (Payen and Lieuw-Kie-Song, 2020);
About 80 per cent of nature-dependent jobs are in agriculture, one of the main sources of income and jobs in developing countries; investing in dryland agriculture crop production could provide $0.7 trillion in net benefits by 2030;
Coastal habitat protection creates an average of 17 jobs per million dollar spent, more than coal, gas, and nuclear energy industries (Edwards et al., 2013);
NbS used in fisheries management can boost job creation and food security for the 85.7 million workers directly dependent on fishing and aquaculture (ILO, 2018), and in fisheries-related industries.
Returns for every dollar invested in urban forests range between $1.37 to $3.09; for every full-time job created through green infrastructure projects in urban communities, nearly two others are generated in the wider economy, studies from the US show.
Projects on the ground are showing results. Nature 2000, a network focused on biodiversity protection in Europe’s urban and rural areas created 4.4. million jobs and between €200 and 300 million in benefits every year, plus €5 to 9 bn in benefits from recreational activities. In Guatemala, community-owned forest enterprises have generated jobs that pay double the minimum wage, while sales of timber and non-wood forest products are bringing annual incomes of up to $4.75 million. Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay nature park has brought about $22.7 million in 2017/2018.
While the focus is now on restoring jobs and livelihoods, the world has an opportunity to build back better and ensure that future economic growth no longer fuels the climate and biodiversity crises. NbS can support the transition to a net-zero economy without compromising on productivity or employment.
Perez-Cirera said: “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.”
At the moment, COVID-19 stimulus packages are five times bigger than annual climate funding, says WWF, and only 4 per cent of it can be considered green. But nature makes a strong economic case. Now is the time to invest in it.