Nature first is good for business, says World Economic Forum

A wind turbine above Entlebuch in the canton of Lucerne. (Credit: Keystone)

Nature-based economic initiatives, ranging from recycled clothing to “smart” building construction and healthier diets, could create $US 10.1 trillion in business opportunities and 395 million new jobs, according to a new World Economic Forum (WEF) report. In a press briefing Wednesday, public and private sector leaders detailed the green opportunities that beckon investors across 15 sectors, including agriculture, construction, energy, the automotive and retail industries.

Why is it important? The Covid-19 pandemic which has caused unprecedented job losses and economic uncertainty, could also be a unique opportunity for businesses and governments to “build back better”. Klaus Schwab, WEF’s Founder and Executive Chairman, and Thierry Malleret, Managing Partner of the Monthly Barometer, released “Covid-19: A Great Reset”, Tuesday, a book exploring ways that the crisis could be harnessed to new and greener business opportunities. Coming right on the heels of the book, the WEF milestone report on the Future of Nature and Business, based on facts an science, declares that over one-half of global GDP is threatened by ecosystem destruction, but that downward spiral can still be halted:

“We are at a crossroads… One path will take us to a better world: more inclusive, more equitable and more respectful of Mother Nature.”

The WEF report, co-authored by AlphaBeta consultants, describes concrete examples where business outcomes have been improved by nature-based strategies and solutions. A companion report, written in collaboration with the London-based consultancy Systemiq, outlines how decision makers can complement and enable businesses to act. Akanksha Khatri, Head of the WEF’s Nature Action Agenda:

“We can address the looming bio-diversity crisis and reset the economy in a way that creates and protects millions of jobs. Public calls are getting louder for businesses and government to do better. We can protect our food supplies, make better use of our infrastructure and tap into new energy sources by transitioning to nature-positive solutions.”

Inger Andersen, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme:

“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.”

Key findings from the report.

  • Some $US 44 trillion, over one-half of global GDP, is threatened by destruction of the world’s natural ecosystems;

  • Fighting climate change is essential but not enough. A fundamental transformation is needed across three systems: food production, land and ocean use; infrastructure and the built environment; energy and extractive industries;

  • Some 80% of threatened and near-threatened species are endangered by these same three systems. But these are also the sectors offering the largest opportunities for more nature-friendly development;

  • Some 15 major “systemic transitions” were identified across the key economic sectors, offering annual business opportunities worth $US 10 trillion, which could create 395 million jobs by 2030;

  • Some $US 2.7 trillion annually is needed, however, to scale up transitions in the key economic sectors, including widescale deployment of new technologies that would be critical to capitalizing on 80% of the business opportunities.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica, a country with good management of its resources and human capital feeling confident in the viability of the report:

“Investing in biodiversity and the environment offers the chance of building better economies, and our resilience as a species. Costa Rica has shown that the transition to a carbon-neutral, nature-positive economy brings greater prosperity, jobs and new developments. It’s time to mainstream this model.”

Nature’s call to action. Here’s how three major socio-economic systems have a major role to play in tackling biodiversity loss accelerating nature-based solutions.

  • Food, land and ocean use: What we eat and grow generates about $US 10 trillion of global GDP and employs up to 40% of the global workforce. Nature-positive solutions for food production on land and at sea can create 191 million new jobs and $US 3.6 trillion of additional revenues, or cost savings by 2030. Examples include: a more diversified diet of vegetables and fruits; wider deployment of precision-agriculture technologies; More renewable inputs and reuse, refurbishing and recycling clothes of; and sustainable management of the maritime industry.

  • Infrastructure and the built-environment: About 40% of global GDP comes from the environment we build – including retail and office buildings, homes and transport. Nature-friendly solutions can create 117 million new jobs and generate $US 3 trillion in additional revenue, or cost savings, by 2030. Examples include: smart buildings, switching to LED lights; green roofs; reducing municipal water leakage; investments in sewage and solid waste management.

  • Energy and extractive industries: Together these account for almost a quarter of global GDP and 16% of global employment. With energy demand growing, there is an opportunity to create 87 million jobs and $3.5 trillion in business opportunities by 2030. Examples include: improving mining and resource extraction with new technologies and more mechanization; more refurbishing and reuse of parts in the automotive sector; a stimulus packages for solar and renewables; and the combining of revenue streams [e.g. renewable energy generation and farm production] on the same plot of land.

Svein Tore Holstether, President and CEO of Yara International:

“Ignorance is no longer an excuse.”

Inger Andersen:

“The pandemic is nothing compared to the disasters associated to climate change.”

Akanksha Khatri:

“How can we do this? Invest $US 2,7 trillion -it may seem a lot but it’s equivalent to the last stimulus package of the US government. Covid-19 has shown us that we, as humans, are able to take drastic measures.”