WEF: Invest in nature-led Covid-19 recovery to reap $10trn economic opportunity

By embedding 'net-positive' nature requirements into their Covid-19 recovery strategies, governments and businesses could collectively realise a $10trn (£7.9trn) economic opportunity and create 395 million new jobs within a decade.

According to previous WEF research,  $44trn – more than half of global GDP – is exposed to risks from nature loss. Image: WEF

According to previous WEF research,  $44trn – more than half of global GDP – is exposed to risks from nature loss. Image: WEF

That is according to new analysis published today (15 July) by the World Economic Forum (WEF), as part of its Nature Action Agenda. Launched at Davos 2020 amid warnings of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, the Agenda aims to unite businesses, policymakers and other organisations in halting net biodiversity loss by 2030.

The new report provides advice for finance ministers and corporates looking to create ‘green’ Covid-19 recovery packages, noting that, despite strong verbal support for a low-carbon ‘new normal’, far less discussion time and finance has been allocated to nature-based solutions than to clean energy and energy efficiency.

Finance ministers should instruct their teams to map the potential nature impact of their incentives as well as their potential to create jobs, the report urges. In the longer-term, they should include measures of economic and social success beyond GDP in their calculations to ensure that unintended consequences and trade-offs between economy and environment are minimised.

The report also urges finance ministers to remove subsidies from high-emitting sectors which would not survive without them; increase incentives for nature-based innovation and financial support for existing solutions; improve spatial planning requirements; invest in reskilling and develop policies to better the management of marine habitats.

As for the business sector, the report provides sector-specific blueprints covering the world’s biggest and most ecologically damaging industries including agri-food, energy and extractives, retail, finance and the built environment.

In order for the full extent of the potential global nature-based benefits to the economy to be felt, businesses and policymakers will need to collaborate to:

  • Promote a more diversified and plant-based food system ($310bn in benefits annually by 2030)
  • Improve digital technologies on large-scale farms ($195bn in benefits over the decade)
  • Create a circular economy for textiles ($130bn of savings within the decade)
  • Halt overfishing and dramatically grow the ecosystem management sector ($40bn in benefits over the decade)
  • Retrofit the existing global building stock and ensure all new builds are net-zero wither nature-neutral or have a net-positive biodiversity impact ($1.47trn in savings within the decade)
  • Cutting municipal water leakage by one-fifth ($115bn in savings within the decade)
  • Improve waste management infrastructure and systems in developing nations ($305bn in benefits over the decade)
  • Improve resource recovery and water stewardship in the mining sector ($225bn in savings within the decade)
  • Create a circular economy for the automotive sector as the electric vehicle revolution accelerates ($870bn in savings within the decade)
  • Scale up the renewable energy sector and shift towards subsidy-free models ($650bn in benefits over the decade)

According to previous WEF research,  $44trn – more than half of global GDP – is exposed to risks from nature loss

Business response

The WEF’s latest recommendations have been welcomed by a handful of ministers and by the UN, as well as by some businesses including Unilever.

The consumer goods giant’s chief executive Alan Jope said: “Whilst there is still uncertainty in how COVID-19 will unfold, we must recognize this as an opportunity to accelerate efforts to put nature at the centre of all decision-making. There will be no jobs or prosperity on a dead planet.”

Unilever recently launched a €1bn Climate & Nature Fund to support its ambitions to become a net-zero business by 2039 and to eliminate deforestation from supply chains within three years.

The business has also agreed to implement Business For Nature’s recommendations on creating a nature-based Covid-19 recovery, along with the likes of Danone and Natura.

Nonetheless, Business For Nature believes that considerations of biodiversity and habitats are currently underrepresented in corporate decision-making.

Recent research from Business in the Community (BITC) found that just one in ten UK businesses currently class the health of nature as a material issue for their operations. Moreover, the UK Government has only allocated £40m of the overall £160bn Covid-19 recovery package to initiatives specifically centred around nature.

Sarah George



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