Protect one-third of world's oceans and land to deliver $500bn economic boost, scientists urge
Protecting 30% of oceans and land globally would reap economic benefits five times greater than the initial costs of conservation and restoration, a major new scientific report has concluded.
Compiled using research from more than 100 economists and scientists, the report considers various pathways to restoring 30% of the world’s natural habitats, in line with the UN’s draft 10-year strategy on biodiversity. The draft strategy is intended to create a “Paris-style” deal for nature, uniting nations and states in averting the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.
In all pathways explored in the report, the economic benefits of the conservation and restoration outweigh the costs by a factor of five-to-one or more. Benefits will not be felt solely in profit margins or through GDP, however – some will emerge in the form of reduced healthcare and social care costs and less damage from extreme weather events.
Even in the worst-case scenario, the report authors believe that the global nature conservation sector will grow by 4-6% every year through to 2030, in comparison to 1% or less for agriculture, fisheries and forestry – sectors which have been strongly linked to the degradation of habitats and the over-exploitation of natural resources. A stronger scenario is likely, however, given that many economies are including nature-related funding and policies in their post-Covid-19 recovery strategies.
When all scenarios analysed were considered, the average result is $250bn (£199bn) in increased economic output and $350bn (£279bn) in improved ecosystem services on an annual basis, by 2050. In the scenario with the highest upfront cost, just 0.16% of global GDP would need to be funnelled into nature. In comparison, 6.5% of the world’s GDP is currently spent on fossil fuel subsidies.
In addition to increasing central nature spending and changing policy incentives in a bid to spur private investment, the report urges policymakers to provide specific supports for indigenous peoples and communities. National Geographic claims that indigenous peoples are currently the primary protectors of 80% of the world’s biodiversity. However, they account for just 5% of the global population and are acutely exposed to climate-related risks and are more likely to face challenges such as poverty and water scarcity. With an appropriate support and governance framework, the formal recognition of indigenous contributions to nature stewardships could increase by 80%.
A further key report recommendation is a requirement in the UN’s strategy for high-income, developed nations to provide financial assistance to low-income, developing regions seeking to increase nature protections. The Paris Agreement’s Contributions are already calculated in this way, and a similar framework would see 70-90% of the upfront costs spent in low and mid-income regions, given the locations of the world’s most at-risk habitats.
While the report only covers a 30% protection scenario, a larger proportion is being urged by the Campaign for Nature, which commissioned the report.
“You cannot put a price tag on nature — but the economic numbers point to its protection,” lead report author Anthony Waldron said.
“Our report shows that protection in today’s economy brings in more revenue than the alternatives and likely adds revenue to agriculture and forestry, while helping prevent climate change, water crises, biodiversity loss and disease. Increasing nature protection is sound policy for governments juggling multiple interests.”
Summer economic statement
The publication of the report comes on the same day that UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his Summer Economic Update to Parliament, outlining the major facets of the nation’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery package.
The plan earmarks £3bn - £2bn of grants and £1bn of loans and subsidies – for the green economy. While the majority has been allocated to energy efficiency, renewable energy and decarbonising infrastructure, a £40m Green Jobs Challenge fund will be created to help local authorities and environmental charities create nature conservation and restoration programmes. Up to 5,000 jobs could be created in this way, predominantly in England.
Responding to the Statement, Groundwork chief executive Graham Duxbury said: “The pandemic has highlighted how much we value being able to connect with nature but also the inequality that exists in terms of who has good green spaces on their doorstep. As well as retrofitting our homes we need to refurbish our neighbourhoods, working with communities to upgrade the local environment so that we reduce air pollution, prevent flooding and preserve biodiversity.”