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Putting nature first will create millions of new jobs, says World Economic Forum

A new report found that 395 million new jobs could be created by 2030 if world leaders focus on protecting nature.

New jobs are desperately needed as the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies around the world. Just this week the Office of National Statistics announced that about 650,000 people in the UK lost their jobs between March and June 2020.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international organisation that brings together business and political leaders. Officials there say that building a healthier planet is the key to creating new jobs of the future.

According to a report, as of June 2020, governments and organizations had invested nearly $9 trillion to stave off the most immediate human and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the global economy is still expected to shrink by 3% in 2020, affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.

It has become clear that jobs, the economy, human health and the natural world are all intertwined. A report earlier in the year claimed it was human abuse of the natural world which allowed the deadly COVID-19 pathogen to spread, which then threatened economies.

Scientists are proposing resetting the way we live to protect both the planet that sustains us and our own health and livelihoods. As the pandemic has made us pause, it has presented unique opportunities for businesses and governments to build back better.

Akanksha Khatri, Head of the Nature Action Agenda at World Economic Forum, says, 'We can address the looming biodiversity 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.'

The opportunity

The new report is part of a series being developed to make the business and economic case for protecting the planet.

The COVID-19 crisis has effectively put the business world on pause this year, so many believe it is an opportunity to make radical changes as people start to rebuild their livelihoods.

Alongside the pandemic, we know we are also facing a planetary crisis as climate change continues to heat the globe, and we're losing green spaces and natural habitats more quickly than ever. If we continue as we are, large areas of our planet will become uninhabitable and economies around the world could struggle to cope with the social changes that this will inevitably bring.

WEF leaders believe it is possible to solve both these crises at once.

Alan Jope, chief executive of Unilever and a WEF partner, puts it bluntly, 'There will be no jobs or prosperity on a dead planet.'

The latest paper looks at nature and the economy through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating, 'The average person today is 4.4 times richer and lives 25 years longer than in 1950. The Great Acceleration, however, has been brought to a screeching halt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

'It is clear that our economic and social structures are untenable without resilient nature. Scientists have warned that important biomes such as the Amazon are fast approaching the cusp of irreversible tipping points. Business-as-usual is no longer an option.'

The solution

WEF is campaigning for a 'great reset' of the world's economies.

To keep our planet healthy, simply tacking climate change isn't enough. We're also facing potential water, land and food shortages that stem from issues like biodiversity loss, pollution, unhealthy oceans and invasive species.

There are big forces at play that have caused these problems, including global trade patterns, overconsumption, government agendas and the values and behaviours of society. Business leaders won't be able to solve those problems alone, but they can be important leaders of change alongside politicians. Business activity can impact nature in a big way - and many business systems like agriculture rely on nature to keep afloat.

The Future of Nature and Business Report provides advice and examples to help businesses to tap into a possible $10.1 trillion opportunity, focusing on solutions that add value to nature.

It focuses on three areas where changes can be made: food, land and ocean use, infrastructure, and energy and extractives.

Some examples of recommendations include:

  • If farmers and fishermen managed large-scale farms and wild fish stocks more efficiently, they would increase the amount of food available for everyone to eat and make food chains more profitable and sustainable.
  • The equivalent of one rubbish truck of textiles is either sent to landfill or burned every second. This means retailers are losing money on clothing, and they are wasting resources during production. By recycling and reusing our clothes, the industry would save billions on its waste bill, and the planet would benefit from a smaller strain on its natural resources.
  • When it comes to housing and buildings, large-scale initiatives like switching to LED lightbulbs, creating more green roofs, installing more efficient technology and reducing water leakage would save energy, reduce air pollution in cities, lessen flood risks, create jobs and save money.
  • The energy humans produce accounts for about 16% of jobs across the world, and demand for energy is going up all the time. However, the way we create electricity currently has a huge impact on our planet. Investing in renewable energy could help that, and it could also create millions of jobs in the process.
  • Improving the way we mine for raw materials can save water, reduce the environmental impact and help us make the most of the mining opportunities we do have.

Inger Andersen, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said, 'As we enter into a historic decade of action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and address climate change, 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.'