【Newsletter】Making green solutions count in a post-Covid world

    16 Sep 2020

    Covid-19 is both a crisis and an opportunity to move towards a more sustainable world as long as cash-strapped governments can be made aware of the huge economic benefits of investing in nature-based solutions and the environment.

    Environmental campaigners acknowledge that the benefits of protecting ecosystems and biodiversity have not in the past been communicated effectively when it comes to wealth generation and job creation.

    However, as global economies seek to bounce back from the crisis, it’s time to step up efforts to ensure that there is no slipping backwards when it comes to conservation and that financial resources are put to work in the best possible way.

    The Nature4Climate (N4C) coalition recently produced a report aimed at bringing together statistical evidence for the first time of the economic benefits in investing in sustainability.

    Sustainable land use boosts jobs

     “With every nation determining how to restart its economy, we have the power to advocate for stimulus efforts that put nature and renewable energy at the heart of recovery efforts, benefitting each of us and our planet.”

    TNC Global Managing Director, Climate, Elizabeth Gray

    For example, it notes that new investment of US$350 billion a year in sustainable food and land-use systems could create more than 120 million new jobs and US$4.5 trillion of business opportunities by 2030.

    LUI Che Woo Prize winner The Nature Conservancy (TNC) was one of the organisations involved in compiling the report. TNC Global Managing Director, Climate, Elizabeth Gray says 2020 was to have been a “super year” for both climate and biodiversity, though the pandemic has pushed back international meetings until at least 2021.

    “That’s all the more reason why it’s critical to act now. With every nation determining how to restart its economy, we have the power to advocate for stimulus efforts that put nature and renewable energy at the heart of recovery efforts, benefitting each of us and our planet,” she said in a recent blog post.

    The economic arguments for sustainable development are compelling, not just in terms of new jobs that could be created, but also by the high dependency of the global economy on nature. The World Economic Forum has estimated that US$44 trillion, or more than half of the world’s total gross domestic product is moderately or highly dependent on nature and therefore at risk if environments are lost.

    Communicating the economic value of nature

    Again, there needs to be more effort to communicate the impact. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimates that the public benefit from forests would be in the order of trillions if properly assessed, but this is easily overshadowed by the more tangible private benefit from products such as timber and land for agriculture, which are easily valued in a free market economy.

    “Conserving, restoring and better managing our forests, grasslands and wetlands will drive economic innovation while stabilising the climate—in ways that create new jobs, improve health, promote equity, improve transportation and enhance energy independence,” Gray says. “Each of these benefits will create their own unintended consequences, further amplifying societal impact and climate momentum.”

    TNC has mobilised funds from its 2019 award from the LUI Prize to support some of its key projects across Asia.

    These include working with local stakeholders in Myanmar to develop alternative business models to protect the most extensive forest system in Southeast Asia, which is in danger from overlogging.

    TNC is supporting research into the role of using working elephants as a low-carbon method for harvesting timber and is helping with technical training for staff on sustainable forestry.

    First recovery of marine ecosystem

    ©Simon Branigan/Courtesy TNC
    ©Simon Branigan/Courtesy TNC

    Its projects aren’t just in the developing world, with countries such as Australia and New Zealand also benefitting from its conservation efforts.

    In Australia, TNC has a National Reef Building Project to rebuild 60 shellfish reefs alongside communities in Southern Australia. If they are successful, Australia will be the first country in the world to recover a critically endangered marine ecosystem.

    TNC said it was honoured to have received the prize’s recognition for its work.

    “Having the Prize’s recognition, especially in the Asia Pacific region, helps us elevate our work and our mission to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.”

    “The Prize has added crucial momentum to our efforts in achieving science-based conservation results for the benefit of people and nature and has enabled us to make new connections and reach more conservation milestones.”

    Cooperation to fight climate change

     “The world’s leading public health agency is unequivocally declaring that protecting nature is paramount to our well-being.”

    TNC Chief External Affairs Officer Lynn Scarlett

    One such connection has resulted in collaboration with Xie Zhen-hua, who was a 2017 laureate and one of China’s leading voices on climate change. He was also a key architect of the Paris Agreement.

    TNC has donated US$250,000 to help develop a nature-based solutions platform to foster cross-disciplinary exchanges to further environmental causes.

    As the Covid-19 crisis drags on with no real end in sight, it’s also worth remembering that initiatives such as these to improve our ecosystems also improve our health.

    The environmental movement was given a major boost in May when the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report that stressed that the economic recovery to the pandemic should “promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world.”

    Protecting nature central to public health

    ©Nick Hall/Courtesy TNC
    ©Nick Hall/Courtesy TNC

    “The world’s leading public health agency is unequivocally declaring that protecting nature is paramount to our well-being. It’s not just a cause for conservation groups, or wildlife advocates, or climate change activists. It’s everyone’s business,” says TNC Chief External Affairs Officer Lynn Scarlett.

    WHO reports that seven million people a year die as a result of exposure to air pollution. Therefore a key focus for TNC is to accelerate the move to clean energy sources in a way that does not damage habitats and which has the full support of local communities.

    It’s also supporting initiatives to provide access to clean water through water funds. The funds promote collaboration between government and businesses, encouraging downstream users to invest upstream land management to improve water quality.

    For example in Nairobi, Kenya one such fund has helped the local water utility to save money, allowing it to invest in expanding access to tap water for poor residents.

    Crisis a chance for sustainable economic change

    Many believe that science shows that a more sustainable future is possible and the crisis has provided an opportunity to press the reset button.

    However some of the central tenets of the LUI Che Woo Prize will need to come into play to achieve the goal of a more sustainable future. There needs to be international collaboration and hard work.

    There will also need to be perseverance to ensure that there is no backsliding as hard-hit industries and sectors of the economy seek short cuts towards a rebound.

    The airline sector is a case in point. The crisis has cut about 70 per cent of commercial flights, resulting in widespread layoffs and financial losses.

    This was a sector that had already come under fire for its considerable impact on the environment, with pre-Covid projections that rapidly rising demand for international travel would mean the aviation sector would account for 27 per cent of global emissions by mid-century.

    Over the past year, prior to the crisis, there had been a number of voluntary industry initiatives, as well as efforts through international organisations, such as United Nations’ body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to cut airlines’ carbon footprint.

    Kelley Hamrick, TNC International Climate Policy Advisor, argues that although Covid-19 has created an existential crisis for the industry. Greening flights must remain a priority for its long-term financial viability.

    As such, “governments and ICAO will need to balance short-term financial need with these broader considerations in order to keep our skies blue for decades to come,” she says.

    At present, governments are mobilising trillions in their response to the pandemic. It’s imperative that all key stakeholders fighting for a sustainable future push for a better understanding of the economic benefits of nature-based solutions.

    As the N4C report says there is much more work to be done to help decision-makers to recognise the potential of nature-based solutions as part of an economic recovery plan.

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