Investing in nature-based solutions has much to offer for a resilient recovery

Tuesday 9th June 2020

By Luc Bas, European Regional Director, IUCN and Lucy Almond, Director, Nature4Climate

Our understanding of the range of benefits that nature-based solutions (NBS) deliver for people around the world is deepening. Apart from having a central role in fighting climate change, NBS can create jobs, filter water, reduce air pollution, provide resilience to extreme weather and regulate local climate.

The importance of protecting and restoring nature is beginning to take root within the highest levels of decision making. However, the economic case for NBS is still overlooked by many of the financial decision makers, including those planning COVID response measures. A perfect case in point comes from the news emerging from the EU last week.

The European Commission announced the details of its biodiversity strategy, a significant acknowledgment of the role NBS can play in the fight against climate change, and a recognition of the urgent need to halt biodiversity loss to sustain the systems that our societies and economies rely on.

The Commission argues that protecting and restoring nature can have a positive economic impact and boost job creation for sectors including farming, fishing and tourism. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says that “making nature healthy… is at the heart the European Green Deal, and is part of a recovery that gives more back to the planet than it takes away.”

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However, if the Commission’s intention is to put nature at the heart of recovery, then its plan only goes half the distance. While there is much to celebrate here – such as the inclusion of the “do no harm” principle within the sustainable finance taxonomy which is a wonderful show of leadership – it misses the consideration of the direct and indirect benefits NBS can offer economic recovery efforts.

For example, the needs associated with protecting 30% of the EU’s land and seas – the Commission’s target – could create 500,000 new jobs in the bloc, as well as the 104,000 direct jobs and 70,000 indirect jobs already supported by the network of protected areas. Not to mention the millions of euros in tourism revenue that new protected areas could pull in to add to the €5-9 billion that Natura 2000 sites already generate annually.

Or what about the Commission’s proposal to plant 3 billion new trees by 2030? What sort of job creation potential would planting the right trees in the right places entail? Studies in the US found that every $1 million invested in reforestation and sustainable forest management can support nearly 40 jobs, including foresters, botanists, technicians, and labourers. The EU needs similar clarity, and must start communicating the benefits of the restoration economy, with member states having a great opportunity to contribute to the Bonn Challenge, to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

And then of course, there’s agriculture. By the Commission’s own estimation, 9.6 million farming jobs in the EU are already linked to Natura 2000. And the economic benefits of transition to more sustainable practices is clearer than ever before, thanks to analysis by the Food and Land Use Coalition, as well as the Commission’s ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy.

Finally, there are the benefits the Commission itself has identified in its fact sheet on “the business case for biodiversity”: conserving marine stocks could increase annual profits of the seafood industry by more than €49 billion;  protecting coastal wetlands could save the insurance industry €50 billion annually through reducing flood damage losses; the benefits of the EU Natura 2000 nature protection network are valued at €200-300 billion per year.

There are no shortage of opportunities for NBS to contribute to Europe’s green recovery — not as a replacement to the worthwhile initiatives laid out in the draft recovery strategy, but as a complement. It is important to develop these solutions in a consistent and biodiversity-friendly way. To help assure this, IUCN has developed an NBS standard.

The Commission has taken the first step of acknowledging the importance of protecting and restoring ecosystems, and of the economic value they can deliver, but now is the time for it to put this understanding into practice, or we will once again condemn nature as the forgotten solution.

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(First run on ENDS Europe website: https://www.endseurope.com/article/1685442/economic-case-putting-nature-heart-europes-recovery)

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