Principle 1: Do no harm
The worst-case scenario would be if stimulus packages drive further unsustainable land-use changes, increase CO2 emissions or contribute to further environmental degradation. As countries find themselves with increased debt, depressed economies, foreign currency shortfalls and disrupted supply chains, they may be tempted to liquidate natural resources as a short-term solution to stimulate economic activity. Such an approach betrays a lack of understanding about the very significant risk this would pose to resilience, development and long-term prosperity. Put simply, the risk of destroying natural capital far outweighs any short-term gain.
Recent analysis by the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) estimates that the ways we produce and consume food and use our land currently cost $12 trillion a year in damage to our environment, health and development. If we do nothing, this will amount to more than $16 trillion each year by 2050. This risk must be properly understood by decision-makers to avoid ill-informed, short-term decisions.
On the other hand, the economic argument for upholding environmental standards is clearer than ever. The same analysis found that new investment of $350 billion a year in sustainable food and land use systems could create as many as 120 million new jobs and unlock up to $4.5 trillion in new business opportunities by 2030.
“The high-productivity economies of the future will be those that make the most of artificial intelligence and the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, while also protecting and enhancing natural capital, such as ecosystems, biodiverse habitats, clean air and water, productive soils, and a stable climate.”
— Lord Stern and Joseph Stiglitz