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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Centre stage for Nature in post-pandemic economic recovery process

Trillions of dollars in COVID-19 relief must not reverse decades of environmental progress. No rescue of economy can happen without aligning restoration measures with global environmental goals.


Updated: June 8, 2020 9:17:56 pm
Some garment store owners have also decided not to open their shops. (Representational) The standard response of many governments has been to announce relief packages to provide financial aid to their citizens, and to maintain some level of economic activity.

Written by Pushpam Kumar

The outbreak of the pandemic due to COVID-19 has resulted in a health crisis as well as an economic crisis. While more than seven million are already infected and more than 4,00,000 have perished, the loss in economic output and employment seems much deeper than even the crisis of the 1930s. The UN projection on the global economy anticipates a 3.2% decline in growth in 2020. Approximately 3.3 billion of the world’s workforce is being affected by the massive disruption of economic activity and reduction of working hours due to COVID-19.

Governments have started responding to this global crisis, the loss of lives and jobs, but going by what the scientists have been saying, the pandemic is far from over — and the impact would likely continue over several years. So far, 191 countries have responded to COVID-19 relief measures, and the total global relief fund right now is estimated to be over US$ 8 trillion. More money is expected in the coming months.

The response measures so far include special allocations from central banks, or donations from rich countries or international organisations, and the implementation of short-term rescue plans to keep the economies on life support. China, Germany, the UK, the US and Japan have released fiscal and monetary bailout packages. The International Monetary Fund has secured $1 trillion in lending capacity and the World Bank Group has allocated US$ 150 billion for lending to member countries, with priority to be given to emerging and developing countries. More than 90 countries so far have requested bailouts from the IMF.

The destruction of biodiversity, habitat and domestication of the wild species increases the probability of dangerous pathogens jumping from wild animals to human beings, and leads to risks like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing the emergence of zoonotic diseases in the future would require us to acknowledge the close relationships between human, animal and environmental health, and the impact of human activities on ecosystems. Based on these connections, there is only one reasonable way to build back, and that is by integrating nature-based solutions into post-COVID-19 recovery plans. So, how can the current response measures be devoid of it?

The relief packages around the world are missing the integration of nature and climate change. Although there are a few countries like South Korea which seem to be making the effort. South Korea just passed an EU-style Green New Deal amid the COVID-19 chaos, as part of its instrumental recovery plan. But, in most other places, the relief packages and the other efforts to recover the economy do not, as of now, seem attuned to this need to align the economies around nature and climate-receptive production mechanics.

The standard response of many governments has been to announce relief packages to provide financial aid to their citizens, and to maintain some level of economic activity. A majority of informal workers (@ 2 billion) are not benefiting from these relief packages and roughly 49 million (best estimate) of the world’s population will be pushed into extreme poverty. But these are still necessary to prevent the economy from sliding further and create jobs.

However, governments must simultaneously ensure adequate investment in natural capital for ecosystem resilience and regeneration, including the restoration of carbon-rich habitats and climate-friendly agriculture. The rebuilding process should include the providing of jobs in the green sectors, and not necessarily in the city. The work-from-home culture should propel us towards investing more in broadband networks than in building road and rail networks, while energy from renewables must become a top priority.

Also, the wild should be left in the wild. Biodiversity conservation should be firmly integrated into the economic planning and investment. Finally, nature-based solutions (NBS) to environmental degradation should become the DNA of recovery activities. The NBS are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.

NBS contributes to the creation of new jobs, to livelihood resilience, reductions in poverty, and the limiting of the financial consequences of managing climate change. There is enough evidence to prove that NBS yields double dividend benefits. It helps in managing climate change, enhances ecosystem services, and creates jobs.

The work of the United Nations Environment programme along with the others has shown that the restoration of land to achieve land degradation-neutral development by 2030 is not only far more cost-effective (cost per unit of benefit), but it also helps in poverty alleviation. The work that we, at UNEP, have been doing shows that for 44 countries in Asia, the attainment of the land degradation-neutrality objective under sustainable development goal 15.3 would half the incidence of poverty by 2030.

Therefore, relief packages and recovery plans that overlook the restoration of biodiversity and nature are short-sighted and recipes for failure. The UN Secretary General has already warned us about it. To avoid future global health and economic crises, we need to invest in the conservation of biodiversity and rebuild our economies by rebuilding nature. A green recovery must infuse the protection of nature and stabilisation of climate into its DNA through solutions that conserve and restore local and regional ecosystems and biodiversity, and keep greenhouse gasses within the limit of 1.5 degree Celsius.

The writer is chief environmental economist and senior economic advisor, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Views expressed are personal

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