Nature-based solutions and the post-COVID recovery

Posted on June, 08 2020

On a recent webinar organised by WWF and the OECD, speakers discussed how nature-based solutions can be part of recovery efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nature-based solutions must be included in post-COVID-19 economic recovery packages if the world is to tackle growing unemployment, inequality and environmental degradation, according to the head of the OECD.

“We must build economic systems that value nature as a central source of human wellbeing and environmental health in the post-COVID 19 world. Safeguarding biodiversity can help reduce future health risks and make our societies more resilient,” José Ángel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, told participants at a joint WWF-OECD webinar on 5 June.

The webinar was convened to discuss the role of nature-based solutions in promoting a green and resilient economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nature-based solutions are defined by the IUCN as actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that simultaneously address societal challenges, providing benefits to human wellbeing and biodiversity. WWF identifies specific natural-based solutions to climate change as “ecosystem conservation, management and/or restoration interventions intentionally planned to deliver measurable positive climate adaptation and /or mitigation benefits that have human development and biodiversity co-benefits managing anticipated climate risks to nature that can undermine their long- term effectiveness.”

“Despite their well-recognised role and potential, the application of nature-based solutions continues to be limited in numbers and scale,” said Gurría.

He suggested that a number actions are needed to address this, including creating national and international regulatory frameworks that promote them. “We need to recognise that investing in nature supports health, supports quality of life and creates jobs,” he said.

This was a view supported by Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization. “Our direct experience shows … that, where we correctly apply this type of local, resource-based approach … labour intensity can be increased by up to 35% – there is a very important potential alignment of nature-based solutions with sustainable job creation and the improvement of economic and social conditions.

“We need to scale and systemise these lessons and make them a central part of the policy agenda ahead,” he added, noting that governments have already committed $9 trillion to COVID-19 economic and social response measures. “Think about what could be achieved if that $9 trillion was consciously and explicitly made conditional on a green component in recovery.”

Gurría added that nature-based solutions needed to be promoted as part of international and national climate and biodiversity frameworks.

Karin Kemper, Global Director, Environment Practice at the World Bank, said some client countries were beginning to explore nature-based solutions as part of their COVID recovery programmes.

She said that the World Bank has committed $160 billion for grants and financial support over the next fifteen months in response to the pandemic, with initial support going to address pressing health needs. “However, as we look to the next phase … a number of countries have asked us to focus on the recovery and to look at more equitable and sustainable impacts on the country’s natural capital, and how they can invest in a greener recovery.”

She gave as examples investments in landscape approaches, coastal recovery and forestry and afforestation projects. “We can have a double impact, by using established channels of projects that already focus on nature-based solutions … and channel funds through to communities that are really hard-hit by the economic crisis.”

Such funds can support urban as well as rural communities, observed Kobie Brand, Regional Director at ICLEI Africa and Global Director at ICLEI Cities Biodiversity Center. “We’ve seen the evidence about what massive tree-planting can do to alleviate [the effects of] climate change and bring relief from the inner-city heat effect,” she said, while nature-based solutions can help provide cities with water and improve their food security.

Nature-based solutions could help plug what is, in global terms, a relatively small short-fall in funding, argued Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, Costa Rica’s environment minister: “We need to mobilise resources for nature conservation like never before, but resources are abundant.” He said there is a global need to deploy around $140 billion annually to meet the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, compared with around $82 billion currently committed each year to protect nature.

“$140 billion may seem like a lot of money, but it is just 0.008% of global GDP,” he said.

Gurría noted the importance of nature to the global economy. He cited research that found that the global economic value of ecosystem services – including food and fuel production, climate regulation, the provision of clean water and pollination – is estimated at $125-140 trillion per year. In addition, marine and terrestrial ecosystems sequester around 60% of human CO2 emissions, he said.

“The solutions to the health and economic crisis must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis,” he said. “We need nature more than it needs us.”

The challenge, said Rodolfo Lacy, Director of the OECD’s Environment Directorate, is that often the services provided by natural ecosystems are not properly valued. “Biodiversity and natural infrastructure … are essential inputs for many economic activities … they are the pillars of resilience, yet much of this natural capital is undervalued, or valued only as a harvestable commodity,” he said.

“We are talking about trillions of dollars, but in scientific papers, not in the national accounts, not embedded in the economy,” he continued. “To compare the benefits and co-benefits of investing in biodiversity, we have to measure the value of that biodiversity.”

A further issue, said Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Global Leader of WWF's Climate and Energy Practice, is the lack of clear targets for biodiversity protection: “With climate change, with have the 1.5°C threshold … but there is no equivalent for nature.”

Part of the answer is to develop a narrative, such as that developed by the Global Commission on Climate and the Economy: “We don’t have a Global Commission on Nature and the Economy – we need to build that narrative to promote and incentivise behavioural change and address a long-term vision for nature that is more than an idealistic target, and which gives us the ability to measure progress.”
Green Recovery Dialogues