Integrating climate change and biodiversity into the response to COVID-19: Green employment and growth
Investing in nature offers an excellent opportunity vis-à-vis COVID stimulus objectives, quickly creating jobs under social-distance conditions, while providing long-term benefits toward the transformational growth countries have committed to. Global under-employment generated by the COVID-19 pandemic is a historic opportunity for governments to accelerate the green transition and stimulate the economy through green stimulus programmes. Interventions in environmentally relevant sectors can protect and restore nature, provide income immediately to unemployed workers, deliver under social distancing guidelines and stimulate economic growth in emerging sectors. Green labour opportunities are currently available and successful implementation in some countries can be expanded at a time when the market is experiencing flux.
This note focuses on three examples of investments in natural capital in:
- Rural settings: investments in the restoration and/or enhancement of ecosystems (e.g. afforestation in degraded land).
- Urban and peri-urban settings: public investments in urban green spaces, like parks and green corridors.
- Corporate support (or ‘bailouts’) with nature-friendly strings attached: public support conditional on achieving either net neutral or net positive practices with regard to habitats and biodiversity
These opportunities can be deployed quickly across many countries. There are examples of successful implementation in response to COVID-19 around the world that can guide efforts in countries with less experience. Furthermore, there is evidence that COVID-19 has increased the appetite of citizens for nature-friendly public policies.
Opportunities in natural capital investment are well matched to current sectors and skills suffering from significant underutilisation, while creating a significant number of additional jobs. Global labour underutilisation has increased more than 10% since the COVID-19 lockdowns started and is projected to continue growing until Q3 of 2021. The depth of the crisis will permanently impact labour opportunities in hard-hit sectors, including retail, hospitality and travel, food and dining, and other transport.
Importantly, these investments are implementable under social distancing, and offer an opportunity to move away from unsustainable wage support. Current spending to supplement workers’ wages is unsustainable. Governments are targeting spending on paycheck protection programmes to safeguard family incomes and restore aggregate demand. These measures can be classified as rescue measure because they are temporary measures. As lockdowns begin to ease, governments are faced with the challenge of taking jobs off life support, and investing in recovery measures that ensure long-term sustainability. The investments in nature proposed here help fulfil future climate and biodiversity commitments (reducing future spending requirements) and enhance the productivity of natural capital (boosting longer term growth).