Nature-based Solutions Key to Millions of Green Jobs

Jenepher Wanjala poses with the Sunflower solar irrigation pump outside of Kitale, Kenya, under the watchful eye of the farm’s owner, Carol Sikuku. March 18, 2018 (Photo by Jeffery M. Walcott / International Water Management Institute). Creative Commons license via Flickr.

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, December 15, 2022 ( Sustainability News) – Twenty million new jobs could be generated worldwide if investment in nature-based solutions were tripled by 2030, a target the United Nations calls a key step toward achieving the world’s biodiversity, land restoration and climate goals.

Investing in policies that support nature-based solutions would create employment opportunities, especially in rural areas, says a new report by three partners: the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The report, “Decent Work in Nature-based Solutions,” was released at the ongoing UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montreal. It emphasizes the needs for a “just transition,” greening the economy in a way that is fair and inclusive, creating meaningful work opportunities and leaving no one behind.

Nature-based solutions are “actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being, ecosystem services, resilience and biodiversity benefits,” the UN Environment Assembly has said.

Today, nearly 75 million people around the world are already employed in nature-based solutions. The “Decent Work” report finds that the vast majority, 96 percent, live in lower-middle income countries in Asia and the Pacific, although the majority of global nature-based solutions expenditure occurs in high income countries.

Many of these jobs are part-time, and total employment is estimated to be around 14.5 million full time-equivalent jobs. The report cautions that there are challenges in measuring nature-based solutions employment, and warns that the figures do not capture the job losses and displacements that might occur as nature-based solutions replace other technologies.

“When planned and implemented according to the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions, nature-based solutions offer a scalable, effective means to address the interlinked climate and biodiversity crises while delivering important benefits for human well-being and livelihoods, including good, green jobs. This makes them an essential tool in the implementation of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework,” said Stewart Maginnis, deputy director general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, negotiating the terms of a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to conserve the increasingly threatened animals and plants remaining is the work of the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference now taking place in Montreal.

IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. Its experts are organized into six Commissions dedicated to: species survival, environmental law, protected areas, social and economic policy, ecosystem management, and education and communications.

This baby male gorilla was born in December 2019 to a family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. September 7, 2020 (Photo by Kwita Izina) Creative Commons license via Flickr

As part of its work, IUCN maintains the Red List of Threatened Species, which the nonprofit conservation group founded in 1964. The Red List has become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species – used by government agencies, NGOs, natural resource planners, educational organizations, students, the media, and the business community.

The Red List shows where and what actions must be taken to save the building blocks of nature from extinction. It provides a straightforward way to factor the needs of living species into decision-making processes by providing a wealth of useful information on thousands of species.

The bad news is that biodiversity is declining. To date, there are more than 150,300 species on the IUCN Red List, and more than 42,100 species are threatened with extinction, including 41 percent of amphibians, 37 percent of sharks and rays, 36 percent of reef building corals, 34 percent of conifers, 27 percent of mammals, and 13 percent of birds.

The English broadcaster, biologist, natural historian and author Sir David Attenborough summed it up, saying, “The IUCN Red List tells us where we ought to be concerned and where the urgent needs are to do something to prevent the despoliation of this world. It is a great agenda for the work of conservationists.”

True, and a lot more work is needed – quickly.

A Million Threatened Species

Nature is declining globally at rates never seen before in human history and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark  report issued in May 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent intergovernmental body supported by UNEP, with its secretariat in Bonn, Germany.

The IPBES report finds that around 1,000,000 animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said then IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson, now a professor emeritus at the University of East Anglia, UK. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” he said. “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” Sir Robert said. “Through transformative change, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Young women in Bangladesh using open-source remote sensing data and tools to monitor forest carbon. June 15, 2022 (Photo courtesy International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Creative Commons license via Servir.

Time for Natural Solutions to Take Root

In low income and lower-middle income countries, nearly all nature-based solutions work is in the agriculture and forestry sectors. This falls to 42 percent for upper-middle income countries and to 25 percent in high income countries.

In industrialized countries, where agricultural productivity is high, spending on nature-based solutions is concentrated in ecosystem restoration and natural resource management. Public services contribute the largest share of nature-based solutions work in high income countries, 37 percent, with construction representing 14 percent.

Still, the “Decent Work” report warns that there is currently no guarantee that nature-based solutions employment will meet the International Labour Organization’s standard for green jobs. This requires jobs to be in the environmental sector, and meet international and national labour standards, and offer “decent work,” defined as productive work that is compensated fairly and in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

“It is critical that as we scale up the use of Nature-based Solutions we make sure we do not also scale up decent work deficits, such as the informal work, low-pay and low productivity conditions that many workers in nature-based solutions currently face,” said Vic van Vuuren, director, ILO Enterprises Department. “The ILO’s Just Transition Guidelines provide a framework to help us do this.”

“Decent Work” calls for the implementation of just transition policies, including:

  • measures to incubate and support enterprises and cooperatives working on nature-based solutions
  • appropriate skills development
  • measures to help workers prepare for and get nature-based solutions jobs
  • universities that integrate nature-based solutions is their mainstream curricula, and
  • policies that help nature-based solutions comply with core labour standards, including minimum wages, occupational safety and health, freedom of association, and use of social dialogue.

A Million Green Jobs for Youth

The new Green Jobs for Youth Pact, launched by ILO and UNEP at the annual UN climate conference COP27 in Egypt last month, aims to create one million new green jobs and will be working to ensure that the recommendations made in this report are realized on the ground.

Green Jobs for Youth has three initial targets:

  1. Create one million new green jobs with existing employers – with a particular focus on young women – through policy development, entrepreneurship, social dialogue, and enterprise development
  2. Assist in the greening of one million existing jobs; through the greening of businesses, upskilling of workers, and training of new young talent
  3. 10,000 young green entrepreneurs set up sustainable businesses with an estimated employment multiplier effect of 10 jobs created per start-up after five years.

“We welcome the emphasis given to nature-based solutions at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh,” Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division said.

“Not only are nature-based solutions a critical part of the mitigation equation – they host multiple co-benefits, buffering the impacts of climate change and addressing diverse challenges including food and water insecurity, disaster impacts, and threats to human health and wellbeing,” she explained.

Gardner says the “Decent Work” report brings to light “how to make nature-based solutions work for people and the economy and this will be a key success factor. A broad-based coalition with youth at the fore, is needed to achieve this.”

“We need to transform our relationship with nature,” says UNEP land use expert Thais Narciso. “Protecting and restoring nature is the most cost-effective option in the fight to stabilize climate. Humans are critically dependent on healthy ecosystems and habitats that allow wild species to thrive, but success depends on local community support, government leadership and funding schemes that can cohesively unlock national, international and private finance.”

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