New report outlines ways businesses and governments can 'flip that green switch'

Our COVID-19 coverage is free. Please consider a Devex Pro subscription to support our journalism.
A new report from the World Economic Forum provides practical insights on shifting toward a nature-positive economy. Photo by: Curt Carnemark / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

SAN FRANCISCO — A new report from the World Economic Forum, which makes the business case for putting nature first in the COVID-19 recovery, offers a road map for policymakers to reset their relationship with nature.

The Future of Nature and Business” outlines how 15 industry transitions across three sectors — food, land, and ocean use; infrastructure and the built environment; and energy and extractives — could generate over $10 trillion in business opportunity and create 395 million new jobs by 2030.

Opinion: Does business really care about people and nature?

Delfin Ganapin, WWF governance practice lead, argues the SDGs remain the best blueprint available for a cohesive and sustainable world. But does business care enough to deliver and demand change?

But the authors of the report acknowledge that business action alone is not enough to build what they describe as a “nature-positive economy” and highlight the need for political will and supportive policies to conserve and restore nature.

“We are reaching irreversible tipping points for nature and climate,” the report reads. “If recovery efforts do not address the looming planetary crises ... a critical window of opportunity to avoid their worst impact will be irreversibly lost. Decisions on how to deploy the post-Covid crisis stimulus packages will likely shape societies and economies for decades, making it imperative to ‘build back better’ and not return to an unsustainable and dangerous business-as-usual.”

“There’s more government money being invested and spent in processes that harm nature than actually do good for nature.”

— Akanksha Khatri, lead author, WEF’s “The Future of Nature and Business” report

During the lockdowns in response to the new coronavirus, the world cut its emissions down to the rate suggested by the United Nations Environment Programme’s “Emissions Gap Report,” but urgent change is needed to sustain these reductions, said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

“The answer is not to lock the world down,” she said at a press conference Wednesday. “The answer is to flip that green switch.”

To halt and undo climate change, reverse biodiversity loss, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the world needs to transform business in the ways highlighted by this WEF report, Andersen said.

A policy companion to the WEF report offers recommendations for governments to ensure that stimulus packages, budgets and policies, and development projects protect biodiversity, restore land, and sustainably manage natural resources.

“Restoring nature is not a burden to growth and development, but on the contrary,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, environment and energy minister of Costa Rica and incoming CEO of the Global Environment Facility.

He called for investments in human capital and good governance and also outlined how important it is for ministers of finance, agriculture, and environment to work together.

Costa Rica has demonstrated the return on investment from this transition to a nature-positive economy, and the key now is to mainstream this model, said Carlos Alvarado Quesada, president of Costa Rica. Doing so will require more countries to take the long-term view as they redirect their investments.

“There’s more government money being invested and spent in processes that harm nature than actually do good for nature,” said Akanksha Khatri, head of the Nature Action Agenda at WEF and the lead author of the report.

She outlined four recommendations for policymakers: phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies, investing in what WEF describes as Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, ensuring their citizens have the skills necessary to seize opportunities in the new nature economy, and measuring economic performance in a way that goes beyond gross domestic product.

When asked how international development banks can support low- and middle-income countries in their nature-positive transition, she said they play a critical role.

“Indeed, it is not just only about public and private capital in the traditional sense of the word, but more importantly development banks and how they can prioritize nature-positive investment,” Khatri said.

She referenced the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which recently unveiled its Green Economy Transition plan to become a majority green bank by 2025.

“We need more of such leadership,” she said.

Another recent example, cited in the policy companion to the WEF report, comes from the World Bank, which last month pledged to provide $188 million and technical assistance to Pakistan in support of its ecosystem restoration, climate resilience, and disaster management capabilities.

The WEF report’s authors also note that for conservation and restoration schemes to move from individual projects to impact at scale, countries need to use the right combination of carrots, such as reforming agricultural subsidies, and sticks, such as taxing pollution.

“The Future of Nature and Business” is part of WEF’s New Nature Economy series and one of a range of efforts by WEF to make the case that economic growth and environmental sustainability are not at odds with one another.

“The economy is actually underpinned by the infrastructure that the planet and nature provides,” Khatri said.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.