Twenty million jobs could be created by further harnessing the power of nature to address the major challenges facing society, such as climate change, disaster risk and food and water insecurity.
Investing in such policies that support Nature-based Solutions (NbS), would generate significant employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas, says a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Launched at the UN’s Biodiversity Conference, COP15, in Montreal, the report, Decent Work in Nature-based Solutions , underscores the need 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 defined by the UN Environnment Assembly resolution 5/5 as “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.”
Currently nearly 75 million people are already employed in NbS. The report finds that the vast majority (96%) live in Asia and the Pacific and in lower-middle income countries, although the majority of global NbS 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 (FTE) jobs. However, the report cautions that there are challenges in measuring NbS employment. Moreover, the figures do not capture the job losses and displacements that might occur as NbS are implemented.
In low income and lower-middle income countries, nearly all NbS work (98 per cent and 99 per cent, respectively) is in the agriculture and forestry sectors. This falls to 42 per cent for upper-middle income and 25 per cent in high income countries. In industrialized countries, where agricultural productivity is high, NbS spending is concentrated in ecosystem restoration and natural resource management. Public services contribute the largest share of NbS work in high income countries (37 per cent), with construction also representing a fair share (14 per cent).
An additional 20 million jobs could be generated worldwide if investment in NbS were tripled by 2030. This has been identified as a key step toward achieving biodiversity, land restoration and climate goals such as those set out in the United Nations’ State of Finance for Nature 2021 Report .
However, the report warns that there is currently no guarantee that NbS employment will meet the ILO’s standards for green jobs. This requires jobs to be in the environmental sector, and meet the standards for decent work, including being in line with international and national labour standards, and decent work (defined as productive work that is fairly compensated 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 NbS currently face,” said Vic van Vuuren, Director, ILO Enterprises Department. “The ILO’s Just Transition Guidelines provide a framework to help us do this.”
“We welcome the emphasis given to Nature-based Solutions at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh. Not only are NbS a critical part of the mitigation equation – they host multiple co-benefits, including buffering the impacts of climate change. What this report brings to light is how to make NbS 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,” said Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division.
“When planned and implemented according to the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions, NbS 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 IUCN.
The report calls for the implementation of Just Transition policies, including measures to incubate and support enterprises and cooperatives working in NbS, appropriate skills development, measures to help workers prepare for and get NbS jobs, universities that integrate NBS is their mainstream curricula, and policies that help NbS comply with core labour standards, including minimum wages, occupational safety and health, freedom of association, and use of social dialogue. The new Green Jobs for Youth Pact , launched by ILO and UNEP at COP27, aims to create 1 million new green jobs and will be working to ensure the recommendations made in this report are realised on the ground.