Putting nature above business considerations has the potential to generate 395 million jobs and US$10 trillion in business opportunities by 2030, the World Economic Forum (WEF) says in a new report.
Unprecedented job losses and economic uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic have governments looking at ways to stimulate growth safely. Experts at the WEF say the answer can be found in what they call a “nature first” approach.
“The global economy is inextricably linked to the health of our planet,” the WEF report says. “How we produce, manufacture, consume and ultimately manage our waste is straining nature’s ability to cope.”
When it comes to mining and power generation, the authors contend that nature-positive businesses — those businesses that add value to nature — could generate an estimated US$3.5 trillion worth of annual value and create 87 million jobs by 2030.
“Accounting for an estimated 23% of global GDP and 16% of employment, the extraction, production, manufacturing and generation of energy and materials is both a major contributor to global economic growth and a major threat to biodiversity,” the report states.
The sector’s negative effects – air pollution and carbon emissions – account for US$9 trillion annually, or around 10.5% of global GDP.
Reversing the costly impact, the report asserts, involves improving consumption efficiency to reduce the number of resources that need to be extracted. It also involves improving how those resources are extracted to minimize the impact on ecosystems while shifting to more renewable energy.
“Supportive regulations – such as those that encourage and support environmentally sound extractives project design, systematic rehabilitation of mining sites, and waste collection and reuse – will be significant in unlocking the value of nature-positive businesses.”
The study is built on real-world examples, where business outcomes have been enhanced by nature-positive outcomes. One example is British multinational automaker Jaguar Land Rover, which collected and reused 300,000 tonnes of aluminum between 2013 and 2019.
That program translated into a 30% recovery of the 180,000 tonnes of aluminium Jaguar Land Rover used annually in the six-year period. The initiative has resulted in an overall 46% drop in carbon emissions in the company’s global vehicle production.
Another example in the report is Elion, the first Chinese company to commit to 100% renewables in its operations by 2030. The company started as a salt chemical engineering business in the Kubuqi desert of Inner Mongolia. Frequent sandstorms damaged production and increased costs in its early years of operation. To combat desertification and sandstorms, Elion developed a comprehensive ecological restoration-based economic system.
The company has already restored nearly 6500 sq. km of desert land, thanks to the construction of sand-protecting barriers, afforestation and the closure of land for natural regeneration. This has allowed the formation of an ecological microclimate in the desert, which is attracting eco-tourists and companies focused on growing medicinal plants.
“We can address the looming biodiversity crisis and reset the economy in a way that creates and protects millions of jobs,” noted Akanksha Khatri, WEF’s head of the Nature Action Agenda.
The transition to a green economy is being fuelled by minerals, with demand for resources projected to double by 2060. That means the mining sector will play a critical role in technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.
Improving resource recovery in extraction can save up to US$225 billion by 2030.
“Mining and oil and gas operations often do not fully utilize all the resources in one site before moving on to new areas, increasing damage to biodiversity,” the report states. “New technologies and more mechanization could enhance material recovery rates by up to 50%.”
Investing in environmental, social and governance (ESG) is currently estimated at over US$20 trillion in assets under management, according to estimates from accounting firm Deloitte. Companies that fail to deliver value beyond compliance could face financial consequences and a blow to their reputations.