Investing in Nature for a Resilient Future

Banner image: © Junqiu Huang/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Investing in Nature for a Resilient Future

This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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In the wake of COVID-19, national governments and public development agencies are pumping trillions of dollars into healthcare, immediate unemployment relief and other direct economic support measures. But so far, proposed “green recovery packages” have fallen short. Of the USD 14.9 trillion stimulus announced to date, only USD 1.8 trillion (at the time of analysis) was “green” enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or enhance nature and biodiversity.

We are witnessing one of the fastest economic transitions ever known—but there is still time to incorporate nature-positive recovery plans that support a more resilient future for people, the planet and economic prosperity.

Evidence suggests that investing in a nature-positive recovery will pay back over the long term. In addition to ensuring a habitable planet for all life on Earth, a systemic transformation to a nature-friendly economy could create 395 million jobs and deliver USD 10.1 trillion of economic value by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum. Research commissioned by The Nature Conservancy estimates that implementing solutions that enhance nature globally—including reforestation and improved forest management—could contribute USD 25-90 billion in annual value added by 2030. And that’s without factoring in a carbon price.

We have an enormous opportunity to rethink how and where money is channeled to shift our systems in a way that restores the planet, and delivers life supporting services to people.

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Consider agriculture subsidies: approximately USD 500 billion dollars in agricultural subsidies worldwide perpetuate unsustainable food and land use systems, which lead to environmental degradation, poor nutrition and income inequality. If we do nothing about the way we produce and consume our food, it will amount to damage estimated to cost USD 16 trillion each year by 2050. However, by redirecting harmful subsidies toward sustainable practices, including regenerative agriculture, governments can accelerate international climate and biodiversity progress. This shift could provide 40% of the funding we need to protect and restore nature—without having to generate new funding streams. We need to see more of these shifts, and we need them urgently.

Two components can ensure a truly green and nature-positive recovery. The first is a rapid transition to low-carbon economies. The second is funding and scaling nature-based solutions that can deliver climate mitigation and adaptation benefits as well as a wide range of vital infrastructure services, such as improved water quality, flood control and disaster risk reduction—all while also benefitting biodiversity.

Nature-based solutions can build resilience in the face of systemic shocks in our economies and ecosystems. For example, studies show that conserving and restoring wetlands, salt marshes and mangroves is one of the most cost-effective ways to protect coastal areas from storms and floods. After Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern United States in 2012, TNC scientists in partnership with Lloyds of London found that coastal wetlands prevented more than USD 625 million in potential property damages by absorbing wave energy and reducing storm surge.

Forests offer another big opportunity. Large-scale forest restoration of at least 350 million hectares by 2030 could generate USD 170 billion per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products—while sequestering more than 5 billion tons of carbon emissions each year. 

Visit the OECD's site to browse hundreds of environmental and climate indicators

Visit the OECD's site to browse hundreds of environmental and climate indicators

The G7 Summit in June is a critical opportunity to shift narratives and policies. G7 countries can show global leadership in greening their recovery efforts and overall economies by:

  • Ensuring that all infrastructure investment considers green and hybrid alternatives, and apply the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimise and offset impacts) to all new investment;
  • Committing to systematic audits of their food-systems subsidies, following OECD guidelines, and pledging to reduce or redirect at least the most harmful subsidies to support regenerative agriculture and nature-positive outcomes;
  • Agreeing to explore trade measures to ensure that all forest-risk commodities imported into their countries are deforestation-free;
  • Doubling foreign aid flows for nature to help developing countries leverage private and domestic resource flows, as well as dedicating 30% of climate aid for nature-based solutions.

If we are to mitigate the climate crisis, reduce inequality, stabilise economies and feed a growing global population, we must protect, restore and sustainably manage nature. The devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to chart a new course—one where we do more for the natural systems that are the foundation of a healthy society.

Read more about The distributional aspects of environmental quality and environmental policies and see the latest OECD data, recommendations and policy advice on the Green Recovery and other pressing Social Challenges

 Read more about The distributional aspects of environmental quality and environmental policies and see the latest OECD data, recommendations and policy advice on the Green Recovery and other pressing Social Challenges

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Go to the profile of Jonas Eisenstein
over 1 year ago

In Germany, the government found a 'solution' to the overuse of packaging material and its processing. They introduced the so-called German Packaging Act, which obligates retailers shipping in and to Germany to license their packaging material. The money is used for waste processing and recycling purposes: As a consequence, retailers try to use less packaging material (the more packaging material, the more money they have to pay for it). In addition to that, less retailers from the US or other countries have shipped goods to Germany because they want to evade these costs. Thus, also emissions can be reduced. I think the law should or could be also introduced in the US.

Go to the profile of Kieran Jones
over 1 year ago

Hi Jonas,

It seems as though these ideas are gaining some traction—as you mentioned the United States, I asked my colleagues and they told me some states have in fact recently passed Extended Producer Responsibility laws for packaging, such as Maine, Oregon and Colorado:

How do you think Colorado's bill compares to the German Packaging Act? Is there anything they could learn from each other?

We also have a page dedicated to Extended Producer Responsibility where we post papers, reports and event information on all things EPR—and everything is available digitally so there's no packaging waste!

Thanks for your comment!