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“Just Transition” to create 20m new jobs in Nature-based Solutions

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Harnessing the power of nature to address major challenges facing society has the potential to generate 20 million jobs, according to a new report, but this needs to be supported by “Just Transition” policies.

  • Investment in Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can create 20 million jobs globally, especially in rural areas.
  • The new study, launched at COP15, underscores the need for policies supporting a “Just Transition”.
  • There is enormous potential for growth in making the world more sustainable, while continuing with business as usual is set to damage people and the environment.

The Decent Work in Nature-based Solutions report was published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at COP15, the global summit focusing on biodiversity.

What are NbS?

The UN Environment Assembly resolution 5/5 defines them 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.”

There are currently 75 million people employed in NbS, 96% of which live in lower-middle-income countries in Asia and the Pacific. Many of these workers are part-timers, and total employment is estimated to be around 14.5 million full-time-equivalent jobs. 

The figures in the report do not capture the job losses and displacements that might occur, and researchers warned of the challenges arising from measuring NbS employment – chiefly the lack of underlying source data. They see the report as a starting point for the development and testing of appropriate sources and methods, to support the compilation of datasets and associated indicators.

In low-income and lower-middle-income countries, nearly all NbS work is in the agriculture and forestry sectors. This falls to 42% for upper-middle income and 25% for high-income countries, which are the ones providing the most expenditure. In industrialised countries, where agricultural productivity is high, NbS spending is concentrated on ecosystem restoration and natural resource management. Public services contribute the largest share of NbS work in high-income countries, at 37%, with construction also representing a fair share at 14%.

What’s the opportunity?

According to the researchers, an extra 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.

There is no guarantee, however, that NbS employment will meet the ILO’s standard 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 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 NbS currently face,” said Vic van Vuuren, director of the ILO Enterprises Department. “The ILO’s Just Transition Guidelines provide a framework to help us do this.”

Need for “Just Transition” policies

The new 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, intends to create 1 million new green jobs and will be working to ensure the recommendations made in this report are realised on the ground. 

“Just Transition” policies will also be needed to mitigate the risks to jobs and livelihoods that the transition to more sustainable practices will create in the short to medium term. Some of these policies may include: job placement services; public employment programmes; re-employment training; access to unemployment benefits; early retirement; and the use of and payment for ecosystem services programmes.

Stewart Maginnis, deputy director general of IUCN, commented: “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.” 

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