Skip to main content

Building Back Better with Natural Resources

Publication date
View original

COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the global economy.

The United Nations predicts that the pandemic may cause the world’s economy to contract by up to 0.9 percent in 2020, instead of growing by 2.5 percent as previously forecasted. Foreign direct investment could decline by 40 percent in 2020-2021, and up to 25 million people worldwide may lose their jobs, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

COVID-19, like many other diseases such as HIV and SARS, is zoonotic, meaning it is transmitted between humans and animals.

“The gravity of this pandemic gives us a renewed recognition of the interconnection between societies and nature,” said Janez Potočnik and Izabella Teixeira, Co-Chairs of the International Resource Panel (IRP) in a recent publication, Building Resilient Societies after the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The paper –launched by the IRP - calls for rethinking the way we generate wealth, the way we move and live, through a natural resource lens. Based on a decade’s worth of research, it provides scientific facts and policy recommendations to help us better protect the planet and human health.

Below are some of the publication’s insights:

Using natural resources sustainably is a win for the planet and the economy

Most nations’ economies rely on natural resources for revenue, from material resources such as fossil fuels, metals, non-metallic minerals and biomass, to the water and land around us. Using natural resources sustainably – so that we increase their productivity and reduce the rate of depletion – would be a win-win for the environment and economic growth.

Economies can become more resilient by reducing dependence on materials, diversifying and by adopting circular business models. Lower levels of material inputs cut waste flows and emissions, reducing risk factors affecting human health and well-being, and can lower short-term production and consumption costs, as well as long-term societal costs.

Sustainable management of resources in agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying can limit the environmental impacts of these industries and help mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss.

Green investment is critical for recovery

In the wake of COVID-19, many global leaders have announced stimulus packages. Biodiversity preservation, climate action and sustainable resource management should be prioritized in the recovery phase.

‘‘Green’’ stimulus packages with elements of resource efficiency can save costs, stimulate economic growth and are the cornerstones of crisis prevention and resilience.

The IRP estimates that 60 to 80 percent of improvements in energy and water efficiency are possible and commercially viable in the construction, agriculture, food, industry, transport and other sectors. More efficient use of resources can deliver cost savings of 2.9 to 3.7 trillion USD per year by 2030. Investing USD 900 billion in resource-efficient measures could generate up to 25 million jobs.

Several countries understand this potential. Resource efficiency strategies have been applied in projects like the Industrial Retrofit Programme in Argentina, transit-oriented development in Brazil and Canada, the reduction of waste through industrial symbiosis in Japan, and housing finance schemes in Mexico.

Building Back Better

As expressed by Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity, creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to a carbon neutral future” are key for building back better after the COVID-19 pandemic.

IRP and UNEP conclude that, if done right, recovery from this global pandemic could usher in a new era of economic prosperity that is respectful of – and aligned with – the planet’s resources.

*The International Resource Panel (IRP) is a global science-policy platform, whose Secretariat is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme. For more information, please visit our website, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, or contact us at:*