On the blog today, our chief executive, Francesca Osowska, looks at how the Covid-19 crisis has made us look at our future differently. She asks if a green recovery can be a vital component to help us solve social, economic and environmental issues…
Build back better. Reimagine the future. Many of us will have called for a new perspective, as we look to life after the Covid-19 pandemic. I am no exception. Monday’s report from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (AGER), commissioned by the Scottish Government, is an action plan for the recovery. The environment – or natural capital – is set to be a cornerstone of a broad-based economic revival.
In Scotland, we can take pride in our commitments to reverse significant ecological decline and to cutting carbon emissions to net-zero. And in many areas, we have made great progress in delivering on those commitments, such as reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. In others, progress has not been as impressive. The State of Nature report published late last year said that in Scotland there was a 24% drop in average species abundance since 1994. We need urgent, and significant action if we are to enjoy a nature-rich future in Scotland.
And, as the environment sector’s role in delivering on these commitments evolves, we need to look with fresh eyes at the skills and workforce needed. The economic hit from COVID-19 has illustrated the disproportionate impact on young people and SNH will work with providers and help steer the sector to step up and respond.
Triggering investment is key. AGER’s advice on the recovery looks to simultaneously encourage investment in the environment to help the economy back to health, and keep us focused on the twin challenges of the climate emergency and ecological decline.
The multiple benefits of investing in nature have long been recognised. Nature-based solutions to climate change, not only help to enhance our environment, but they also create jobs. Last year the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital calculated that natural capital in Scotland was worth £196bn and supported 240,000 jobs. There’s a lot to play for.
We know that continued investment in areas like peatland restoration – referenced in the AGER report – can make a big difference. The £250mn Scottish Government commitment to restore degraded peatland will not just help keep billions of tonnes of carbon in the ground, but deliver a return to the Scottish economy. It will help secure jobs, create business opportunities as well as supporting biodiversity, water quality and flood alleviation.
But the long-term scale of the investment needed across all nature-based solutions is in the order of billions. A blend of public and private money is needed from government and public agencies on one side and the commercial sector on the other. Working in partnership, both will seek a return on investment in nature-based solutions. However, a mature, market framework for green finance that delivers on carbon and biodiversity in the UK is not quite there yet. The AGER report highlights that. An alliance is forming, including SNH, to find a good and just way forward.
And that’s the strength of the report. Short and long term horizons. Let’s get the spades in the ground as soon as we can safely, to secure jobs and help the environment. And let’s think about the big things that can help us build back better for future generations.