Taking action to reverse nature decline now will offer good jobs for a green recovery. As we surface from the pandemic, minds will turn from rescue to recovery. Emergency packages to support people and businesses will give way to more strategic decisions about the type of economy we want on the other side. The economic impacts of the pandemic are not evenly spread and a recovery that levels up the country is a major government priority. For this reason, we commissioned WPI Economics to research the link between levelling up and jobs in the nature sector, to show why green jobs should be at the heart of the government’s recovery plans.
WPI’s research shows that communities with the most challenging jobs markets stand to gain the most from sustained and targeted investment in the natural environment. For instance, over two thirds of the best land for tree planting is in areas with the highest risks of persistent underemployment. And priority sites for coastal restoration and seagrass planting are disproportionately found in areas with high levels of furlough and poor employment forecasts. Many smaller northern towns with high proportions of workers in at-risk sectors are next to areas marked for upland peat restoration.
The job creation potential is highest in our most struggling communities and those jobs are, by their nature, local. Most stimulus money spent on nature would go straight into the pockets of tree-planters, lab scientists and site managers, rather than on imported materials and manufactured goods. These jobs are also good opportunities for young people, who have felt the brunt of job losses so far.
With the right, long-term plan, nature restoration could support advanced supply chains and skills development. WPI Economics spoke to people managing peat projects in the North Pennines, where drone technicians and data analysts are creating 3D models of bogs to monitor their condition and plan future work. In Pembrokeshire, the largest seagrass planting programme in the country is underway in a collaboration between Swansea University, local communities and charities. This project hopes to support local tourism in the future by protecting beaches from erosion and offering new snorkelling opportunities in underwater meadows teeming with life.
To reverse the fast rate of nature decline across the country, it will be important to stimulate more private investment in nature and, after all, businesses also depend on a healthy environment. The water they use can be cleaned to a higher standard by restored peat bogs and flood risk is reduced by upstream afforestation. A thriving environment also benefits businesses by improving the health of their staff. This was highlighted last week by the Covid Recovery Commission, an influential group of business executives who have recognised the impact poor mental health has on business costs. They recommend a more active role for businesses, investing in social infrastructure to help build resilience in local communities. This is a powerful message, signalling that, if the right funding structures exist, the investment is there.
This is why we are urging the Government, and the Treasury in particular, to recognise the role nature can play in levelling up the country and to take action. Adjustments to existing initiatives, like the Levelling Up Fund and the UK Infrastructure Bank, would allow more of these projects to get underway now, delivering vital jobs and visible improvements to the places that people care about. A long term investment plan would provide the foundation for the growth of productive, green employment for the future and ensure we really can build back better.
Zoe Avison is a Policy Analyst for Green Alliance
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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