Economy and employment

Sustainable Development Goal 8

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Overview

By reducing the environmental impact of goods and services at every stage, from raw material extraction and transportation to manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal, we can achieve more well-being with less material consumption. This also enhances our potential to meet human needs while respecting the ecological carrying capacity of the Earth.

Businesses are both affected by, and rely upon, biodiversity and ecosystem services, regardless of organization size, location and sector – all businesses use water and energy, for example. There are some industries whose profitability depends directly on the health of ecosystems, for example forestry, fishing, agriculture and ecotourism. Other sectors have a direct impact on ecosystems and biodiversity through their operations, such as mining, construction and energy. For companies in these areas, a good track record on sustainability management is important for them to be able to obtain operating licenses and to maintain good relationships with stakeholders, such as local communities and non-governmental organizations.

Challenges

The worldwide use of natural resources has accelerated, with annual material extraction growing by a factor of eight through the 20th century, causing environmental damage and depletion of natural resources. This great increase in demand is set to accelerate as a result of population growth and rising incomes.

Because businesses rely on biodiversity and ecosystem services, any disruptions or degradation of biodiversity and ecosystems can have severe impacts upon supply chains and on its business model. Short-term disruptions can be expensive, long-term degradation leading to permanent damage of supply can be catastrophic, resulting in significant long-term economic dislocation, loss of market share and even complete failure of the business model.

Tourism and travel activities, for example, employ one in every 11 people on Earth and are responsible for 9% of the world’s gross domestic product. Policies and actions to reduce carbon emissions and pollution from tourism activities and to minimize the use of scarce and precious resources are highly important to global and local biodiversity. Social aims-- requiring engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities, a focus on poverty alleviation, and social equity in relation to tourism income and benefits-- also have a bearing on the provision of sustainable livelihoods and decent work opportunities which are key to reducing negative impacts on biodiversity in some areas.

Besides making economic growth more inclusive, there is also a need to respond to environmental concerns and make it less resource-intensive and environmentally damaging. Since resource inputs represent an important cost of production for industries, efficiency improvements can be a significant lever for competitive advantage. This should be done through promoting eco-innovation, public investment as well as incentives for private investment in green technologies, the pricing of externalities, and trade in environmental goods and services.

Messages

  • Biodiversity is integral to key development sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, which more than 1.3 billion people depend on for their livelihoods.
  • In the past, growth was discussed exclusively from an economic perspective. Achieving high rates of growth regardless of the distributional or environmental implications was the conventional wisdom. Years of experience have shown not only that there can be dire distributional or environmental implications of growth but that those can in turn affect growth negatively. Hence the need for framing a growth in the context of sustainability and equity.
  • A global 2010 study on the economic value of biodiversity concluded that cumulative economic costs from the loss of ecosystems services and biodiversity from overharvesting of biota and biomass under a “business as usual” scenario is equivalent to approximately 7% of GDP per annum in costs by 2050 – equivalent to around US$2-4.5 trillion each year.
  • The degradation of critical resources such as soil fertility, stocks of biodiversity (fish, for example), clean air and a stable climate has significant impact on factors affecting prosperity and alleviation of poverty.
  • Resource efficiency provides innovation and market opportunities to business, allowing them to maintain competitiveness, enjoy sustainable profits and minimize the risks of resource scarcity and degradation.
  • Dramatic improvements in resource productivity are a vital element of a transition to a ”green” and sustainable economy that will lift one billion people out of poverty and manage the natural resources required for the wellbeing of nine billion people by 2050. This will require an urgent rethink of current practices, backed by a massive investment in technological, financial and social innovation.
  • Harnessing existing technologies and appropriate policies to increase resource productivity could save up to US$3.7 trillion globally each year and insulate future economic growth from the harmful effects of resource scarcity, price volatility and environmental impacts.
  • Without acting on urgent environmental problems, many jobs could be lost due to ecosystem degradation, resources depletion and disasters, with serious implications for the most vulnerable. Simultaneously, new market opportunities could arise from the promotion of new green industries or activities, for example through a shift to sustainable farming in rural areas where most poor people live.
  • Therefore, significant steps toward sustainable and inclusive development will require a framework where the environmental (including biodiversity) and jobs dimensions are tackled simultaneously.
  • Sustainable tourism can create green business opportunities and jobs for indigenous and local communities as stewards of rich natural areas, and travel creates awareness and commitment to environmental issues in guests and hosts.
  • While unsustainable tourism can lead to environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, the right kind of partnership can generate financial resources for conservation (in fact, visitation and tourism are the largest market-based source of financing for park operations worldwide).