Covid-19 has inflicted unprecedented
upheaval on societies and economies worldwide.

This has been the most serious
health crisis faced by the world for generations and as a society we need to
come together to curb the loss of life, keep essential workers safe and support
our communities. As we take the fight to the global pandemic many analysts
and economists note that the impacts of lockdowns will result in a global
economic contraction with devastating results for businesses, jobs and
livelihoods.

The South African reality is that our
economy was already showing limited GDP growth before the Covid-19 crisis, forecast
at 0.8%. Unemployment was effectively at 40% and business confidence was at its
lowest at the onset of 2020. Now, the Covid-19 business impact outlook
notes that 85% of
businesses are reporting turnover below the normal range.
A bleak picture indeed.  

The tourism and conservations sectors have
been severely impacted
by the lockdown. With the demand for travel practically zero at the moment and
likely to stay subdued after the pandemic. The financial and operational
sustainability of those in the hospitality sector, NGOs and protected and
conserved areas come into question. The knock-on impacts of this will
undoubtedly slow progress on landscape and biodiversity conservation.

The urgent need for all round reform is evident. As we rebuild our
country we should aim to build back better to emerge with a fundamentally
revitalised approach to addressing our economic challenges. Our president is
leading the charge: “We are resolved not
merely to return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to
forge a new economy in a new global reality…” But what does this actually
look like beyond the emergency relief measures and traditional stimulus
packages, and how do we avoid making the same mistakes, bearing in mind the
consequences we are living with as a result of the misuse of our environment?

A green road to recovery could not only boost growth and assist South
Africa’s recovery efforts but would also ensure a just transition to a new
economy that offers legitimate consideration for the natural environment and allows
for opportunities to the marginalised, particularly in rural areas, allowing us
to build back better. The global call for green and inclusive policies to be
the cornerstone of economic recovery is echoing across the world, with the 2020’s
being dubbed the decade to address Green Growth.

A green road to recovery for South Africa would give real and actionable
impetus to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has never been more relevant and more
urgent. This would require government and private sector dedication and
financial support for green sectors and innovations. It would require an interrogation
of how the South African stimulus packages and recovery road map systematically
builds public intervention that is targeted not only on emergency liquidity
demands but identifies the key drivers for economic growth in the long term. In
2020, this is sustainable development.

A green road to recovery would ensure an economic recovery that does not
exacerbate climate change and environmental degradation, which would destabilise
us even further and remove opportunities to have a more inclusive economy. Some
key insights into what this could include:

1.       Making
environmental improvements an integral part of the recovery roadmap for the
country; while the priority remains emergency relief measures, future
resilience is critical and requires the re-evaluation of potentially negative
environmental impacts and the building of a resilient economy with broader
shared value;

2.      
Ensuring that existing investments,
innovation and initiatives in green sectors and broader landscape conservation
efforts, which underpin the health and well-being of society and our economy,
retain their support and financing to maintain the gains we have made; 

3.       Ensuring
stimulus include measures which focus on climate and nature positive labour intensive sectors like
the production of renewable energy; investments in water treatment and
sanitation; waste management and recycling (especially for plastics);
sustainable transport and infrastructure; the remediation of polluted lands and
the preservation or restoration of natural areas that provide ecosystem
services and resilience to floods, droughts, and hurricanes;

4.       Harnessing
the strength of the circular economy and focus on resource efficient economies;

5.       Incentivising
investment in technological innovations and wildlife value chains that build
resilient communities and enhances health through cleaner and better protected
environments;

6.       Focusing
large stimulus on projects that can decarbonise the economy in order to address
emergency needs as well as build long term sustainable industries for the
country and possible export markets for growing energy needs across sub Saharan
Africa;

7.      
Integrate financial support measures such
as preferential loans, grants and tax incentives with efforts that boost
tangible environmental commitments, incentivizes positive behavioral change and
boost both liquidity for citizens as well as create benefits for a healthy
environment and green growth;

8.       Aligning
and supporting the
work of the Network for Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the
Financial System who have been pushing for, among other things, implementation
of recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures
(TCFD);

9.       Recognising the underlying
structural problems in our food system highlighted again by the pandemic, and
ensuring future investment in the sector does not drive further unsustainable
land use change for the purposes of intensive agriculture or exploitation of
wildlife.

We
are now at the beginning of the road to recovery and there are still many
things that remain uncertain. We need to build back better to maximise
environmental and social benefits, and prevent the rollback of environmental
protection and structure the recovery and stimulus packages in a way that
builds a more sustainable and resilient economy.

Candice
Stevens is Chair of the Sustainable Landscape Finance Coalition, WFA. Cerin Maduray is an Investment Analyst at WWF-SA. Views expressed are their own. 

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