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18 January, 2022

WEF report: Two-thirds of China’s GDP is at risk from nature loss

A new report from the World Economic Forum focuses on the economic case for safeguarding nature in China.

By Sebastian Shehadi

Nearly $9trn (57trn yuan), two-thirds of China’s total gross domestic product, is at risk of disruption from ‘nature loss’, according to a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), released on the first day of the 2022 Davos conference. 

By making China’s economy ‘nature-positive’, the WEF reports says that Beijing could generate $1.9trn in additional annual revenue and create 88 million jobs by 2030.

“Businesses can create a virtuous cycle between people, planet and profit,” said Gim Huay Neo, managing director of the WEF, in a press release. “Investing in and living in harmony with nature will better secure sustained performance and prosperity. Chinese businesses can harness technologies and innovation, while adopting and promoting the UN Global Biodiversity Framework to collectively shape a more resilient and beautiful future for China.” 

The report says that significant economic opportunities can be created if new business practices are adopted across three interconnected socio-economic systems: food, land and ocean use; infrastructure and the built environment; and energy and extractives.

Regarding food, land and ocean use, the WEF refers to six transitions that could create almost $565bn in additional annual revenue, while adding 34 million new jobs by 2030. One of the transitions identified would be eco-tourism, estimated to create some $53bn of additional revenue in China. Eco-tourism would accelerate ecosystem restoration and decrease land and ocean exploitation.

With regards to infrastructure and the built environment, the report recommends five transitions to transform this system that could add roughly $590bn in annual revenue and create 30 million jobs by 2030. One way would be to promote the use of smart parking, a market worth $94bn in 2020 but expected to grow to about $219bn by 2025. 

Last but not least is energy and extractives. By enacting four transitions China could create almost $740bn in additional revenue per year, and 23 million new jobs by 2030. For one, the country could improve how resources are used or reused throughout a vehicle’s lifecycle, something that could create roughly $122bn of commercial value and more than 3.7 million jobs by 2030.

“Nature is critical to China’s continued prosperity and social development,” said Justin Lin Yifu, dean at the Institute of New Structural Economics, Peking University, Beijing. “It is also at the heart of its ‘ecological civilisation’ vision and intrinsically linked to its climate agenda. While our economy is currently facing non-negligible risk from nature loss, this report shows that taking bold action to ‘put nature first’ can secure our economic, social and climate ambitions while creating substantial business value.” 

The report also sets out how China is well placed to lead the transition to a carbon-neutral and nature-positive economy by delivering its “ecological civilisation” vision and implementing its new national biodiversity conservation strategy.

“China is uniquely positioned to lead a global movement towards a nature-positive, carbon-neutral future,” said Elizabeth Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. “As the president and host of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15, it provides leadership in setting forth an integrated agenda which builds societal, economic and ecological resilience.”

The potential gains for China in transforming its economy represent nearly 20% of global business opportunities and jobs creation. As the world enters a decisive decade for action on nature and climate, the Chinese government and the country’s businesses need to work closely to raise global ambition on biodiversity commitments, drive policy and regulatory changes, lead technological innovations, and mobilise investment. 

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