04 May 2023

Venue: Online | Webex

Organization: Geneva Environment Network, International Union for Conservation of Nature

Building on the outcomes of the recently published report “Decent Work in Nature-based Solutions”, this event focused on the role that NbS can and do play in creating employment and decent work – particularly for low-income communities and those in vulnerable situations. This event was co-organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Geneva Environment Network, with the support of NetworkNature and the EU Commission.

About this Session

The world as we know it is facing an unprecedented crisis. We are experiencing a triple threat that has the potential to cause irreversible damage to the planet: biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution. These crises are interconnected, and they require immediate action from all of us to prevent further damage. The pivotal role of nature and ecosystem services in social and economic development is undeniable. It is estimated that $44 trillion of economic value generation is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, which corresponds to over half of traditional global GDP (WEF, 2020). Approximately 1.2 billion jobs in sectors such as farming, fisheries, forestry and tourism rely on healthy and functioning ecosystems (WWF-ILO, 2020).

By integrating the conservation of nature and societal challenges, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) have the capacity to offer pathways for transformative changes to address the current crises and also to rethink the conservation-economy dilemma. Nature-based Solutions not only address climate change mitigation and adaptation, but also enhance biodiversity and provide food and water. Additionally, they create job opportunities and protect communities in vulnerable situations from disasters like flooding, landslides, and droughts. Multiple ecosystem-based approaches that fit within the NbS umbrella have shown promising results of how they can create green jobs, both in short-term and long-term phase spectrums. Currently, approximately 133 billion dollars are directed to NbS interventions, and this financial flow must at least triple by 2030 to achieve land degradation neutrality, climate change and biodiversity targets (UNEP, 2022). Estimations show that nearly 75 million people are currently working in NbS and another 20 million jobs could be created by investing in NbS (ILO-UNEP-IUCN, 2022).  While scaling up NbS, it is crucial to ensure that these employment opportunities are decent work employment. Decent work refers to work that is safe, secure, provides fair wages, guarantees rights at work and provides social protection. Integrating decent work as a key element of NbS safeguards a just transition for both environmental and social sustainability, contributing to social inclusion and poverty eradication. 

Building on the outcomes of the recently published report “Decent Work in Nature-based Solutions”, this event focused on the role that NbS can and do play in creating employment and decent work – particularly for low-income communities and those in vulnerable situations. Panelists will discuss the sectoral and geographical distribution of green jobs in NbS, they will detail the complexity of green job creation and will outline a framework for measurement. Sharing concrete examples, panelists discussed the important vehicles and instruments that will smooth the path for green job growth. 


By order of intervention.

Moustapha Kamal GUEYE

Director, ILO Priority Action Programme on Just Transitions, International Labour Organization | Moderator

Leander RAES

Economist, International Union for Conservation of Nature


Senior Employment Intensive Specialist, International Labour Organization


Senior Programme Officer, Nature for Climate Branch, United Nations Environment Programme


Policy Officer, European Commission


Director, Advocacy and Multilateral Environmental Agreements Monitoring Unit, Rwanda Environment Management Authority


Livestreamed via Webex.


Welcome & Introduction

Moustapha Kamal GUEYE | Director, ILO Priority Action Programme on Just Transitions, International Labour Organization | Moderator

This agenda is critical to at least four multilateral environmental agreements, where nature-based solutions (NbS) are being considered to address challenges while also opening opportunities for decent work and income generation. Considering nature-based solutions is central at this juncture, but also doing so with a focus on the decent work agenda. We see opportunities for employment, but these need to be more than just any jobs. Nature-based solutions that meaningfully contribute to the SDGs should generate decent work.

Decent Work and NbS

Leander RAES | Economist, International Union for Conservation of Nature

I will present some of the work based on the collaboration between the ILO, the UNEP, and the IUCN. This collaboration began from a discussion where we acknowledged that NbS has the potential to generate decent work outcomes. Furthermore, these outcomes can help build support for the implementation of NbS. We recognized that currently, there is no systematic effort to monitor, quantify, or qualify the jobs generated through investment in NbS. Through this collaboration, we aim to address this knowledge gap to support governments and other stakeholders in developing more coherent policies and strategies related to NbS, with a specific focus on decent work.

Decent work

  • The terms “work” and “employment” are often used interchangeably, but not all work is employment. For instance, volunteering, work in the household, and work for own consumption are forms of work but are not considered employment.
  • When we think about decent work, it’s a broader concept. Decent work aims to provide opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace, social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, and equality of opportunity and treatment for all people.
  • It builds on ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, which comprises four collective and interdependent pillars: employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue.

Just Transition

  • This Decent Work Agenda links with the Just Transition concept, which aims to maximize the social and economic opportunities of environmental actions, including climate action and protecting biodiversity, while carefully managing any challenges related to impacts of these actions on the world of work.
    • The Just Transition framework aims to support workers, enterprises, and communities that could be negatively affected by shifts away from specific sectors, ensuring that when we implement a transition, no one is left behind. The goal is decent work for all in an environmentally sustainable society. This links with the implementation of NbS.
    • We view NbS as a key building block to address societal goals and challenges, and this can be achieved by implementing NbS in synergy with Just Transition, focusing on supporting decent work outcomes and resilience while achieving national targets.
  • Both the ILO’s Just Transition guidelines and the IUCN’s Global Standard for Nature-Based Solutions share common themes and objectives. They both build on an evidence-based decision-making process, aim to be inclusive with meaningful stakeholder engagement, emphasize policy coherence across portfolios to maximize opportunities and mitigate risks, and uphold rights while fostering empowerment.
  • Building on these concepts, the ILO, UNEP, and IUCN launched a report in 2022.
    • The first question we addressed when thinking about work in NbS is: what does current work in NbS look like? The initial challenge is determining what current activities and employment can be classified as NbS. Within the context of NbS, there are a broad range of activities.
    • In our first report, as an initial step, we used what could be understood as NbS proxies. We looked at specific activities where people are protecting, conserving, restoring, or sustainably managing ecosystems. Although all of these actions are not by definition NbS, they provided a starting point for us to understand the current work landscape in NbS. These activities span several sectors, including agriculture, infrastructure and construction, as well as nature-based enterprises. There are also various public employment programs related to NbS.
  • When we look at these different aspects, several characteristics become apparent.
    • A lot of the current work in NbS is part-time, seasonal, or temporary. This is often deliberate, as part of strategies to combat poverty and complement existing livelihoods for example in public work programs. A lot of it is rural and, due to its focus on the agriculture and forestry sector, it can often be informal, related to manual labor, and generates a low income.
    • There is also professional, high-skilled labor involved, particularly in urban work focusing on the design, planning, management, monitoring, research, and promotion of NbS. Where there is an increasing number of new occupations emerging in the labor market. A lot of this employment is hidden because it’s part of other programs and activities.
    • It can also be atypical employment, with a variety of arrangements such as household contracts to manage certain areas. Volunteering is also an important and common aspect across the world when we think about current employment in NbS.

ReDuna project | To illustrate this, let me highlight two case studies from our report. The first is a project implemented in Almada, Portugal, focusing on the restoration of dunes along a 1km stretch of coastline. It involves the use of willow sand fences and the planting of 100,000 native dune species to restore the dunes for effective storm protection. This project generated 104 NbS jobs, 64 of which related to the restoration, construction, and maintenance of the ecosystem. 12 of these jobs can be considered permanent. The project also includes the annual hiring of consultants, such as biologists, to monitor the implementation. The project wouldn’t have been possible without the involvement of 1,040 volunteers who worked on restoration, maintenance, and the clearing of invasive, non-indigenous plants.

Scaling up Mountain Ecosystem-based Adaptation | The second case study, focus on improving water, grasslands, and livestock management through strengthening local capacities and knowledge, promoting intercultural dialogue between stakeholders, and strengthening institutional and community organization, in addition to the restoration of ancestral and natural infrastructure. In this project, 105 people worked, including 89 indigenous people who worked through faenas, a traditional form of communal unpaid work, as well as additional people working on planning, project management, and stakeholder facilitation.

Maikel LIEUW-KIE-SONG | Senior Employment Intensive Specialist, International Labour Organization

There are many interesting facets but also issues around current work in NbS. One conclusion is that not all of it is clearly decent work. This presents a framework for the measures needed to improve the working conditions in NbS so that we don’t only have more jobs, but also better jobs in this area.

Measurement Challenges

There’s no established way to say these jobs are NbS and those are not. Neither at the activity level can we say all this type of construction is NbS or all this type of agriculture is NbS. There’s no framework for that yet. This is compounded with additional challenges of measuring decent work, which includes a lot of parameters.

  • It’s not only about whether you’re employed or not, but whether you have certain rights, what your income levels are, etc. The report tries to deal with these complexities and proposes a detailed framework that’s aligned with the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, as well as the international standards of the International Conference of Labour Statisticians, which provide the framework for measurement in the world of work.
  • A detailed framework is proposed, informed by global survey of stakeholders, but it’s not a framework that’s been applied or which we can use to come up with current numbers.
  • In the report, we made an initial estimation of its kind based on primarily financial flows and economic modelling in line with other work the ILO does in terms of assessing green jobs. To illustrate some of the measurement difficulties, we did a survey around the flagship projects related to the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. There was a request from UNEP and the FAO for countries to propose flagship programs around restoration.
  • In these proposals, there was a question about jobs created through the programs. We wanted to understand how people went about measuring and estimating these jobs. The measurement of jobs varies greatly among individuals. Some people reported on the number of persons, some on full-time equivalents, some on working days, some on number of positions, etc. This demonstrates that the way people interpret, measure, and report on jobs varies quite substantially. We wanted to highlight the need for a more aligned and established measurement framework.

How many people are currently working in NbS? Estimates of future additional employment in NbS

There are 15 case studies in the report, providing examples. In our attempt to answer this question, we faced quite a few challenges from the data side, as there is no established framework. So, what we did is base this on spending on NbS, which was already calculated through UNEP’s report on the state of finance for nature. We took those spending figures from that report and tried to model how many jobs would be generated through that spending. It’s important to note that we believe this is likely to be a significant underestimation, both because of how the spending figures were estimated and because not all NbS necessarily shows up in spending figures. For instance, if a group of farmers decides to switch farming methods to more NbS-based farming methods, that wouldn’t necessarily show up in spending figures from the government or the private sector.

Despite these limitations, we’ve provided some results, broken down by region, age group, share of women, and we have an additional estimate of volunteers, which was based on limited data from the ILO and some surveys. It was estimated around 60 million volunteers and 75 million people working. It stands out that what we call the public employment program, or payment for ecosystem services, comprises a large share of jobs. This is due to very large programs in Asia, notably the employment guarantee scheme in India, where a lot of restoration and conservation activities are done annually, involving millions of people every year.

We also tried to see what future additional employment could be if spending and investment on NbS increased. Here again, we relied on the UNEP report, which calls for tripling investment in NbS by 2030 to 400 billion USD per annum. This projection is based on increasing investment in four key activities: reforestation, silvopasture, peatland restoration, and mangrove restoration. Based on these four key activities, we estimated that if this work was done and these investments were made, there would be an employment effect of around 20 million additional jobs by 2030.

We’ve broken down these jobs not only by region but also by income categories of the countries, and it’s interesting that middle-income countries, both upper and lower middle income, are projected to generate the bulk of employment. Many factors contribute to this, the combination of available land to restore, resources, interest, and still relatively labour-intensive methods. The projections are lower for high-income countries and low-income countries, the latter possibly due to a lack of resources and difficult political contexts, especially in fragile areas where the need and potential for NbS may be great, but mechanisms to implement them on a large scale are often lacking, both institutionally and politically.

It’s important to note that these numbers are driven mostly by mitigation needs, not adaptation needs. What’s not included in this assessment is the global need for adaptation, what role NbS could play in these global needs, and if it played that role, how many jobs would that create? We did not have figures available for this, but we would like to examine that in the future.

Barney DICKSON | Senior Programme Officer, Nature for Climate Branch, United Nations Environment Programme

As we think about ways to scale up the use of NbS, it’s crucial to align that with the decent work and just transition agenda.

  • In the short period since the 2022 report was finalized, we’ve seen several developments. These demonstrate increased interest in NbS, just transition, and indeed the connections between them. These developments include the outcomes from UNFCCC COP 27, CBD COP 15, and the launch of the ENACT initiative under the Egyptian presidency of COP 27.
  • This initiative aims to enhance NbS for accelerated climate transition and links it to issues of secure and fair employment. On the national level, we’ve seen a roadmap released by the Biden Administration in the U.S in November, aimed at accelerating the use of NbS. One of its strategic areas focuses on the workforce and providing improved training for NbS, to support the creation of good jobs.
  • Additionally, UNEP has been requested to convene intergovernmental consultations on NbS to increase common understanding. The process will take place this year, starting in mid-May and concluding in October.

Where are we taking this work? Where is this partnership going? | We envision the 2022 report to be the first in a series of biennial reports, to be produced every two years up to 2030, aligning with the timeframe of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The next reports will be released towards the end of 2024 and 2026.

What will we be doing in these future reports?

  1. We’ll continue to be explicit about the challenges in estimating the volume of work in NbS and seek ways to address them. We face a dilemma: the more detailed our characterization of NbS is, the more information we need to determine whether a particular job counts as work in NbS. But the less precise our characterization, the more uncertain we are that we’re counting jobs in NbS.
  2. To mitigate some of these challenges, we will explore different methodologies for estimating the volume of work in NbS, using both direct methods where we start from labor statistics, estimate what proportion of work in particular categories count as NBS. We’ll continue to use indirect methods, where we start from the volume of finance going into nature-based solutions, using modeling approaches to estimate the number of jobs or the amount of work that this finance will generate. Then we will seek to synthesize the estimates resulting from these different methodologies. This is not an exact science, but it’s better to be approximately correct than precisely wrong in this area.
  3. With this report series, we will look at cases where NBS are combined with what are variously termed as hard, grey, or infrastructural approaches. Often NBS can be combined very effectively with these other approaches. Indeed, in the real world, these hybrid approaches are more common than instances of pure nature-based solutions.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, we intend to increasingly look at policy issues and work on recommendations for how we can scale up nature-based solutions in a way that enhances the quality of work.

These recommendations may relate to the data and categories of data that countries are currently collecting on labor statistics. However, they also touch on other issues, including the skills needed in this new nature economy and the training needs that need to be met to have a labor force ready to deliver scaled-up nature-based solutions. That’s our current thinking on the next report due towards the end of 2024.

Karin ZAUNBERGER | Policy Officer, European Commission

NbS, while some might consider it a new concept, is not that new if we consider all the different names and terms we have used over the last decade. Inside the EU, we’ve discussed green infrastructure, ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction, ecosystem-based adaptation, and natural water retention measures. While all these terms are not synonyms, they’ve been crafted and developed in different policy areas. But at their core, they all share the underlying rationale of working with nature for people. Nature-based solutions are beneficial for societal, economic, and natural benefits.

We’ve had in the past few years a lot of discussion still ongoing on terms and definitions. It’s very fortunate to see how well science and international policy align. I’ve put here this definition and that matches very well with the thinking of science. I put here a figure from a study that shows how NbS deliver multiple benefits for people, nature, and climate. Being beneficial for biodiversity is fundamental to NbS, simply because to have healthy ecosystems, the biodiversity aspects are truly important.

EU Green Deal

In 2019, we had the adoption of the European Green Deal, which we say is our holistic roadmap to achieve a just transition. There were a number of sections in this European Green Deal, from increasing the EU’s climate ambition, supplying clean, affordable, and secure energy, mobilizing industry, building and renovating in an energy and resource-efficient way, preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity, zero pollution, a farm-to-fork fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system, and accelerating the shift to sustainable and smart mobility. All these under the heading “leaving no one behind”, so it is meant to be a just transition, linked to the idea of providing decent jobs for all.

Behind all this is the goal of transforming EU economies for a sustainable future. We address the planetary emergency of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, which are interdependent, so we can address those in an integrated manner. Over the past few years, under these different headings of the European Green Deal, you’ve seen a whole series of strategies, laws, initiatives that have come out. I’d like to point out a few which are highly relevant in the context of nature-based solutions.

  • The EU Adaptation Strategy which really recognizes the great role of healthy ecosystems for adaptation, both in rural, coastal, and urban contexts.
  • There’s the EU Renovation Wave, which is about the renovation of buildings and new constructions in the urban context. It’s accepted that if we also think about increased energy efficiency that can be achieved through green walls and green roofs, and if we look at how this can help tackle the urban heat island effect linked to the adaptation strategy, it will also lead to further increased energy efficiency, subsequently reducing emissions. So, we can really get into a positive spiral.
  • There’s the EU Biodiversity Strategy and its connected Nature Restoration Law. The concept of NbS is well embedded in these, suggesting that through their implementation, we can address a number of societal, environmental, and economic issues.
  • Finally, the European Bauhaus initiative. This is something more aesthetic, implying that all of this can also be beautiful.

Linking all these strategies and initiatives to jobs, it’s clear that making them a reality on the ground will require many hands. This is a great asset of nature-based solutions – they need many hands, in rural and urban areas alike. We heard earlier from ILO, UNEP, and IOC, focusing more on rural areas, but in urban spaces where we need to transform our cities to be climate resilient, to cope with increasing climate impacts, we will need green infrastructure and NbS. As more and more people are living in cities, increasing the number of jobs to implement nature-based solutions will enable a large part of the population, the city dwellers, to become part of the solution. A crucial success factor for nature-based solutions is having the people who live in these places on your side. You cannot successfully implement NbS against the will of the people. Therefore, participatory approaches are key.

Let’s not speak about the costs; it’s really an investment in the people. By scaling up the implementation of these solutions, we have an opportunity to address our challenges in an integrated manner.

I would like to highlight Nature-based Enterprises. They’ve created a community for nature-based enterprises to exchange experiences and to aid those interested in setting up new projects and enterprises to implement NbS can flourish and interact with one another.

Rachel TUSHABE | Director, Advocacy and Multilateral Environmental Agreements Monitoring Unit, Rwanda Environment Management Authority

In Rwanda, we always say “people for nature and nature for people”. This principle is embedded in our environment and climate change policy and our national constitution. We believe that nature can address societal challenges because it is one of the best factors of production for our economic development and societal well-being.

As we are developing at a very high rate, we prioritize what we call green urban spaces and green infrastructure, providing NbS. We take care to plant indigenous species within our cities, as these species are highly adaptive to the environment, providing natural solutions and capturing storms. Just in one night on May 2nd, in western and northern Rwanda, we lost 127 people due to heavy rain which caused a river to overflow. Our people know that when nature turns against them, it becomes even worse for their survival. Therefore, we need more work in restoration activities.

In the city of Kigali, we have tried to restore our wetlands, removing all activities in these areas to let wetlands be wetlands and fulfil their role of flood control and water retention.  We have also introduced a Green Schools initiative, so that our students are involved in nature-based solutions and work. In homes, we’ve introduced what we call kitchen gardens, so that when I need vegetables, I just step to my kitchen garden and pick some for good nutrition. That’s as NbS because it provides good nutrition, and we can use harvested water from our rooftops for the kitchen garden.

In Rwanda, a hilly country, we also have a lot of work in soil erosion control, agroforestry, and restoration using terraces so that we don’t lose our farmland to erosion. In one of our projects more than 177,000 green jobs have been created and documented.


Q: Would the work of park staff, especially that of park rangers and forest guards, be considered as NbS work or green work?

Leander RAES | I’ll just lean into this point without going into the debate over whether protected areas are considered as NbS, which is a separate discussion. We do understand that actions related to protection can often be interpreted as NbS. The most pertinent question when considering park rangers and similar roles is to approach it from the standpoint of decent work, where there are numerous challenges. Moreover, when you consider the possibility of implementing certain protection actions – which could include, for instance, the employment of park rangers – it is important to link that with the just transition framework. That’s what I would suggest, without delving into the discussion of precisely what types of protected areas are considered NbS.

Barney DICKSON | This is a topic I don’t believe we should overemphasize. The fundamental issue is that the purpose of nature-based solutions is to address a societal challenge, as outlined in the UN Environment Assembly’s definition of NbS. This addresses social, economic, or environmental challenges. The question then arises: do actions in pure conservation, as some protected areas are, and therefore the work of park rangers in these conservation areas, count as contributing to a societal challenge? There are varying opinions on this. I would lean towards a more encompassing perspective. Many protected areas are indeed explicitly designed to address a specific societal challenge, whether it relates to coastal protection, water management, or any other issue. I would be inclined to take a more inclusive view of whether that work qualifies as NbS-related. But as Leander pointed out, an essential issue is the quality of that work.

Q: Are there any examples where Natural-Based Solutions (NbS) have been combined with social protection or safety net programs, particularly in transformative contexts such as the Sahel region?

Maikel LIEUW-KIE-SONG | There are many examples, especially in low-income countries, of how NbS is combined with social protection or cash transfer programs. For instance, I briefly mentioned a scheme in India focused on the poor, where millions of people are working on restoring different types of ecosystems. Importantly, this program wasn’t framed as an NbS program, but rather as a rural development program. It recognizes that the restoration of nature and ecosystem services is an integral part of rural development. Similarly, payment for ecosystem services programs, often target vulnerable groups, providing supplemental income or livelihoods in addition to their agricultural work.

Q: Are there any ethical debates surrounding the practice of cash-for-work or cash-for-assets programs as opposed to simply providing cash assistance?

Maikel LIEUW-KIE-SONG | Regarding the last question on cash-for-work versus cash-for-assets, this is indeed an ongoing debate in many countries and contexts. We’ve seen examples where participants’ preferences matter. In some contexts, workers prefer in-kind contributions, and in others, cash. This can even vary within the same program based on changing food prices or inflation. For instance, in Ethiopia, surveys have shown that households’ preferences shift based on these factors. The consensus, however, has been to shift away from in-kind to cash contributions, although there are still specific contexts where in-kind payments may also be used.