The world faces an unprecedented crisis of rising temperatures, super cyclones, raging wildfires, virulent viruses, and vicious floods: global collapse that risks the lives and livelihoods of billions driven by the overconsumption and extraction of natural capital to surge economic growth.

This natural capital is the invisible, underpinning value of the global economy today. Healthy ecosystems and wildlife together add high value to the global economy. Protecting forests at a cost of $2 billion is estimated to reduce pandemic risks by 40%. An estimated $44 trillion of the global GDP of $87.6 trillion depends on healthy ecosystems. Without their ecosystem’s services and their natural capital values, we would lose half of the global economy today.

For climate vulnerable regions like the Eastern Himalayas, even a 1.5 C rise will transform its climate, impacting everything from its water sources, to the crops that can be grown, its biodiversity and by extension, the lives of the 246 million people living there. Climate resilience is poor: people lack access to resources that could help them weather these changes. For a primarily agrarian community, swift action is not a choice, it is a necessity, beginning with its rich natural assets. 

Rather than investing in an economy that destroys natural capital, we need to incentivize and drive investment in building a rewilding economy which restores natural assets, creates green job opportunities for rural communities, enhances the region’s ability to meet net zero targets and improves health outcomes by lowering the risk of new emerging diseases

The Rewilding Opportunity

There is an estimated 2 billion hectares of land available for restoration globally, largely concentrated in temperate and tropical countries. Of these, tropical countries face the highest risks for degradation as commercial agriculture for beef, soy, oil palm and rubber expands. 25% of this land, or 500 million hectares, is suitable for complete rewilding. 

Today, both the formal and informal forest sector employ over 86 million people globally, many of them in small & medium enterprises (SMEs) (FAO, 2020). Directly investing in sustainable forest management globally will create an additional 16 million jobs by 2030. Broader investments in restoration agriculture can create 191 million jobs through enhanced productivity and restoration of degraded land (WEF,2020). 

Degradation of agricultural land today costs the global economy $6 trillion, or 75% of the total value it adds to the global economy (World Bank, 2019). Rewilding both forests and agriculture can generate $3.5 trillion in direct business opportunities through technology for restoration, sustainable timber and sustainable non-timber forest produce. 

Natural capital could form the regenerative backbone of the Eastern Himalayan region, however tapping into this opportunity requires a concerted shift towards a nature-positive policy that unites climate and environment, agricultural and business policies for a coherent strategic path forward.

The natural capital value of this new rewilding economy can provide universal basic assets coverage (healthcare, education, renewable energy access)to over 6 million households across the Eastern Himalayas.