The UN’s World Environment Day could not be more relevant than it is today
The food that we eat, the air we breathe, the nature-based medicines and raw materials, that we take and the water that we drink all come from nature. Nature provides oxygen for life support, livelihood support to billions of people, renewable sources of energy, helps to mitigate and adapt to climate change, evoke emotions or inspire artists.
Nature also saves us from the devastating effects of cyclone and storm surges which once again became very evident in the recent cyclone Amphan that hit in our country as Sundarbans and other coastal mangrove forests saved millions of lives in vulnerable coastal areas. Healthy ecosystems with rich biodiversity are fundamental to the existence of human beings.
Sadly, we care little when it comes to the conservation of nature. We are witnessing mass extinction of species, biodiversity and ecosystems loss globally mainly due to anthropogenic activities. We are destroying our mangrove forests, coral reefs, wetlands, etc, polluting our rivers and ocean, converting our natural forests to agriculture land, setting up industries and expanding urban habitat.
Our consumer society, exhausting of natural resources, our greed and existing linear economic models together lead unsustainable economic growth. The planet is now facing its sixth mass extinction, with consequences that will affect all life on Earth. Humans have destroyed or degraded vast areas of the world’s terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems.
As we mark this year’s World Environment Day with the theme ‘Time for Nature’ –the world must acknowledge the fact that degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity losses are moving closer to tipping points that are accelerating dramatic increase of the spread of zoonotic diseases like the coronavirus pandemic which is now moving toward endemic. This is also a wake-up call for the global community to take urgent action to combat the acceleration of species loss and degradation of the natural world.
According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES 2019) one million plant and animal species are facing extinction. This report estimated that 12.5% of the world's eight million plant-animal species are facing extinction while such is much higher in Bangladesh with 24% of 1,619 animal species facing imminent extinction according to IUCN. The world lost about 1.4% of its forests during 2000−2015, whereas Bangladesh lost 2.6% forest tree cover over the same period, according to the FAO.
This report identified five main drivers of biodiversity loss that includes land-use change, over-exploitation of natural resources, climate change and increase of the extreme weather events and alien invasive species. This alarming trend endangers economies, societies, people’s lives and livelihoods, food security, water security and the quality of life of the human being everywhere. In recent time, ecosystems are moving closer to critical thresholds and tipping points which, if crossed, will result in persistent and irreversible changes to ecosystem structure, function and service provision. It may have profound negative environmental, economic, political and social consequences.
The global economy is closely linked to biodiversity and ecosystem service. Ecosystem services delivered by biodiversity, such as crop pollination, water purification, pollution control, carbon sequestration, etc are vital to human well-being.
The IPBES reported that the value of the goods and services provided by biodiversity is equivalent to$125-140 trillion per year which is more than one and a half times the size of global GDP.
The costs of inaction on biodiversity loss are high and are anticipated to increase. It is reported that the world lost an estimated$4-20 trillion per year in ecosystem services from 1997 to 2011, owing to land-cover change and an estimated$6-11 trillion per year from land degradation.
Currently, less than 0.002% of the global GDP is invested in the biodiversity conservation. However, more than four times the current level of investment is required to meet conservation needs.
Bangladesh need an amount of $2.4 billion for sustainable management of natural resources and there is a funding gap of $1.8 billion according to country investment plan prepared by the government. It is now clear that investments to reverse biodiversity loss are economically beneficial.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a clear indication that human health is closely linked to the planet’s health. Research showed that the number of emerging outbreaks of infectious disease has more than tripled and more than two-thirds of these diseases originate from animals since 1980.
It is also reported that 60% of all known infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic. The dramatic increase of zoonotic diseases is due to disturbance of nature, by a variety of factors including destruction and degradation of natural habitats, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, illegal hunting and poaching of wildlife and risks associated with poorly managed livestock farming. Not only Covid-19, other zoonotic diseases like Ebola, SARS, Swine and Avian flu, HIV, etc also spread for similar reasons.
Bangladesh being an over populated lower-middle-income country has no choice but ensure a delicate balance between development and conservation while taking any development intervention. The policies, regulatory frameworks, and all sectoral action plans should be aligned and harmonized to address the rapid pace of the degradation of natural resources.
To this end, all fronts including the national and local governments, private sector, civil society and individuals must promote and integrate the nature-based solution in all development planning, programming and budgetary process, in particular the upcoming 8th five year plan.
The government should immediately take a comprehensive program to achieve the National Biodiversity Target which is set in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2016-2031), Bangladesh National Conservation Strategy (2016) and Bangladesh Biodiversity Act 2017.
A biodiversity finance plan aligned with public, private and international finances will be a leap forward in planning and implementing the nature-based solution, reduce the existing finance gap as well as support the implementation of these plans. Progress of such finances needs to be monitored through consistent, country-specific and comparable finance tracking and reporting.
Acknowledging the dangers of unsustainable and booming urbanization, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management must be integrated into urban policy, planning, programming and budgetary processes.
A strong political commitment from the ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment’ in implementing ‘Planetary Emergency’ (declared in December 2019) will be complementary to all these activities.
Apart from these policy interventions, we need to comply and strictly enforce all existing regulatory measures and introduce market-based instrument (eg polluter-pay-principle, green tax, etc) and incentives to halt ecosystem degradation, deforestation and biodiversity loss.
The world community can come forward, make strong solidarity, create a dedicated global fund for biodiversity that will “bend the curve” on biodiversity loss for the benefit of humans and all life on Earth. Scientist predicts that the world may face more deadly viruses like Covid-19 if there is not a drastic change in human behaviours, economic growth model and consumption pattern. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that our Earth can heal herself, but we must help the healing process.
The author is working with UNDP Bangladesh
The views expressed in this article are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of their employer.