POST TIME: 3 June, 2020 09:14:27 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 4 June, 2020 11:27:19 AM
Time for nature: Accelerating nature-based solution for development
Arif M.Faisal

Time for nature: Accelerating nature-based solution for development

The food that we eat, the air we breathe, the nature-based medicines and raw materials we take and the water that we drink all come from nature. Nature provides oxygen that we need to survive, livelihood support to billions of people, provides renewable source of energy, helps mitigate and adapt to climate change, evokes emotions or inspires artists. Nature also saves us from devastating effects of cyclones and storm surges and it was very evident during super cyclone Amphan that hit our country recently. The Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, and other coastal forests saved millions of lives during the disaster. Healthy ecosystems with rich biodiversity are fundamental to the existence of human being.

Sadly, we care little when it comes to the conservation of nature. We are witnessing mass extinction of species, loss of biodiversity and ecosystems globally mainly due to anthropogenic activities. We are destroying our mangrove forests, coral reefs, wetlands, etc., polluting our rivers and oceans, converting our natural forests to agriculture land, setting up industries and expanding urban habitat. Our consumerist behaviour, over-exploitation of natural resources, our greed and existing linear economic model lead us to run behind 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 are set to mark this year’s World Environment Day on June 5 with the theme ‘Time for Nature’ – the world must acknowledge the fact that degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity are moving closer to tipping points that are accelerating dramatic increase of the spread of zoonotic diseases like coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic which may become endemic. This is also a wake-up call for the global community to take urgent action to combat the acceleration of species loss and environmental degradation as well as to protect nature.
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 per cent of the world's eight million plant-animal species are facing extinction. The situation is worse in Bangladesh with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) apprehending that 24pc of 1,619 animal species might disappear from the country soon. The world lost about 1.4pc of its forests during 2000−2015, whereas Bangladesh lost 2.6pc forest- and tree-cover during the same period, according to FAO, the he Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

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 services. 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 goods and services provided by biodiversity is equivalent to US$ 125-140 trillion per year which is more than one and a half times the size of the 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 US$ 4-20 trillion per year in ecosystem services from 1997 to 2011, owing to land-cover change and an estimated US$ 6-11 trillion per year from land degradation. Currently, less than 0.002pc of the global GDP is invested in biodiversity conservation. However, more than four times the current level of investment is required to meet the conservation needs. Bangladesh needs an amount of US$2.4 billion for sustainable management of natural resources and, according to the country investment plan prepared by the government, there is a funding gap of US$1.8 billion. 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 shows that the number of emerging outbreaks of infectious disease has more than tripled and more than two-thirds of these diseases have originated from animals since 1980. It is also reported that 60pc of all known infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic. The dramatic increase of zoonotic diseases is due to natural disturbance caused 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 such as Ebola, SARS, Swine and Avian flu, HIV, etc. also spread due to similar reasons.

Bangladesh being an over populated lower-middle-income country has no choice but to ensure a delicate balance between development and conservation while taking any development intervention. Policies, regulatory frameworks, and all sectoral action plans should be aligned and harmonised to address the rapid pace of 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 solutions into all development planning, programming and budgetary process, in particular the upcoming 8th Five-Year Plan. 
The government should immediately take a comprehensive programme 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 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.

Taking the dangers of unsustainable and booming urbanisation into consideration, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management must be integrated into urban policy, planning, programming and budgetary process.
A strong political commitment from the ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’ 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 (e.g. 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. Scientists predict that the world may face more deadly viruses like Covid-19 if there is no drastic change in human behaviours, economic growth model and consumption pattern. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that our earth can heal herself, and we must help the healing process. To do all of the above things, a strong political commitment with passionate mind for biodiversity conservation by those with the power to change legislation, policies and public action continue to be required alongside adequate financing, and changing collective and individual mindset. Bangladesh now needs a green and resilient economic growth without destroying her very own nature.

The author is working with UNDP Bangladesh