The government of Bangladesh is preparing an Eighth Five-Year Plan to guide the country's development between July 2020−June 2025. This plan is expected to be unique for three reasons.
Firstly, the plan will shift the country from "Vision 2021" -- a dream to become a middle-income country to "Vision 2041" – the aspiration to become a high-income country. Secondly, the plan will witness Bangladesh completing the 50th year of independence, and thirdly, the plan will lead us through the crucial second five-year slot of a 15-year-long Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) era (2016−2030), for ensuring holistic developments.
Therefore, the Eighth Five-Year Plan needs to be more sensitive to the wellbeing of people, have greater economic ambitions and be extremely earnest to environmental sustainability. In addition, it also needs to build on the successes of its predecessor - the Seventh Five-Year Plan (July 2015−June 2020), which was successful in achieving higher economic growth, reducing poverty and benefiting from digitalisation.
Despite all these progress, in November 2019, the parliament took an extraordinary step and unanimously adopted a resolution on "Planetary Emergency", which includes climate crisis and irreversible loss of biodiversity the country has been facing due to the climate change.
As we proceed with the Eighth Five-Year Plan, we should also reflect on the performance of Bangladesh over the last five years to conserve its biodiversity.
A number of large conservation projects ended during the first years of the Seventh Five-Year Plan. The World Bank-funded "Strengthening Regional Cooperation for Wildlife Protection" (SRCWP, 2011−2016) of Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD), German agency GIZ-supported "Wetland Biodiversity Rehabilitation Project" (WBRP, 2009−2016) of Department of Fisheries (DoF), and Swiss agency SDC-funded "Community Based Sustainable Management of Tanguar Haor Project" (2006−2016) by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) were among them. In addition, the "Bagh (Tiger) Activity" (2014−2018) and "Climate Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods" (CREL, 2013−2018) - both supported by USAID - also ended lately.
Despite the diverse ecosystems they covered, the wide range of activities and implementation models, and varied degrees of successes and failures, all these projects had put people in the centre of conservation—whether as "Elephant Response Teams" in Sherpur, "Biodiversity Management Organisations" in Pabna, "Central Co-management Committee" of Tanguar Haor, "Village Tiger Response Teams" of Sharankhola, or "People's Forum" of Lawachara.
There is limited follow up of these donor-funded projects. In early 2017, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of Bangladesh gave IUCN a funding to work in the globally-important Tanguar Haor for another two years. This phase mainly focused on strengthening the community-based institutions around the wetland, with limited scope for hard-core biodiversity conservation.
Two other conservation projects ended last year. GIZ's "Sundarban Management Project" (SMP, 2015−2019) stands out for testing and promoting Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in the Sundarban to protect it from illegal activities. USAID, on the other hand, supported WorldFish to implement "Enhanced Coastal Fisheries in Bangladesh" (ECOFISHBD, 2014−2019), which successfully facilitated the declaration of 3,188 square kilometre "Nijhum Dwip Marine Reserves Area" in June 2019. It is the only second marine protected area after the Swatch of No Ground in the Bay of Bengal and was declared based upon comprehensive evidence gathered by IUCN and WCS. Both projects are now looking forward to start new phases.
Besides the "Bagh project" on Bengal tiger, in recent years, conservation initiatives rarely focused on single species. Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded dolphin conservation by UNDP and BFD and vulture conservation by IUCN and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK are a couple of rare examples.
Over the last two and half years, the Rohingya refugee crisis has limited our conservation actions in one of the most biodiversity-rich, but ecologically critical, regions of Bangladesh – the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf peninsula. But the crisis has also opened up new opportunities - managing human-elephant conflicts in the world's largest refugee camp -- led by UNHCR and IUCN since January 2018.
In addition to development partners, the government also invested in biodiversity conservation through BFD, Department of Environment (DoE) and DoF, however the actual extent is difficult to measure.
A quick analysis of the 19 projects of BFD in 2019−20 financial year, indicates that about 25% of the total budget is allocated to the projects essentially dealing with biodiversity conservation. At least 97% of that amount is public funds.
Going beyond projects, in the last five years, many strategies and action-plans were adopted and re-adopted for conservation. For example, Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan, originally formulated in 2009, has recently been extended till 2027. Conservation action plans have been formulated for the first time for several critically endangered species, namely Asian elephants, vultures, gharials, and dolphins. In 2016, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) of 2004 was updated for the period of 2016−2021. It was done in line with 20 "Aichi Biodiversity Targets", which were adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) back in 2010.
As legal instruments, Bangladesh Biodiversity Act, 2017 along with Ecologically Critical Area Management Rules, 2016 (ECA Rules) and Protected Area Management Rules, 2017 are three major conservation milestones for Bangladesh. However, elements from both rules are followed only on a limited scale in the on-going activities of DoE and BFD.
If compared with global data, the overall condition of Bangladesh's biodiversity is not good. According to Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)'s report, 12.5% of world's estimated 8 million species are now under threat of extinction.
In Bangladesh, about 25% of its 1619 animal species may disappear forever, as per IUCN's last Red List of 2015. This can only be avoided if we act urgently.
Global biodiversity conservation efforts are guided by the United Nation's CBD processes. The Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) of the CBD is due in October this year.
The meeting is expected to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework to guide our global to national conservation activities from 2021.
During the on-going global biodiversity negotiations, progresses, gaps and challenges of biodiversity conservation in Bangladesh, and the extraordinary development crossroads the country is at now, we need to keep in mind three notions—balance, synergy, transformation—as we design biodiversity conservation programmes for the Eighth Five-Year Plan.
The lessons from the last two decades indicate that our conservation efforts will continue to be people-focused. We, however, need to seek an honest balance between biodiversity's needs and people's demands, as they often share the same space in the nature. As we propose programmes for the new Five-Year Plan under different sectors, we also need to ask ourselves how we would maintain balance between our economic growth and our environmental sustainability in the coming decade under the "planetary emergency" declared by our parliament.
We are now passing through many global and national processes, which need to complement each other for maximum impacts. UN SDG's biodiversity-related targets, for example, need to match the post-2020 biodiversity targets by the CBD. Similarly, Bangladesh's locally translated SDG targets/indicators, soon-to-be-updated NBSAP's targets, the revised Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), and the Eighth Five-Year Plan all need to be aligned, on biodiversity issues.
We need to change our mind-set and stop preparing NBSAPs and conservation action plans only because donor supported us to do so. All action plans we prepare should be supported by funding. The BCCSAP and the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), established to implement it, have been showing us that for the last 10 years. Like climate finance, we may also see fast reduction in bilateral funding for biodiversity conservation in the coming years. We, therefore, need to shift our dependency to domestic sources—both public and private ones— to support our conservation work.
2020 gives Bangladesh as tremendous opportunity to proudly choose a conservation-development mix. Our Eighth Five-Year Plan needs to reflect that by embracing nature conservation as its core guiding principle.
Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is a biologist-turned-development-practitioner with a keen interest in research and its communication. He is an independent consultant working on environment, climate change, and research systems. He tweets as @hmirfanullah