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 accelerating the spread of zoonotic diseases like coronavirus
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, provide livelihood support to billions of people, provide a renewable source of energy, help mitigate and adapt to climate change, evoke emotions or inspire artists. Nature also saves us from the devastating effects of cyclones and storms surge which is 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.
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 consumerist behaviour, over-exploitation of natural resources, our greed and existing linear economic model leads 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 of 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 coronavirus pandemic. 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 percent of the world's eight million plant-animal species are facing extinction while such is much higher in Bangladesh with 24 percent of 1,619 animal species might disappear from the country soon, as per IUCN. The world lost about 1.4 percent of its forests during 2000−2015, whereas Bangladesh lost 2.6 percent forest tree cover over the same period, according to the FAO.
This report also 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. 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 leading to profound negative environmental, economic, political and social consequences.
The global economy is closely linked to biodiversity and ecosystem service. 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 percent of the global GDP is invested in biodiversity conservation. However, more than four times the current level of investment is required to meet conservation needs.
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 animal since 1980. It is also reported that 60 percent of all known infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic. The dramatic increase of zoonotic diseases including Covid-19, Ebola, SARS, Swine and Avian flu, HIV 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.
Bangladesh being an overpopulated 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 programme to achieve the National Biodiversity Target as set in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2016-2031) and strictly implement Bangladesh National Conservation Strategy (2016) and Bangladesh Biodiversity Act 2017.
Acknowledging the dangers of unsustainable and booming urbanisation, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management must be integrated into urban policy, planning, programming and budgetary process.
Bangladesh needs 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. 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.
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 (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. The pandemic has shown us that our earth can heal herself, we must help the healing process. Bangladesh needs a strong political commitment with a passionate mind for biodiversity conservation by those with the power to change legislation, policies and public actions are required for a green and resilient economic growth without destroying her very own nature.
The author is working with UNDP Bangladesh