Public outcry erupted around the world when thousands of kilometers of forest in Amazon were burning due to human induced fires. The forest fires were mostly initiated by Brazilian ranchers. About nine thousand square kilometers of tropical forests have been cleared for beef industry. The incident is having massive ecological impact in terms of erosion, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emission and other health hazards. Even still, many in Brazilian government and forest adjacent regions seemed content as the large clearings are now prepared for cattle ranching. Thus thousands of trees are sacrificed for the sake of development, paying little attention to the impact on climate and surroundings.
Since historical times, development strategy focused on fighting against nature, extracting natural resources without caring about ecology or ecosystems. And today, the effect of these rampant development strategies has posed us with a new threat, climate change. Now governments are struggling to balance between the never ending demand for development and climate change.
The struggle is one of many in developing world. Looming adverse effects of climate change is already creating worldwide concerns. The capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is sinking; Ice caps are melting, salinity and the rise of sea levels are concerning islands and coastal nations. Scientists around the world are trying to merge a way between climate change adaptions and economic development. Merged under a relatively new concept named Nature based Solutions (NbS); the aim is to find a way of development which will be based on Natural and eco-friendly solutions.
Nature-based Solutions (NbS)
Nature based Solutions involve wide range of actions. Protection and management of natural environment and ecosystems, the incorporation of green and blue infrastructure in urban areas and application of ecosystem based principles in the agricultural system are to name a few. The concept is based on the knowledge that natural and carefully managed ecosystems can produce diverse range of goods and services like storing carbon, controlling floods and providing clean water, food, fuel, medicine and genetic resources. Nature-based Solutions is an umbrella concept involving nature-based approaches like Green Infrastructure (GI), Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) and mitigation (EbM) and eco-disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR).
NbS are emerging as an integrated approach that can reduce trade-offs and promote synergies among the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, forests can be restored in upper catchments to help protect the downstream communities from flooding at the same time as increasing carbon sequestration and protecting biodiversity. Meanwhile, planting trees and increasing green space in cities can help with cooling and flood abatement, while storing carbon, mitigating against air pollution, and providing recreation and mental health benefits. NbS can deliver multiple benefits. NbS are low cost and works as a safety barrier against climate change. Consequently, NbS were endorsed in both recent IPCC Reports and are one of several keys “action portfolios” at UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2019. NbS tries to put a link between conventional conservation and climate change adaptation techniques with economic development. The need for nature positive business solutions are also expressed by World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks Report 2019.
Nature-based Solutions and Bangladesh
Jobs and modern enmities seem to come at a huge, often unrepairable cost. Government and general mass wants development and vibrant economy. Nature seems to come second and this notion is degrading ecosystems everywhere. Bangladesh is no different. This tiny piece of land hosts wetlands, rivers, mountain and mangrove forests, sandy beaches and numerous islands. Population growth and a rapidly expanding economy is eating away these vital areas. And every project is raising the age old dichotomy. Nature or economic wellbeing? Governments so far seems to prefer the first one. But with the advent of climatic change and worldwide concern of its adverse effect has propelled practitioners and researchers to find a more suitable environment friendly development strategy.
Natural systems like the Sundarbans works as a safety net against ever increasing number of natural disasters that hit the coastal areas of Bangladesh at a regular basis. The country has a very dense population, a fast growing economy and increasing rate of pollution and other hazards as a result of this development. Our development goals so far has been focused on economic development, thus we have already wasted much of our natural forest, wetlands, rivers and other important ecosystems. Urban developments too have been done without proper implementation of any sound planning. Thus, Bangladesh is progressing in economic terms, but valuable natural resources are lost every day.
As a country prone to environmental disaster and climate change, Bangladesh has long been using various Nature-based Solutions. Some of these concepts are mixed plantation, floating cultivation of rice and vegetables, modern wetland management techniques and organic fertilizers. As an agricultural country, Bangladesh possesses many traditional expertise which can minimize the effect on environment. However, several issues are consistently holding back the potential of these NbS practices.
Challenges for Bangladesh
Bangladesh lacks proper distribution system of agricultural and forest products. Poor infrastructure creates a huge difference in price and distribution mechanisms. Another crucial problem is the nation’s lack of any overall, comprehensive plan. Forest and agricultural extension officials think that small scale projects have been very successful but the absence of any comprehensiveness is decimating the little progress.
Many environmental projects in Bangladesh are foreign funded. Little attention is given to the economic viability. When funds dry up, the projects are stalled, losing all the good gains. Besides, without a proper plan for public engagement, communities are little interested or available to take part in the conservation. As a result, no longstanding impact is achieved.
The scale of destruction due to wrong policy is astounding. For example, Chittagong Hill Tracts used to be vast, hilly region covered with lush tropical forest. Traditional Jhum/Slash and Burn cultivation has already decimated most of the forests there. Then the government initiated numerous monoculture projects which replaced the old growth vegetation. Result? Erosion, dying streams, less ecological diversity and land slide. Even today, Chittagong Hill Tracts is continuously being degraded. Despite several successful project to replace jhum cultivation and monoculture, little has been changed there.
Bangladesh also has an astounding lack of studies on environment. Despite being a riverine country, no comprehensive studies on them are found. New findings and approaches are seldom institutionalized and in the end, public are mostly unware of the projects and their impacts. The heavy top down approach in conservation failed in almost every other states and the same is going to happen if Bangladesh doesn’t try other ways.
The climate change phenomenon has put the world in front of a new challenge. NbS are increasingly being viewed as a way to reconcile economic development with the stewardship of ecosystems, and in doing so effectively enable sustainable development. No doubt NbS has huge potential to battle climate change. However, it’s a matter of debate about whether Bangladeshi stakeholders have the capacity to carry out NbS solutions in a countrywide scale.
In short, a new bottom up approach is needed to implement NbS solutions to get viable results.
Amarta Chowdhury, Programme Officer, WildTeam