Creating public awareness about the importance of green environment as well as the protection of wildlife and nature for human beings, the 27th session of the UN General Assembly decided to observe on June 5 every year the World Environment Day (WED) since 1974. WED has been observed every year to encourage the people to play for their responsible role in reducing the growing pressure on the earth's natural environment to make it habitable.
Biodiversity plays a notable role in maintaining the natural balance of life on earth, including the provision of materials necessary for life and human development. However, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) identified nearly one million animal and plant species have been facing extinction over the past few decades. Therefore, the theme of this year's World Environment Day 2020 is "Biodiversity" to call upon to combat the accelerated species loss and the degradation of the natural environment.
The theme of this year's WED has special importance to the world because the lives of countless people are in danger due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic caused by the deforestation, indiscriminate destruction of wildlife habitat, natural disasters, and locust invasions.
Worth to mention that to conserve biodiversity, the Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15 emphasise sustainable use of biodiversity and conservation of biodiversity, prevention of desertification by preventing deforestation, and prevention of environmental pollution through the reduction of land degradation. Besides, to address the negative effects of man-made global climate change, all the indicators of Goal-13 have emphasised on taking steps to protect climate change.
Biodiversity, environmental crisis, and global situation
Forests and wildlife are in danger due to indiscriminate deforestation around the world and hence the current environment and public health of the world is under serious threat. According to Global Forest Watch and the UNEP, it is time to reconsider the relationship between nature and humans and prioritise the conservation of the environment and biodiversity at the core of all activities.
Natural disasters like cyclone, flood, tidal surge, etc have increased in recent times due to climate change and it is clearly pointing out that what we mean by the ecosystem is almost on the verge of destruction. Recent invasion of locust swarms in different places on the earth has reduced crop production to zero. Climate change results in excessive rainfall in tropical regions which is playing as a helpful role in the breeding of locusts.
Every species of flora and fauna in nature plays an important role in maintaining the balance and health of the environment. Climate change and the extinction of endangered species of birds, frogs, snails, etc are acting as a major regulator of such global spread of pests. Scientists said that infectious diseases and viruses can spread easily due to the destruction of biodiversity and their habitat. Experts believe that the massive destruction of microbial habitats has led to the birth of devastating virus one after another, of which Covid-19 has emerged as the most destructive one.
The Covid-19 pandemic has reaffirmed to mankind that human health is intertwined with the health of the world and these viruses are zoonotic or they can be transmitted from animals to humans. Every year about one billion people are affected by various types of zoonoses and millions of people are dying. About 80 percent of all infectious diseases and 75 percent of newly developed infectious diseases are of a zoonotic nature. Scientists predict that if humans do not change their behaviour towards wildlife and their habitat, the outbreak of this type of viruses will increase in the future.
To prevent environmental hazards including such type of diseases, emphasis has been placed on protecting our wildlife habitat, preventing the sale and marketing of wildlife, preventing pollution, climate change, and ensuring effective enforcement of the law to protect endangered species.
Citizens must be more responsible in protecting and implementing the commitments in protection of nature, biodiversity and environment. At the same time consumers, citizens, and social organisations need to control the sale and purchase of forest and animal resources, including wildlife. After all, in order to live on the earth, humankind must learn to survive by protecting nature's ecosystems and biodiversity.
Good governance in biodiversity and environmental protection: Bangladesh's status
Article 17(a) of the constitution of Bangladesh provides specific instructions on the conservation and protection of natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife. Despite constitutional obligations, the Environmental Performance Index 2018 has identified that Bangladesh has placed in 179th position among 180 countries.
Despite having the adequate environmental rules and regulation but due to not ensuring effective enforcement, abuse of power and undue influence of local-foreign businessmen-investor, weak monitoring and alarming corruption and irregularities are not only contributing to the loses of the biodiversity but also environmental pollution is costing huge ecological as well economic loses.
Over the past few decades, the amount of forest land in Bangladesh has been declining due to various reasons including population pressure, unplanned industrialisation, development activities, indiscriminate deforestation and extraction of forest resources. According to the Bangladesh Forest Department, 17.5 percent of the total land area of the country is identified as forest land, but the actual forest cover is not more than six percent.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, a total of 416,258 acres of forest land has been destroyed in the country since 1989, of which 37 percent have been allotted to various government and non-government organisations and rest 63 percent has been illegally encroached. Due to uncontrolled deforestation, 39 wildlife species have already become extinct in Bangladesh and about 30 more species, including the Royal Bengal Tiger, are in critical condition, which is increasingly threatening the forest-based life cycle and ecosystem.
The Sundarbans enriched by rich biodiversity is at the risk of endangering due to the construction of coal-based power plants, fossil fuel-based industries and factories, the massive destruction of forests and water bodies, the constant pressure on natural resources as well as uncontrolled air and soil pollution violating the Paris Agreement on climate change, legal regime. The Sundarbans is not only containing the rich wildlife and supplying necessary materials for life and nature but also it has protected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people on the coast from the destruction of the recent cyclones Roanu, Fani, including the latest Amphan.
In addition to deforestation, by violating the country's 'Environmental Act, 1995' unplanned industrialisation and dumping of industrial wastes of various industries especially dyeing factories and tanneries in natural open reservoirs including rivers, canals and other wetlands are causing massive destruction of the country's natural reservoirs or aquatic biodiversity. Already, about 70 percent of the country's natural reservoirs (rivers, canals, beels, haors and other wetlands) have been illegally possessed through the abuse of power.
At the same time, marine biodiversity is being pushed to the edge of extinction by dumping waste from illegal industries along the coast, such as shipwrecks and plastic pollution. As a result, 21 species of fish have already been added to the endangered list. Furthermore, over the past few decades, many fish species in Bangladesh's water bodies are endangered or threatened due to the indiscriminate killing of aquatic animals including dolphins and mother fishes by violating government restrictions.
In recent decades, air pollution in Bangladesh has reached critical levels and the capital of Bangladesh has risen to the top of the list of air-polluted cities. According to the report of 'State of Global Air', about 123,000 people die every year in Bangladesh due to air pollution and a large number of people are suffering from various complex diseases including lung cancer.
Moreover, air pollution is severely disrupting the food supply of animals and birds that threats to human life and sustainable livelihoods continue to grow because various birds and animals in the food chain that depend on grains and vegetables, including natural microorganisms that maintain soil fertility, are dying at alarming rates due to the indiscriminate use of inorganic fertilisers including pesticides.
World Environment Day 2020: Time for final alarm bell
In this context, in addition to raising awareness across the country on environmental pollution, especially biodiversity protection, air pollution prevention, conservation of natural water resources and sustainable development, now is the time to take effective actions. First, in accordance with the constitutional and legal obligation of conservation and protection of biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife ensure exemplary punishment for those who are involved in illegal use and possession of forests, rivers, reservoirs and water bodies through the strict application of 'Bangladesh Environment Act, 1995'.
Second, in addition laws related to the prevention of environmental pollution, 'Bangladesh Biodiversity Act, 2017' have to implement strictly to protect biodiversity and wildlife, the supervision of the concerned institutions to be strengthened.
Third, in the Eighth Five Year Plan (2020-2025), all plans should be formulated and implemented keeping nature and biodiversity at the centre and a 'Biodiversity Conservation Fund' should be created under the 'Bangladesh Biodiversity Act, 2017'.
Fourth, pollution tax should be imposed soonest determining the sector/destination specific environment and the ecosystem damages and use the collected fees for proper implementation of the 'National Environmental Policy, 2018.
Fifth, ensuring sustainable use of natural resources by implementing 3R principle (reduce, reuse & recycle) in both family and institutions level and effective arrangement of 'incentives and disincentives' mechanism must be introduced to ensure the use of ETP by polluters.
Sixth, any infrastructural development, especially coal-based power generation projects, must be approved after a proper EIA by the individuals or organisations that are reliable, efficient and do not conflict with their interests to protect forests and biodiversity.
Seventh, in order to ensure sustainable development, wider and effective participation of vulnerable populations, especially women, marginalised communities and indigenous peoples to be ensured and their indigenous knowledge must be valued to formulate and implement any activity/project related to biodiversity conservation, environmental pollution and climate change.
Eighth, in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, continuous participation of all stakeholders including concerned civil society and experts must be ensured for the conservation of biodiversity and for providing the protection of life and nature in all kinds of development activities.
The authors are working on environment and climate finance in a non-governmental development agency