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Bangladesh: Going green to overcome economic crises

According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) a green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. A green economy focuses economical growth and employment reducing carbon emissions and pollution, accelerating sustainable development with minimum utilisation of natural resources and conserving ecosystem services. Ecosystems or biodiversity finance and natural capital are the two major components of a green economy. It directly valuates ecological services and treats natural resources as natural capital. It is a component of the ecosystem in which it resides.

Green steps towards green economy
“Our Common Future” and the concept of sustainability got world attention through the Rio Earth Summit-1992, and reaffirmed at Johannesburg Earth Summit-2002. That Summit urged the nations to form and elaborate national strategies for sustainable development and begin their implementation by 2005. Sustainable development has been widely accepted as resting on the three pillars of the sustainability: economic growth, social development and environmental protection. The biggest step of Copenhagen climate summit-2009 was to stimulate the green economy through increasing the price of carbon dioxide pollution. The Seoul Conference-2005 accepted the concept of environmentally sustainable economic growth (Green Growth) for the Asia and Pacific. This Conference endorsed Go Green as a powerful policy to promote ‘win-win’ approaches reducing the conflict between current pathways for the achievement of two important Millennium Development Goals: poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. The Astana Conference-2010 promoted innovative approaches and building partnership to achieve sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific. Key messages of this conference were to reinforce policies to reduce poverty as an integral part of sustainability policies including the promotion of access to income generating opportunities and community empowerment, and break a vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation; and to raise green fund.

Rio+20 Earth Summit will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 20-22, 2012 focusing on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development. Bretton Woods Institutions are raising Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), Green Climate Fund (GCF) and The Clean Technology Fund (CTF). These institutions have adopted the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR), the Forest Investment Programme (FIP) and the Scaling up Renewable Energy Programme in Low Income Countries (SREP) to boost up green economy.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study is a giant step to implement the “Convention on Biodiversity” drawing attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, highlighting the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and urging the experts from the fields of science, economics and policy to work together to move forward.

Green economic crisis in Bangladesh
Gradual environmental degradation, climate change and diminishing natural resources created an extra threat to sustainability in this region. The past concept of “grow first, clean up later” cannot go far in a country like Bangladesh which has very limited natural resources and a rapidly growing population directly dependent on natural resources. Environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources in Bangladesh have been occurring faster than the past few decades due to over-population and poverty. It has been accelerated by deforestation, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. Due to overpopulation and limited lands, the forest resources are overexploited. The existing natural forests are decreasing at a rate varying from 2.1% /yr to 3.3% /yr. The consequences of the habitat destruction are: deforestation, decreasing vegetation coverage, soil degradation, loss of species richness, increasing rarity, loss of genetic diversity, loss of evolutionary potential, changes in water cycles and water tables, conversion of mixed stands into pure stands, destruction of natural regeneration, climate change, loss of ecosystem services, disruption of livelihoods of indigenous people, social instabilities, economic losses, loss of forest productivity, decreasing forest non-wood products; and increasing of environmental refugees.

The gradually increasing anthropogenic disturbances in the natural forests have made the system inhospitable for the natural regeneration causing a net loss of biodiversity. It’s an irony of fate that all our natural forests have become critically fragmented to the point where they are considered unlikely to maintain minimum level of green coverage. The cities have become urban mayhem losing living ambiance. At least 25% forest cover is essential for a nation to maintain the minimum level of biodiversity and to ensure ecological services.

Agricultural production in Bangladesh has been increased tremendously over the last few decades through abuse of high-yielding varieties, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Abuses of chemical fertilizer and pesticide have led to contamination of water, loss of diversity and deterioration of soil quality. Various health problems are associated with covert consumption of agrochemicals including pesticides. Agrochemical based conventional agriculture also caused increasing vulnerability of crops to insect and pest attacks, loss of aquatic life, declining yields, and deterioration of animal and human health.

In Bangladesh, chemicals like calcium carbide are widely used for ripening fruit. It reacts with water and produces acetylene gas, which is similar to ethylene, the fruit’s natural ripening agent. Calcium carbide-treated fruits are acutely hazardous causing many diseases. The formalin is frequently used in perishable food items like fish, dressed chicken, fruits, vegetables etc. to keep them look fresh to the buyers. It is highly toxic to all animals, regardless of method of intake. According to FAO, unsafe food represents a major threat to public health in Bangladesh. Every year millions of citizens suffer from various diseases following the consumption of unsafe food.

There is no exact information about the extent and gravity of the environmental degradation of the water resources in Bangladesh. Pollutions affect almost all people but the poor and the vulnerable are the worst affected. There is a positive correlation between water pollution and the incidence of water-borne diseases. Right now air pollution in Dhaka city is higher than Mexico City killing thousands of people prematurely each year. Millions of people have been suffering from pulmonary, respiratory and neurological illnesses. Air pollution originating from vehicles is a major cause of respiratory distress in urban Bangladesh. According to the National Institute of Diseases of Chest and Hospital (NIDCH), near about 07 million people in Bangladesh suffer from asthma. Old vehicles, brick fields, dust from roads and construction sites, smoke from traffic jam and toxic fumes from industrial areas are major air pollutants in Bangladesh.

Waste management is a severe environmental problem in Bangladesh. The waste is generated from different sources like domestic, commercial, industrial, street sweeping, health services etc. The concept of transfer stations, resource recovery, minimisation and recycling are absent in our waste management system. The authorities are now grappling with the problems of high volume waste, the costs involved, the disposal technologies, and the impact of waste on the environment. Different studies show that our municipalities and city corporations can collect only half of waste and the rest remains on roadsides and open areas.

Green solutions
The existing economy creates economic disparity, poverty, and environmental degradation. A green economy can serve all living organisms and offer antidotes to the current breakdown. The writer tends to suggest eleven green-economy solutions to today’s economic mess:

Green energy: The starting point to rejuvenate green economy will be to focus on energy sector. Bangladesh is in one of the most advantageous positions to generate sufficient renewable energy. The country having highly abundant sunlight year round is rich with renewable energy sources. It has the hundreds of miles long coastal areas, river banks, hilly areas, and islands providing plenty of wind for wind turbines. Bangladesh is a riverine country having sufficient wave and gravity driven water flow for eco-hydroelectric generators. So, the country can be considered a “renewable energy mine.’ Now it’s the time to call for a green energy revolution.

Green job: This green energy revolution will create large scale deployment opportunities. Green job is related to preserving or restoring or maintaining the environment, producing energy from renewable sources, improving energy efficiency, preventing and cleaning up pollution and greenhouse gases, reducing carbon emissions and conserving natural resources.
Reduce, reuse, rethink: Living lightly on this God’s planet, saving resources for the next generation and sharing resources with others should be the principle of green economy. We should reduce our over-consumption, reuse our natural resources, rethink about our over-consumptive lifestyles, and turn to the principles of simplicity. We need to plant gardens, conserve energy, and work cooperatively with our neighbours to share resources and build resilient communities.

Go green: From home to garden, food, health, technology, policy, politics, administration, economy, tourism, industrialisation, urbanisation and transportation there are millions of ways we can make our lives greener, and guide ourselves to Go Green . When we do something, it is essential that those activities benefit the green and our economy so that every single step of an individual helps to solve our social and environmental problems.

Green investment: We shall be happy to see small business grants and loans made to green companies so that they can survive, thrive and go for more green. It will be immense pleasure to see the investments for all businesses going green and creating green job opportunities.
Green waste management: On an average, a person generates about 02 kg of waste per day. This waste can be reused to generate clean and renewable power. A study shows that 145 million tons of municipal solid waste produced 75 billion kilowatt-hours of energy, which is enough to power 650,000 homes every day. Green waste management puts the four R’s — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover the resource into action.

Green agriculture: Green agriculture is the use of on-farm resources including crop residues, organic fertilizers, cropping diversification, mixed cropping, crop rotation and no use of chemicals for the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity to make the agricultural system environmentally sustainable.

Green transportation: Green transportation is any sort of transportation or vehicle which has no negative impact on the environment. Walking, bicycling, electric scooters and bikes, green vehicles (powered by solar, electricity, hydrogen, wind, or bio-fuels), car sharing, public transports (buses, trains, subway) are considered as green transportation.

Pure food security: The goal of pure food security is to ensure that the public food supply is safe from disease caused by infection from human handling or by contamination from chemical or other hazardous substances. Such contamination can occur during all phases of food production, including cultivation, harvesting, processing, packaging, storage, and cooking.
Biodiversity conservation: The main threats to our biodiversity are: habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation, colonisation of alien species, overexploitation of natural resources, poaching, piracy, urbanisation, industrialisation, shifting cultivation, overpopulation, dependency on natural resources and climate change. Adaptive Collaborative Management, Integrated Conservation and Community based Co-management can improve the current scenario.

Ecotourism: The universal definition of ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” The nexus of conservation, local people, and sustainable travel is ecotourism. The main principles of ecotourism are: minimum impact, environmental and cultural awareness and respect, and direct financial benefits for conservation and local people.

The writer, a biodiversity specialist, is UNO, Mongla, Bagerhat (mizan_peroj
First published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh, the original article published on 2012-06-05.

The article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’. Please join the online Views On Tourism network and discussion group in order to achieve personal goals as well as encourage a sustainable tourism development in Bangladesh and South Asia. Read more about this group and how to become a member here.

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Posted in Bangladesh, Best practice, Cooperation and network, Development, Education and qualification, Performance and management, Policy, Sustainability.

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