Nature-based Solutions: An Opportunity to Rethink Development Pathway in Bangladesh

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This blog is part of ICCCAD Blog Series for World Environment Day 2020. It is an insightful collection of discussion which encompasses the debate between nature and development. Furthermore, it dwells on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) as a holistic approach to tackle environmental and societal challenges as well as opportunities for Bangladesh in considering NbS as one of the core strategies in the upcoming development planning process for Bangladesh.

The Nature vs Development Debate

Humanity today is faced with a wide array of challenges. Across the globe, rapid urbanization, overuse of technology, along with mass consumption and production have all led to steady degradation and loss of natural capital and the ecosystem services it provides. With climate change becoming increasingly prevalent, we are looking at an alarming rise in natural disaster risks and associated human health issues in the coming decades. While all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promote a holistic approach towards attaining development and human well-being by ensuring social, economic and environmental sustainability, we appear to be headed in the wrong direction with economic growth being achieved at the cost of destroying our nature. Our ecosystems and biodiversity are being significantly altered and threatened by multiple human drivers, with climate change at the center of it all. The present ‘business as usual’ pathway for development is an unsustainable one and serves to make us increasingly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change in the future.

A recent opinion piece by Dilys Roe in The Lancet Planetary Health suggests a three-pronged approach to enhance the links among nature, biodiversity and development. First, we need to work on nature-proofing development interventions. As development professionals have recognized the need to climate-proof their investment, they should now understand the risks from biodiversity loss and build biodiversity safeguards into development interventions, particularly investments in infrastructure, extractive industries, large-scale agriculture, and tourism. Second, increased recognition and investment in nature is necessary to achieve intended development and climate resilience outcomes, and international interest on the issue is therefore critical. Third, collaboration among the research community, development professionals and the conservation sector would be essential to promote development in harmony with nature and to improve their commitment towards ecosystem and biodiversity conservation within the broader development agenda.

The year 2020 is being considered as the super year for nature and biodiversity. The pandemic has made us rethink that, even if we take nature for granted, we cannot afford to lose it following our usual development pathway. It is therefore rational to look for solutions to our problems by working with nature, rather than against it.

Nature-based Solutions (NbS)

In recent years, there is a growing recognition and awareness that nature can help provide viable solutions by utilizing the properties of natural ecosystems and the services that they provide in smart, ‘engineered’ ways. Such nature-focused interventions can be framed within the concept of ‘Nature-based Solutions’ (NbS). While an emerging concept, it is not much different from ecosystem-based adaptation or eco-disaster risk reduction and provides a holistic pathway to tackle environmental and societal challenges covering a wide range of ecosystem-based, people-centric activities, by harnessing the various services we get from ecosystems. To sum it up, nature-based solutions involve the protection, restoration and/or management of natural ecosystems in both rural and urban areas, in order to protect communities, infrastructure and agriculture from climate change impacts while reducing carbon emissions and supporting biodiversity conservation. The NbS approach provides a set of economic and societal benefits such as cost-effectiveness, easy maintenance as well as other long-term benefits including enhanced overall human well-being and biodiversity conservation. These in combination can pave the path towards a more resource-efficient, competitive and greener economy.

Opportunities for Bangladesh

Several nature-based interventions are being adopted and practised in Bangladesh. These include restoration and protection of forest and protected areas by the Bangladesh Forest Department, wetland restoration and management by the Department of Environment and Department of Fisheries, adoption of floating agriculture by the Department of Agricultural Extension, and many more. NbS has also been integrated within development planning in Bangladesh. The recently adopted, long-term Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 explicitly emphasizes on environmental sustainability, and several natural resources-related programmes in the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) have addressed NbS options. Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), at least 6 to 8 of them are highly relevant for NbS. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) of Bangladesh (2015) to UNFCCC highlights mangrove plantation, reforestation and afforestation, social forestry, ecosystem-based adaptation and community-based conservation as a means for limiting GHG emissions. Furthermore, the country’s Seventh Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) considers environment-friendly growth in its overall strategy, with a wide range of activities included in the agriculture, environment and climate change sector. Bangladesh also has different strategies and action plans, for example – the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan along with different legal instruments (Bangladesh Biodiversity Act 2017; Ecologically Critical Area Management Rules, 2016; and Protected Area Management Rules 2017), which are aligned with ecosystem and biodiversity conservation.

Bangladesh is now well on track to graduate from its Least Developed Country (LDC) status to a Lower Middle-Income Country (LMIC), with 2021-2025 representing a crucial 5-year slot in the SDG era. The country will also be transitioning from Vision 2021 to Vision 2041, whereas the unanimous declaration of planetary emergency in Bangladesh in November 2019 incorporated the importance of climate crisis and irreversible loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, the 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is expected to be adopted at the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP) 15 of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in October 2020, which will guide global to national conservation activities starting from 2021.

These provide us with a tremendous opportunity to go for a conservation-development mix, by considering NbS as one of the core strategies in the upcoming development planning process for Bangladesh. Shifting to investments in green energy, water reuse, urban wetland restoration, urban forestry, river-based NbS, resource recovery and nature conservation is more sustainably viable than trying to quickly attain economic development through traditional, degrading industrial practices.

Promoting the Launch of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) Bangladesh Platform

To support the effective implementation of NbS-oriented action and policies in the country, there is a need to advance the development, uptake and upscale of innovative nature-based solutions and interventions adopted in different projects. Having an active community of research and practice on NbS is now more than important than ever.

This World Environment Day, therefore, is an opportunity to promote the launch of a very timely platform called Nature-based Solutions Bangladesh, developed by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and Nature-based Solutions Initiative (NBSI) at the University of Oxford, aimed to bring together the community of researchers, practitioners and policymakers working at the interface of climate change, nature conservation and sustainable development with the mission to enhance understanding on the importance of nature-based solutions and to scale-up their implementation in Bangladesh. This platform focuses on building an evidence base for the role of NbS for economic development in Bangladesh by collating scientific evidence and lessons learned from existing nature-based solutions projects from across Bangladesh. The community will also work on identifying areas that could benefit from the implementation of NbS in future.

The NbS Bangladesh platform represents a fantastic prospect for enhancing the engagement and coordination among researchers, practitioners as well as policymakers on the issue. It is about time there is a change in mindset in terms of how we see development and shift our discussion from ‘environment’ to ‘nature’, and the NbS platform marks a step in the right direction.

About the Author

Tasfia Tasnim is a Senior Research Associate at ICCCAD. By degree, she is a planner. Her working majors are climate finance, livelihood resilience and nature-based solutions.