Climate change and biodiversity are intricately intertwined. Looking a hundred years into the future, climate change alone will threaten the existence of the major terrestrial and aquatic species of our country. During the thirteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 13) at Mexico in 2016, the UN Biodiversity Conference resulted in a number of significant commitments on biodiversity. Biodiversity was associated with global agendas like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the landmark, Paris Agreement. However, the mention of the word biodiversity only once in the 32-pager Paris Agreement, gives rise to scrutiny among conservationists worldwide. While Bangladesh is moving ahead with its Vision 2021 and the Seventh Five Year Plan (FYP7), it has become an imperative that climate change and biodiversity are integrated as a twinned challenge to design sustainable development strategies.
Sustainable development and biodiversity
The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts forth targets for Bangladesh to tackle its major challenges. Goal 14 dedicated to “life below water” and 15 to “life on land” highlight the imperative to protect the aquatic marine and terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystems. However, there is a complex connectedness of these two goals with other significant targets outlined in the SDGs, especially in the context of Bangladesh. The resolution of the marine boundary issues opens new opportunities for the country. But we must ensure the biodiversity therein for it to be a useful component of our future economy.
Biodiversity, an important driver of food security, can be linked with the number one goal of the 2030 agenda, which is aimed towards eradicating poverty. Similarly, ecosystem and biodiversity can also be integrated with the following SDGs: Goal 2, which is aimed towards a world with zero hunger and sustainable agriculture; Goal 6 on sustainable water management; Goal 8 on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth; Goal 9 on building resilient infrastructure; Goal 11 on making cities inclusive, safe and resilient for human settlements; Goal 12 on sustainable production and consumption; and most importantly Goal 13, which is targeted towards combating climate change.
Close scrutiny of this interconnectedness is important in Bangladesh, where a large portion of its population is directly dependent on natural resources. Therefore, it is essential that ecosystem values and biodiversity are integrated into Bangladesh's national and regional planning, policies, development strategies and implementation process. This integration will help the country to achieve the Biodiversity Strategy Planning (2011-2020) targets, along with its Biodiversity Targets.
State of biodiversity and climate change
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. The country is also a rich pool of a diverse range of ecosystem, species and genetic diversity. However, the existence of many species is at stake due to various climatic and non-climatic factors.
IUCN's Red List of Bangladesh Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has updated the Red List of Bangladesh which has unveiled 390 threatened animal species in Bangladesh. Among them 56 are critically endangered, 181 are endangered, 153 being vulnerable and 31 are found to be regionally extinct. The Red List of Bangladesh also classified 278 species with a “Data Deficient” label due to lack of enough information necessary to make a direct or indirect assessment. This opens opportunity for more extensive research together with effective conservation efforts.
There has been a decrease in the number of tigers in the famed Sundarbans within the last decade. The Guardian (2015) presented alarming news of only around 100 tigers remaining in the Sundarbans, dropping from a count of 440 in the 2004 census. However, at a global scale the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum confirmed an overall increase in tiger count for the first time after a century of decline. In the aquatic ecosystem, a striking 32 species of fishes have disappeared in the last 50 years,
among which Chital (Notopteruschitala) and Baim (Mastacembelusarmatus) are the endangered ones. Alarming drops in the count of these fishes are indeed incidences calling for immediate actions from the government.
Global and national strategy/instruments for biodiversity conservation
In the past, Bangladesh has signed major international agreements related to biodiversity including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS or the Bonn Convention), The Convention on Wetlands or the popularly known Ramsar Convention, and the World Heritage Convention (WHC).
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): It is known that people of Bangladesh rely heavily on its biological resources to support their livelihood. But the country bears the brunt of climate change induced natural disasters and destructive human activities, including rapid urbanisation and destruction of natural habitat. In that light, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 presented one of its landmark outcomes on biodiversity conservation called the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Convention is the first of its kind to address that conservation of biodiversity as a “common concern of humankind” and posited three main objectives: (a) conservation of biological diversity; (b) sustainable use of its components; and (c) fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources. Bangladesh signed the CBD in 1992 and ratified it in 1994. Therefore, the country is globally committed to fulfilling the objectives of the Convention and conserve biodiversity for the wellbeing of people living now and in the generations to come. To fulfil the obligation of the CBD, Bangladesh has prepared the Biodiversity National Assessment 2015 or the Fifth National Report of Bangladesh. The country is also updating the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), which was first prepared in 2004.
Bangladesh Forestry Master Plan: Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) is trying to undertake the Forestry Master Plan. As such, BFD is trying to provide a framework to optimise the contribution of the forestry department in balancing socio-economic development with environmental stabilisation. It includes sustainable forestry management approaches including bio-carbon financing, community participation and co-management to conserve forestry resources. The Master Plan has made several recommendations, collated through a consultative and inclusive process to address the challenges to conserve forestry resources. The recommendations outlined in the Forestry Master Plan deserve close scrutiny and immediate implementation.
Bangladesh National Conservation Strategy (NCS): The GoB is trying to conserve its natural resources guided by action plans, policies, strategies and international conventions. Funded by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) under the Climate Change Trust Fund, the BFD is undertaking the Bangladesh National Conservation Strategy (NCS). The NCS (2016-2031) is expected to generate a conducive policy strategy for natural resource conservation, development and enrichment. It will not only foster development in line with the sustainable development framework but will also be a masterpiece for Ministerial Committee and finally the Cabinet for authorisation and implementation.
National level initiatives addressing biodiversity conservation
In-situ and ex-situ approaches: Bangladesh is implementing outstanding in-situ conservation approaches to sustain natural processes in nature reserve areas including Ramsar sites e.g. protecting the tigers in the Sundarbans. Ex-situ or 'off-site conservation' approach is also being implemented to conserve essential genetic materials in Bangladesh. For instance, an important gene bank for the conservation of genetic rice resources has been established at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI). But there are no gene banks for genetic animal resources in the country, which leaves opportunities for further research. Alongside, Bangladesh has been carrying out some outstanding projects in line with biodiversity conservation and climate change. The following section summarises three projects addressing this issue:
1. The Bangladesh Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL) Project: The CREL Project is USAID's initiative for Bangladesh to attain “increased responsiveness and resilience to climate change in vulnerable biologically diverse environments.” Through this project, the Government is not only trying to increase the country's resilience by adapting the best scale up and co-management models but also enhancing the natural resource governance status of the country. They are doing so by addressing the key legal, environmental and socio-economic aspects which directly pose threat to ecologically critical areas. The implementing partners of the CREL project include MOEF, Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock (MOFL) and Ministry of Land (MOL) of the Government of Bangladesh; international partners including World Fish Center and Tetra Tech/ARD and local collaborators including Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), Center for Natural Resource Studies (CNRS), Community Development Centre (CODEC) and Nature Conservation Management (NACOM).
2. Bengal Tiger Conservation Activity, the “Bagh Project”: Another example of biodiversity conservation is the Bengal Tiger Conservation Activity, commonly known as the “Bagh Project” by USAID and the Wild Team, BCAS and Smithsonian Institute, USA. This initiative is dedicated towards protecting tigers in the Sundarbans through minimising human-wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trafficking, enhancing communications and enhancing conservation livelihoods. It is noteworthy that community participation adds benefit to conservation initiatives, where the local community are willing to share their indigenous knowledge for conservation activities. “Bagh Project” is an example of such community participation.
3. The Climate Resilient Participatory Afforestation and Reforestation (CRPAR) Project: This project is the government's initiative to commit towards forest conservation. They are doing so by enhancing the forest coverage through monitoring and participatory planning in the hilly areas and 9 coastal zones of Bangladesh. The government is targeting to establish newly afforested and reforested areas, support alternative livelihoods for the communities who are directly dependent on forest resources and to strengthen institutional capacity to manage the forestry resources in a much more sustainable manner.
Conclusion and recommendations
Needless to say, it is evident that climate change is no longer a myth and that, we are losing our national resources. Both are happening very rapidly and simultaneously. Biodiversity and climate change therefore needs to be viewed through an integrated lens in Bangladesh. Else, these two intertwined predicaments will continue running, just like two parallel lines of a railway track. For that essential convergence to occur at some point of time, we need to take immediate actions. Following are some recommendations which demand rapid implementation and consideration:
1. Ensuring synergy between SDGs and FYP7: The initiatives of the FYP7 must integrate with the targets set by SDGs in Bangladesh. Also, in order to ensure achieving the SDGs, the government tiers must not work in isolation. Every sector should be delegated their tasks, which are to be completed with a combined effort to share resource, experience and knowledge in developing the SDG strategies. Hence, biodiversity should be mainstreamed in the decision making process across all sectors. Lessons can be taken from grass-root levels e.g. from local communities whose indigenous knowledge can be implemented into conservation activities, as seen in the “Bagh Project”. The inter-linkages and feedback between climate change and biodiversity need to better understand in the case of Bangladesh ecosystems.
2. Reducing the knowledge gap: Sporadic research on climate change and biodiversity should be complemented by long-term effective research. Use of technological tools e.g. satellite imagery or Geographic Information System (GIS) to study climate change impacts on biodiversity should be facilitated. Progress reports and biodiversity database must be updated in a systematic and timely manner.
3. Ecosystem survey: A national level ecosystem survey should be carried out periodically by the government, non-government and international organisations as a part of monitoring and evaluation. For instance, at five years' interval. Conducting this survey will help the policy makers and implementing bodies to plan for the subsequent situation in line with the SDGs. International biodiversity based organisations, like the World Heritage Site and could extend their support to the government in undertaking such initiatives.
4. Restoring biodiversity: In Bangladesh, there is a need to conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the terrestrial, aquatic and marine environment. Key areas of investment for implementation must be identified through intensive engagement of governmental actors, NGOs, researchers, private sectors and the people at large.
5. Enhancing ecosystem based approaches: Ecosystem-based adaptation, like the “floating garden” can provide cost-effective solutions and multiple socio-economic benefits to Bangladesh ecosystem. As a tool for strengthening biodiversity management in the country, this approach should be mainstreamed into conservation and development policies by the Government. However, utilising both public and private resources and sustainable financing is required for its effective implementation.
6. Increasing opportunities in knowledge and biodiversity in marine systems: Marine boundary is now well established after the demarcation with Myanmar and India. Our knowledge about resource availability in these areas is limited. More research, exploration and extensive activities are needed to develop and understand the most sustainable use of these resources. The impact of climate change on the biodiversity of the marine system should be investigated and resource implications identified.
The writer is Senior Research Officer, Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS). She is the Commonwealth Scholar 2015/16, Completed her MSc form University of Durham, UK.