The legal framework on biodiversity conservation
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic reminds us the fact that if we destroy biodiversity, we actually collapse the system that supports human life to exist. The significance of biodiversity to ensure human well-being and to achieve sustainable development is undeniable. The UN Human Rights Council, in its 34th session, underscored that the full enjoyment of human rights depends on biodiversity, and the degradation and loss of biodiversity undermines the ability of human beings to enjoy their rights. The role of biodiversity conservation is highlighted with utmost importance in numerous goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The international legal framework relating to the conservation of biological diversity is comprised of various international treaties and conventions. The 1973 Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are the two fundamental conventions that deal with the sustainable management of biological resources including fauna and flora. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety being a supplementary agreement to the CBD is an international treaty that seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology. In addition, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals 1979 aims to protect the species of wild animals that migrate across or outside of national boundaries.
The CITES identifies the people and States as best protectors of their own wild fauna and flora. It reflects the significance of international cooperation which is essential for the protection of certain species of wild fauna and flora against over-exploitation through international trade. The CBD pledges to ensure conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. It identifies conservation of biological diversity as an integral part of the sustainable development including the social, economic and environmental aspects of development. The CBD asserts couple of established principles of international environmental law including the principle of responsibility for transboundary harm, precautionary principle and principle of international cooperation which have significant bearing on the making of environmental laws at the domestic level. The Convention also imposes responsibility on the State Parties to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and to integrate biodiversity considerations into all activities.
Bangladesh has signed and ratified all the major international treaties, conventions and agreements in relation to biodiversity including the CBC. The Constitution of Bangladesh explicitly mandates to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife for the present and future citizens (Article 18A). In line with the spirit of the Constitution, the Government of Bangladesh enacted a comprehensive law titled as the Bangladesh Biodiversity Act 2017. While complying with the international instruments relating to biodiversity, this piece of legislation expressly refers to the CBD in its preamble. With the same tuning of the CBD, the Act of 2017 pledges for protection of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components and equitable sharing of benefits accrued from biological resources. The Act underscores the importance of protecting traditional knowledge on biological resources. It also makes the adverse activities on biodiversity as punishable offence with imprisonment up to five years or fine up to ten lakh taka or both. The biodiversity law refers to establish biodiversity management committees in country's all City Corporations, Districts, Upazilas, Municipalities and Unions. The Committees are mandated to assist the Government in implementing the objectives of the Act. The Act asserts to formulate a 'Biodiversity Conservation Fund' for the conservation and management of Biodiversity Heritage Sites.
The Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act 2012 is another significant law that aims for the conservation and safety of biodiversity, forest and wildlife of the country. Under this law, a "Wildlife Advisory Board" shall be established which will assess the existing condition and give direction from time to time in relation to development and management of biodiversity, wildlife and forest. According to the Act, the Government is authorised to declare any area as sanctuary, community conservation area, safari park, eco-park, botanical garden, wildlife reproduction centre, landscape zone, buffer zone, core zone in relation to wildlife and plant preservation, protection and their smooth growth. The Government can also declare any government land, land or trees under private ownership or reserved forest, khas land, wetland, river, sea, canal, or pond used for special purpose as special biodiversity conservation area. The law while reflecting indigenous perception of environment has introduced co-management system for proper utilisation, conservation and management of natural resources of the sanctuary involving forest department and minor ethnic-community living in the forests.
The Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act 2013, while imposing restrictive measures to control brick manufacturing and brick kiln establishment, pledges for the conservation and development of environment and biodiversity. The Act of 2013 strictly prohibits the use of wood as fuel in brick kilns since burning firewood as fuel leads to deforestation and thereby degradation of biodiversity.
The Forest Act 1927 makes the forest department responsible to conserve forest as well as forest biodiversity including wildlife. The law has introduced social forestry along with co-management system to popularise and promote afforestation and conservation through community participation.
The Play-ground, Open space, Park and Natural Wetland Conservation Act 2000 contains provisions for the protection of the play-ground, open space, park and natural wetland in all mega cities, divisional towns and district town's municipal areas including country's all the municipal areas. The law imposes conditions to take approval from the concerned authority while altering the nature of the abovementioned places which may cause ecological imbalance.
The Environment Conservation Act 1995, being the core law for conservation of environment, was amended in 2010 to broaden its horizon to protect wetlands, Ecologically Critical Areas and to prevent hill cutting that causes massive adverse effects on biodiversity.
To comply with Article 6 of the CBD, Bangladesh has formulated couple of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) out of which the latest action plan was adopted for a period of 2016-2021. The Bangladesh National Conservation Strategy (2016-2031) has also reiterated the importance of making people aware of the value of biodiversity and asserted to integrate the benefits of biodiversity in the development process and planning based on knowledge, science and technology.
The legal framework for conservation of biodiversity while complying with international standards reflects the paramount commitment of Bangladesh. However, there exist challenges to implement the legislative framework for biodiversity conservation and consequently the protection of environment is being threatened. Legislative framework alone cannot protect biodiversity unless we change our actions considering the values of biodiversity. This year, the theme of World Environment Day 2020 is 'biodiversity' – a concern that is both urgent and existential. The theme refers to restore the harmonious relationship between humans and nature while abating the delicate balance between human demands and ability of the nature. It is submitted that the effective implementation of the legislative framework on conservation of biodiversity accompanied with public awareness of nature can execute the 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature.
The writer teaches environmental law at the Department of Law, University of Dhaka.