Environmental governance and growth | The Daily Star
01:40 AM, March 12, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 12, 2015

Environmental governance and growth

Economic growth potentials:

In the last two decades, the economy of Bangladesh has grown at nearly six percent per annum. The country also achieved laudable progress in social development in the recent years despite some political unrest and frequent natural disasters. Bangladesh has also made good progress in achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The poverty level dropped by nearly a quarter in 2014 from the 1990s (now 25 percent people live in poverty), while life expectancy and per capita income both rose; food intake though nutrition, however, remains a big concern in Bangladesh. The country is quickly moving towards middle-income status by 2021. There have been good signs of increasing young workforce (due to a positive demographic transition with 40 percent youth); greater investment; and employment in key sectors such as readymade garments, service sector, ICT, agro-industries and pharmaceuticals. The remittance from the migrant labour force has contributed to the recent growth in the economy and consumption. Climate change research in adaptation, particularly community-based adaptation and social mobilisation around climate change have been well recognised worldwide. The recent success in resolving the maritime boundary issues of Bangladesh, with its neighbours Myanmar and India, offers a great opportunity of exploiting the marine resources sustainably.


Sustainable development and environmental governance

But there are serious concerns of environmental degradation, climate change impact on development potentials, and increasing social inequity and disparity. Given the complexities of high population density, the need for rapid employment and livelihood for the burgeoning youth population, the greater demand for agricultural growth including increase of protein in the national diet, the increasing challenges of climate change impacts, rapid urbanisation, infrastructure development and connectivity, Bangladesh will have little choice but to follow the path of sustainable development. Sustainable development implies rapid economic growth for all which is environmentally sound and socially just. This of course offers major challenges and the need for releasing better and more integrated planning, including realising the energy of the private sector and civil society along with a government system with greater accountability, transparency and rapidly enhanced decentralisation with increased decision-making authority and capacity at the different levels of local government. Economic growth should be guided by sustainable development principles, where social and ecological objectives of development must take a centre position in building a socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable and democratically vibrant society. Environmental governance must play a key role in charting out the development path.


Environmental cost of economic growth

Bangladesh is also facing a number of environmental problems along with severe impacts of global climate change. These include degradation of natural resources; air, water and land pollution; health and sanitation; unplanned urbanisation; and degradation of city environment. The key environmental problems are also linked with socio-economic conditions, economic activities, population, poverty, policy analysis and institutional weaknesses. Trade and business, unplanned urbanisation and industrialisation, encroachment of common property resources by the power-elite and poor governance are aggravating the environmental problems. Climate change is bringing new threats to resource management, environmental sustainability and sustainable development of the country.

The powerful segments of society are capturing the wetland in and around the cities, particularly in Dhaka. They are building/housing estates, unplanned industries and physical infrastructures. They do not consider environmental issues and often violate the environmental act of the country. Examples are: grabbing and indiscriminate industrial pollution of rivers like the Buriganga, Sitalakka and Turag. These rivers are the lifelines for city environment. Government, researchers and civil society groups are taking positions against the illegal occupancy and pollution, but these have had limited results in relation to removing illegal occupation and pollution control of water, air and land in the city.

Bangladesh has made laudable progress in agricultural development and productivity. Introduction of green revolution technologies such as improved seeds, fertilisers, irrigation and water management had contributed to the development of agriculture, but this has huge environmental costs. Excessive use of agro-chemical has degraded the ecosystems, its water and soil quality. Use of pesticides has reduced productivity of many fisheries and also wetland biodiversity. In some areas introduction of mono-crops has also destroyed local crop diversity. Use of excess chemical inputs in agriculture has also created health problems for the farmers and consumers. Adulterations of food items are still rampant having severe health impacts.

Destruction of forest and hill cutting are threatening ecological balance in Southeast, Northeast and central parts of Bangladesh. The evergreen rain forests are being cleared by local people, but most significantly by business and power elites. Hill cuttings enhance land slide problems and closure of rivers, springs and canals in the hilly regions, which are further creating landslides, floods and water logging problems. In December 2014, sinking of an oil tanker created a serious ecological disaster in the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest and part of the World Heritage in Bangladesh. The government and the relevant agencies demonstrated lack of preparedness and failed to take immediate and urgent steps.  


Environmental governance: Weak enforcement of rules and regulations

Lack of enforcement of rules and regulations has aggravated the environmental problems. In general, there has been an increased awareness about sound environment and conservation of natural resources among the general people, both in cities and rural areas. The government of Bangladesh has revised their relevant policies, enacted rules and regulation in these areas. In some cases, NGOs and civil society organisations are working as close partners and sometimes as pressure groups for better management of natural resources, conservation of environment and pollution control.

There has been significant progress in disaster management. But climate change induced extreme events and non-compliance of environmental regulations has given rise to disasters both in urban and rural areas, natural resources management and undermining poverty reduction efforts. In some cases the judiciary has taken appropriate environment decisions. But court orders have not been implemented in some cases.

Often there is a lack of political commitment, skilled human resources and institutional capacity to ensure proper enforcement of rules and regulations for pollution control and conservation of environment. Environmental governance is essential to make institutions, private sectors and individuals responsible for conservation of natural resources, environment and avoiding unnecessary pollution of land, water, air and ecosystems. Private sectors (industries, trade and businesses) are often not following the environmental rules and regulations. The protection of environmental resources (forests, hills, wetlands, rivers and biodiversity) and urban environment remain the great challenges. They must uphold and promote Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibilities (CSER). The Government has to force them to maintain and comply with CSER. But primarily adhere to the environmental acts, by-laws; EIA guidelines and implementation are must for all agencies including government, private sector, civil society and all citizens. 

Internal governance, responsiveness, inter-agency co-ordination and CSER

There is also a need for improving internal governance within government institutions, for example, DoE, DoF, FD, BWDB, LGED, BIWTA and in the ministries. The Ministry of Environment and Forests is supposed to be the regulatory body with its agencies. In some cases, political influence also forces the government institutions to work against the laws related to the protection nature and environment.

All agencies including government need to demonstrate fairness, responsibility, responsiveness and transparency as key pillars of Governance. The powerful groups should not get any privilege in destroying environment. Those who are grabbing land, wetlands and forest resources illegally and polluting environment must be punished in accordance with law. The ministries, departments and administration must work under the cover of existing laws, independently and boldly. Political process must demonstrate the support to the institutions; only then environmental governance will be enhanced. The civil society groups must come forward and put pressure on the government and the political process, so that the Bangladesh Environmental Act other 

laws and by laws are implemented efficiently. The private sectors must comply with the corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSER) while undertaking all the economic activities. They must not harm the environment and disturb social equilibrium.

Awareness at individual, family and community level also can improve governance and help to conserve environment. The local government institutions and civil society groups must play a strong and pro-active role in environmental management, conservation and promoting environmental governance. The local government bodies such as Union Parishad, Upazila, City Corporation and Municipalities can play vital role in pollution control, conservation of environment, disaster management, adaptation, and mitigation efforts of reducing climate risks.


Challenges of climate change risk reduction and better governance

Bangladesh has emerged as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world confronting imparts of climate change. The leading researchers, think-tanks and government agencies transferred Bangladesh into a global leader on “adaptation”. Though progress has been significant, there have been some impediments and limitations in implementation.  

The Government of Bangladesh has created some funds, innovative but inadequate compared to the size of the problem from its own sources to address climate change through adaptation and mitigation actions. There has been criticism regarding the management of the climate funds. The fund allocations were accused of bias towards some regions. For example, the most vulnerable regions like Khulna (due to salinity and cyclones), Rangpur and Rajshahi (drought, flood and river erosion) have been reported not to get much government project under the BCCTF (Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund). The poor and the vulnerable communities probably have not yet received much of the benefits of climate change adaptation and mitigation projects.

The government though the Ministry of Environment and Forest with close cooperation of wide ranging NGOs and research organisations such as, BCAS, CEN and international agencies, such as UNDP have formulated the National Environment Management Action Plan (NEMAP) in the early 1990s. NEMAP has got the distinction of one of the world's largest participatory plans. In the recent years, Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) and National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) were formulated to address climate change impacts in the country. These have been recognised internationally as major contributions to the response strategies of climate change.  But there had been weaknesses in institutionalisation and implementation of the rules and regulation of Bangladesh.

The NGOs are active development partners in Bangladesh and are involved in poverty alleviation, agricultural development, social safety nets, disaster risk reduction and health services in Bangladesh. They are working in hard-to-reach areas with the poor, women and marginal communities with pro-poor approaches. But many of them report that they did not have adequate access to BCCTF and BCCRF (Bangladesh Climate Resilient Fund) which is being supported by donors and development partners in Bangladesh.

Ten most urgent tasks for better environmental, climate change governance and sustainable development

The approach

The Government of Bangladesh is engaged in implementing the programmes under the Sixth Five Years Plan. Further the preparation for the Seventh Five Year Plans is in progress. This emerging plan is taking into account the environment and climate change issues in the context of sustainable development. In this article an attempt has been made to identify ten activities representing climate change risk reduction, better environmental governance, working towards sustainable development with an approach for rapid economic growth and institutionalisation of good environmental governance leading to better sustainable development decision making. This approach includes three basic elements which are:

  •              Poverty Alleviation and Sustainable Development
  •              Climate Risk Reduction and
  •              Addressing the Nexus on Food, Water and Energy Security in a Pro-poor, Pro-environment Perspective


Poverty alleviation and sustainable development

Poverty alleviation, disaster management and climate change risk reduction, environmental governance and development of skilled human resources offer a few of the key emerging challenges towards sustainable development. Given the context, complexities, emerging challenges and lack of implementation of some of the key policies, strategies and laws of the country; sustainable development offer one of the best and appropriate framework.

The planning documents make sustainable development a central plank of the planning exercises. Sustainable development in the context of Bangladesh is rapid economic growth which involves equitable and inclusive development for all. This is absolutely essential but very hard to achieve. One of the central elements of sustainable development is that “there can be no sustainable development without alleviation of poverty.” This is essential for Bangladesh in its march towards sustainable development.


Climate risk reduction

The green economy and sustainable development that one purports must take into account the reduction in the risks of climate change impacts, better disaster management and reduction of poverty. Simultaneously one of the greatest contradictions facing the nation in that climate change impacts will undermine the achievements of poverty and create new poor groups who are vulnerable to climate impacts and climate induced extreme events.

Thus it is imperative that we must address climate change adaptation, particularly community based adaptation boldly, adequately and rapidly to contribute towards sustainable development.


The nexus of food-water and energy securities

For citizens of Bangladesh, particularly the majority who are poor, the access of the services of food, water and energy at their door step in vital. The issues for each include both a minimum quantity per head and of a minimum quality.           

Requisite amount of food with adequate calorie and protein is vital for individual development, particularly of the growing children, youth and mothers to be. Safe drinking water is essential for life, and protection against water borne diseases. Water and sanitation forms the essential package of basic hygiene.

Though every family must have access to electricity, this is unlikely to happen in the next decade. But significant progress has been made in providing photo voltaic electricity, particularly for lighting with solar home systems. It may be difficult to reach all the poorest with PV solar home systems. But photovoltaic lanterns can provide lighting and charging of cell phones to all citizens and household within the present financial capacity of the present government. This may not meet the energy security but will rapidly meet an urgent and immediate demand. This is the first and important step toward the access to electricity by all.

Climate change impacts are likely to lower food productivity in highly saline prone areas, though salt tolerant varieties of rice have been developed. Similarly, ingress of saline water is undermining access to safe drinking water in the South, while increasing draught is affecting water availability in the North West region.

Hence this nexus of food, water and energy will have to be integrated with climate change related efforts.


The ten actions

The following set of ten most urgent actions could form a package in environmental governance and contribution to sustainable development that supports rapid economic growth and the human development suitable to Bangladesh in a climate change world.

Bangladesh has many priorities, most of them are competing and yet complementary. The canvas is very broad. Most of the priorities need urgent and immediate attention, as delay in addressing some will be creating greater challenges in resolving other priorities. Given this broader context, the following ten priorities deserve immediate and urgent attention. In Bangladesh's phenomenal journey towards a sustainable development future in a rapidly changing horizon of enhanced globalisation, greater need for employment and sustainable livelihoods, food, water and energy securities are required to face the emerging challenges of climate change.

None of these proposed tasks are totally new. Most of them are multi-dimensional and need the involvement of several institutions in addressing the challenges. Many of them have been addressed and incorporated in the planning documents but not in the context of a concerted sustainable development paradigm. It is a worthwhile effort to address these ten activities simultaneously to achieve rapid economic growth which is pro-poor and pro-environment. If serious attempts are made, the opportunities for global fund mobilisation for Bangladesh from emerging climate change funds and other resources, as well as releasing the energy of its people, economy and natural resources base will receive a huge dividend towards a sustainable development pathway. The time horizon in each of the ten tasks may vary-say between two to ten years. But they are complementary and mutually reinforcing in a sustainable development world for Bangladesh. Of course, the availability of the resources for these is within the capacity of Bangladesh. But these will require good implementation, rigorous monitoring and better inter-agency cooperation and governance practices.

1. Converting population to human resource: Bangladesh has been a role model for several aspects of development. The greatest resource of Bangladesh is its people. But the population density in Bangladesh is one of the highest in the world. Though there has been significant reduction in the population growth rate, it remains most urgent to continue all efforts to reduce the rate of population growth by aggressive family planning, educating and investing in the health and welfare of the women as well as the new generations. The burgeoning population must be part of a national plan to generate new and worthwhile jobs and livelihoods. To achieve this there has to be an aggressive employment generating and entrepreneurship enabling strategy and plan. Appropriate vocational training and productive man power based education and empowerment of this population deserve greatest attention. This will greatly improve the emerging garments and associated industries, quality of manpower export and greater agricultural productivity. The synergies are evident but investment time horizon is indicated and must be reinforcing.

2. Light for all: In the second decade of the twenty first century it is hard to accept that in Bangladesh, which is a progressive state and emerging economy, over one third of its citizens or household do not have any electricity. Given that Bangladesh has over 3.2 million households electrified by solar photovoltaic technologies and have a growing demand for PV solar technology. It is definitely within the reach of Bangladesh that every household can be provided with solar PV based lanterns and solar house systems within a period of three years. This would light the whole nation and add three to four hours of electric light in the evening by using two solar lanterns per family. This will change the nation as has been done by cell phones connectivity even by poor households. Technology is available, financial and social mechanism will have to be evolved. This is within the reach of the common people. Political will is the need of the hour.

3. Clean and free the rivers: Rivers have been occupied by the powerful peoples where flow of rivers has been restricted. Many rivers have been silted up. Further industrial and domestic pollution have severely contaminated many rivers particularly around the cities. There is an urgent need to free the rivers both from illegal encroachment situation, pollution and self-loading. This is urgent to establish rule of law, government ownership of common property resources and principle and environmental governance.

4. Transfer the tanneries and pollution management: Urgent and immediate implementation of the tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar, with effective central effluent treatment plant must be undertaken immediately. Simultaneously the garment, textile, ship breaking, brick making and other polluting industries must be made compliant of the procedures and law of the country.

5. Effective implementation of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Environmental Impact Assessment is obligatory under the Bangladesh Environmental act and an effective tool to protect the natural resources and for making policies, projects and infrastructure environmentally sound. But its implementation is very weak. To ensure that EIAs are assessed fairly and professionally it is of utmost importance to have an independent panel of experts to review the EIAs and ensure rigorous peoples participation. This will enable effective use of this important tool for good environmental management practices and ensuring a key step of environmental governance and institutional development.

6. Improve the quality of soil fertility:  Bangladesh soils are under stress. They need to enhance organic matter and some micro nutrients. Proper monitoring and matching of crop-soil-micronutrient combinations identification and their appropriate application will reduce fertiliser use and enhance food productivity. All soils need to be enriched with more organic matter by using sustainable agriculture practices. Integrated pest management more efficient fertiliser and water use and diversification of crops and vegetables, afforestation of deforested areas will help in soil quality improvement.

7. Increase efficiency of resource use: Bangladesh needs to increase its efficiency in use of water, energy, waste, food items and through better post-harvest technologies, monitoring water needs for irrigation and fertiliser use, particularly encouraging use of fertilising pellets. Available and use of improved safe drinking water is essential particularly in vulnerable areas. Wide use of improved cook stoves and reduction of line loss of electricity, gas and piped water supply would save significant amount of energy. Better management of urban traffic will also reduce fuel waste. Recycling of plastics, polythene, polystyrene, electronic and other wastes will save resources from wastage. Increase efficiency of chemical dosing in dye applications, fuel in brick kilns are examples of better use of resources.  Use of 3R (reduction, reuse and recycle) principles and recycling of water, energy and chemicals will improve efficiency.

8.  Better institutionalisation of climate change management and governance: There has been significant progress and many important initiatives have been undertaken in climate change. But climate change is complex, and multifaceted. It involves largely environmental and even greater and increasing developmental challenges. It encompasses many sectors and deep involvement of many actors.  The real strengths in achieving climate change risk reduction are integration of climate change into all relevant sectoral and rational policies, resource mobilisation and implement sectors is essential. These include local government agencies and above all the communities. Further as the Green Climate Fund is emerging and Bangladesh must claim huge and significant funding from it. It is of utmost importance to nominate a set of independent agencies to be the National Implementation Entity (NIE) under the supervision of the appropriate National Designated Authority. The discourse and activities on this should be initiated soon. The principles of MRV (Measurable, Reportable and Verifiable) activities and demonstrable transparency and accountability are essential for fund mobilisation, fund management under this mechanism. This will also enable Bangladesh to mobilise its well-deserved claims to large global fund by setting these institutions with accountability and transparency.

9. Strengthening local government and community based adaptation: Most climate change related activities and adaptation responses will be addressed at the local level. Bangladesh's credibility and claim to global funds will largely depend on its capacity the reach the funds to the climate vulnerable and affected poor. This will be best served by strengthening the local government and its capacity to deliver development and environmental services to the poor, both rural and urban. Hence it is of utmost importance to strengthen and enhance efficiency of service delivery of the local government. It may be helpful to make a policy declaration that large proportion of all climate funds, say 70 percent, should reach the most vulnerable and the poor. It also important to use this framework to enhance community based adaptation (CBA) which is to be delivered to the communities as well as develop decision making processes ensuring the participation of the communities. This will be a great contribution of Bangladesh to environmental democracy and climate change governance.

10. Planned urban-rural continuum and spatial management

Bangladesh still remains a largely rural country with population moving towards rapid urbanisation. This urbanisation is happening with a rapid population increase in major cities such as Dhaka and Chittagong. There is a second phenomenon of urbanisation associated with emergence of small towns at district levels. The third phenomenon is the access  to urban services at the peri-urban areas at the two above levels. In Bangladesh rapid urbanisation is a part of the rural-urban continuum. Through the socio-economic network, continuity of resource mobilisation and demographic transitions from rural to urban migration remains a continuum. This is more significant amongst the poor residing in urban slums; many of them have often been displaced by extreme events, frequently connected with climate change induced events and the phenomenon of frequent river bank erosions floods. This is also continued amongst the middle class.      

The urban and rural populations in Bangladesh are connected in a continuum; it is important to set the framework for rural spatial planning also. It is worthwhile to consider multi stories buildings with low energy needs to save agricultural land from occupation by housing. Cities spatial planning will also need to include land use and natural resource planning integrated with energy – water – food nexus for the urban population along with other services. Availing the urban services in the rural areas will make spatial planning more manageable. The elements to consider in urban and rural spatial planning will need to be (a) Innovation and Planning (b) Investment and Infrastructure (c) Participation and Information and (d) Good Governance.



The ten proposed actions above are an assortment of tasks which are very necessary, doable within the financial and institutional framework, but may vary in their stage of progress involving different time scales.  But all these combined will strengthen rapid economic growth, enhance environmental and climate change governance and contribute towards sustainable development.

Many of these actions will assist in capacity building of government institution at different levels. Further several of these will also be supportive of participatory management approaches where the central and local government agencies, private sector, civil society, NGOs, community groups and citizens would work together to strength democracy in action through sustainable development practices. All these actions will contribute towards a paradigm of being pro-development, pro-environment and reducing poverty at different levels. Though people of Bangladesh are resilient, implementation of the above ten action will build transformative resilience to move towards a middle income country with high human development and quality of life. This will also protect environment and enhance sustainable development. Inclusion of a set of these ten activities in the Seventh Five Year Plan will contribute towards achieving some the planning objectives and the vision of the Government of the Bangladesh.

Finally, it is to be noted that almost all best achievements in Bangladesh have taken place when the central government, local government agencies, research institutes, civil society and NGOs, women groups, private sector, communities and people have worked together. In achieving the above tasks in a short period will be best achieved by taking a participatory and an inclusive approach.


The writer is Executive Director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), Dhaka.

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