How crucial is nature for our prosperity?
The Government of Bangladesh has recently drafted the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan Decade 2030. In the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), held in Glasgow, Scotland in November this year, Bangladesh showcased this draft plan, which is now available on its website (www.mujibplan.com) for public comments. For four reasons, I think this plan is different from other medium- and long-term plans Bangladesh prepared over the past decade or so.
First, the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan proposes a new development philosophy for Bangladesh. It emphasises that the development pathways should not only transform a country to be resilient to a wide range of crises, such as climate change and pandemic—a nation should also be more ambitious and visionary, and take the path of prosperity.
Second, Bangladesh's development strategies and action plans formulated so far are focused on itself only. Bangladesh is the current president (2020-2022) of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a platform of 48 countries. Although the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan is for Bangladesh, it shows how the CVF member countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Oceania could also take a similar path to prosperity. The plan, therefore, can be a legacy of Bangladesh's current CVF presidency.
Third, the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan is organised and written differently than other investment plans prepared in Bangladesh. In 2009, for example, the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) estimated that USD 5 billion would be needed in the first five years of its implementation. The Bangladesh Country Investment Plan for Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (EFCC CIP) reckoned in 2016 a need for USD 11.7 billion by 2021 to tackle climate change and pollution, and to improve natural resource management and environmental governance. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 (BDP2100) may need USD 37 billion by 2040 to implement 80 projects in order to make Bangladesh a resilient delta.
Primarily focusing on the climate crisis, the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan—a collaborative effort of 10 national and international agencies—goes beyond building climate resilience. We see six broad visions for change, which are called "key points" in the document: 1) Accelerated adaptation; 2) Just transition of labour and future-proofing of industry with technology transfer; 3) Increasing public revenue to spend on the most vulnerable; 4) Comprehensive climate and disaster risk financing and management; 5) Leveraging 21st century technologies for well-being; and 6) Maximised renewable energy, energy efficiency, and power and transportation sector resilience. The plan expects USD 83.55 billion investment over the next decade to achieve these targets. A delay in investing in the proposed infrastructural and adaptive measures may result in losses of minimum 4.9 percent of the country's GDP (or USD 30 billion per year) by 2030. Although the plan expects particular ministries to be responsible for implementing some specific projects, it also envisages concerted efforts from a wide range of public and private entities from the country and beyond.
Fourth, the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan is reportedly the first planning document in Bangladesh that explicitly and widely used the term Nature-based Solutions (NbS). NbS use nature for the benefit of both people and biodiversity. When we protect, sustainably manage, restore or create diverse ecosystems to tackle our societal challenges, such as disasters, poverty, water insecurity, or climate crisis, we practise NbS.
To speed up adaptation to climate change, the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan identifies the BDP2100 as a core instrument. In addition to grey infrastructural solutions, the climate prosperity plan includes 14 percent increase in tree coverage, restoration of degraded forests in Chittagong Hill Tracts and haor (wetland) ecosystems, reduction and elimination of deforestation and forest degradation, afforestation in newly accreted char lands and coastline, and ecological restoration of rivers around Dhaka city as key measures. To develop climate-resilient and nature-based agricultural and fisheries supply and value chains, the plan mentioned mangrove-shrimp culture, seaweed cultivation, floating gardening, aqua-geoponics, and vertical farming. These could only be called NbS if both human and biodiversity benefits are ensured.
Under the prosperity plan's resilient well-being programme, projects like "My Village, My Town" also includes floating vegetable gardens—a centuries-old NbS practised in Bangladesh. The plan also recognises that, by adopting locally-led adaptation principles, such projects could enhance plant and animal diversity, conserve genetic resources, protect wildlife habitats, and improve the quality of ecosystems engaging local poor households. Creating new jobs and ensuring just transition by upskilling the labour force are key aspects of the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan. By recognising the potentials of NbS in generating employment and diversifying livelihoods, the plan has included forest and biodiversity conservation as a part of future just transition projects.
For a highly ambitious transition to renewable energy, the prosperity plan proposes "Mujib Bongoposagor Independence Giga Array," a USD 7.2 billion hybrid renewable energy (wind) adaptation infrastructure project, which would undertake mangrove plantation along the coasts and raise funds through blue bonds to protect marine life. The plan also aims to establish a "National Carbon Finance Coordination Hub" to attract finance from voluntary carbon market to conserve and sustainably manage forests, and to undertake afforestation, reforestation, mangrove revegetation, and coastal ecosystem protection and management, as a means of adaptation and reduction of losses and damages from climate change.
Just before Covid-19 hit the world, in November 2019, the Bangladesh Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution on "planetary emergency." There, not only climate change, but also biodiversity loss at an unprecedented rate was identified as one of the crises needing urgent actions. But we see limited attention and funding to conserve our nature. For example, the Biodiversity Conservation Fund has still not been established under Article 36 of the Bangladesh Biodiversity Act, 2017, even though it has been four years since the act was enacted.
Mainstreaming NbS into our development strategies and plans can simultaneously address climate change and biodiversity loss, and can overcome our inertia to conserve biodiversity. Therefore, it is encouraging to see that NbS has been mentioned throughout the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan. But the final version of the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan should go farther. Listing down NbS actions that could be taken under different thematic areas is not enough; the plan should also embrace NbS as a fundamental principle. In this way, NbS can truly be mainstreamed into the prosperity plan, contributing to resilient economic growth, locally-led adaptation, innovative financing, human well-being, and resilient energy system, thus helping Bangladesh achieve the envisaged prosperity outcomes by 2030.
When we talk about the prosperity of our nation, we cannot separate our society and economy from the nature we are embedded in. By placing NbS in the heart of the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, Bangladesh can give the world not only the prosperity pathways, but also the ways to tackle the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity emergency.
Dr Haseeb Md Irfanullah is an independent consultant working on environment, climate change, and research systems. His Twitter handle is @hmirfanullah