Bangladesh case: Sustainability in a nutshell
A walk on the beach or a hike in the woods are reminders that our forests, coral reefs, and even our deserts and act as examples of sustainable systems. Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon are all regenerated and redistributed in invisible chemical cycles throughout the world's living (and not-so-living) systems, sustaining and adapting life since it first emerged. Governments, industry, non-profits, and environmental agencies all have different definitions of environmental sustainability and approaches to the issue. Generally, there are three definitions of the practice.
Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This is the definition of sustainability as created by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. While it is not universally accepted, the UN's definition is pretty standard and has been expanded over the years to include perspectives on human needs and well-being (including non-economic variables, such as education and health, clean air and water, and the protection of natural beauty). It is clear that the potential of our long-term viability of well being on this planet has to do with our maintenance of the natural world and its natural resources.
Sustainability is the capacity to improve the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth's supporting eco-systems. This definition has been provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the work of which is driven by the fact that global production and consumption patterns are destroying nature at persistent and dangerously high rates.
As populations have increased and we have relied on the earth's natural resources such as minerals, petroleum, coal, gas and so on, the earth's natural ecosystems and creatures (from birds to insects to mammals) have declined. We have changed the sacred balance of nature as environmentalist David Suzuki puts it, which has had a negative impact on both humans and other living systems.
Sustainability is about stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between earth's two most complex systems--human culture and the living world. This definition of sustainability was provided by environmentalist Paul Hawken, who has written about the realization (and the science behind it) that we are using and destroying the earth's resources faster than they can be regenerated and replenished.
What Can Be Done? All of these definitions lead us to even more questions. For example, what if we, as an evolutionary species, changed the way we live, love, learn and conduct business on this planet? Is it possible to utilize business as the catalyzing force behind this change? What if we acknowledge that financial success can be tied to ecological and societal success and the inverse as well?
According to our just released report, "Country Environmental Analysis", Bangladesh is among the countries most affected by pollution and other environmental health risks. The monetary cost to the Bangladeshi society of environmental degradation in urban areas, measured in terms of foregone labour output was equivalent to about one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually. If one takes into account the broader welfare impacts of mortality attributed to environmental risks, the economic cost is equivalent to 3.4 percent of the national GDP. Noncompliant industries and inadequate waste management of hazardous and nonhazardous materials are polluting the cities' air as well as surface and ground water. The study also indicated that many rivers around Dhaka are polluted.
The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation's Global Burden of Disease report for 2016 estimated pollution in its many forms led to one in four deaths in Bangladesh, which is among the highest rates in the world. Moreover, pollution affects poor communities most severely, further harming the ability of vulnerable people to benefit from economic prosperity.
In short, the old model of "grow now, clean up later" no longer works for countries, including Bangladesh. The country needs to reduce environmental harm and embrace green-growth policies to ensure sustainable economic development in the coming decades. The good news is that there are a number of examples where careful planning allows countries and cities to grow cleaner and greener without harming economic development.
Neighbouring China imposed pollution control measures, stronger enforcement and better policies and standards to improve air quality in Beijing while maintaining steady economic growth. Mexico has maintained its upper middle-income status while making air cleaner in Mexico City after the United Nations rated the capital the world's most polluted city in 1992.
In Bangladesh, too, the government has embraced better planning by making environmental sustainability a cornerstone of its Seventh Five-year Plan through 2020. Efforts to strengthen pollution management policies include revision of the Environmental Conservation Rules, introduction of the Environment Court Act and the Brick Manufacturing Rules, while reliable data now being produced and disseminated results in regular monitoring of daily air quality.
Other steps to integrate environmental planning in economic development include the adoption of green banking guidelines, creation of the Green Transformation Fund by the Bangladesh Bank, and stationing environmental counsellors in export processing zones. The World Bank contributed to some of these efforts through its support for the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) Project and other initiatives. In Bangladesh, the World Bank continues to be committed to ensure that our financing brings climate change co-benefits and we are supporting numerous projects focused on inclusive green growth, to promote a cleaner environment and reduce green-house-gas emissions.
We are confident that a "Clean and Green Bangladesh" is achievable through the government's commitment to environmental sustainability, the country's renowned innovation, and learning from international experiences. Moreover, addressing pollution challenges will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make cities more climate-resilient, another win given Bangladesh's vulnerability to the impact of climate change.
Bangladesh has set itself the goal of moving to upper-middle income status by 2021--the 50th anniversary of its independence. A concerted effort from all sides to prevent environmental degradation and ensure climate resilience will help the country to achieve its vision.
The writer is a journalist and freelance contributor