Prioritizing economic growth and environmental sustainability equally
Environment, bestowing human being with her blessings by fulfilling basic needs, never failed to shower unconditional love, since the inception of civilization. Taken for granted, we somehow could not fulfil our responsibility to conserve our nature diligently. Amidst, flourishing of GDP, skyrocketing of per capita income over the years, we tend to forget huge opportunity cost, we are incurring by pushing ecosystem over the edge, from where reversibility of environment to a better condition will be impossible.
Consequently, this irreversible behaviour will also affect poverty to some extent as poor people largely rely on natural resources for their wellbeing. Being a developing country, slight surge in poverty rate due to the loss of biodiversity will make us suffer harshly and make our pathway of development arduous further. Thus, from the get go, since when a country, starts to grow, it needs to be farsighted for ensuring solid and resilient growth, by taking into account ecosystem preservation issue earnestly for avoiding plight of the vulnerable afterwards.
In Fiscal Year (FY) 20, Bangladesh achieved GDP growth rate of 5.24%, while in FY19 it successfully grew by 8.15%. Nonetheless, with a roaring economy, new challenges are appearing before us. Ensuring a sustainable environment for future generation as well as ours is one of the paramount one because rural-urban migration, cavernous industrialization, construction of roads, rising demand for transportation and dependence on fossil-fuel based energy generation are imposing serious threat to nature. Moreover, like everywhere around the world, Bangladesh is experiencing the repercussions of climate change. Definitely, in future, these phenomena will be more conspicuous in tandem with advancement, if suitable policies and stringent planning are not effectuated. According to Environmental Performance Index (EPI), Bangladesh placed 162nd among 180 countries, in 2020.
Firstly, the ballpark figure of 39% labour force still engage to agriculture sector, while service sector with 40% and industry sector with 21% is changing the past trend of formation of our labour force (Source : ILO). Reliance on agriculture is plummeting because urban areas are offering better amenities to change the economic condition where manufacturing, service and informal sector role in huge portion. Furthermore, push factors such as iota of pace of generation of off-farm employment in rural areas, slump in the quality of lands, river erosion, soaring of natural calamities are responsible for the rural people's decision behind relocation.
In future, ineffective policy regarding safeguarding the people living in disaster prone areas, climate change will drive people to migrate in urban areas by taking away their livelihoods and making the rural urban migration scenery worse, hampering environment drastically. Action Aid Bangladesh, Climate Action Network South Asia together have predicted, in Bangladesh, around three million inhabitants will be superseded from their roots by 2050 due to inexorable climate change.
Secondly, Industry sector, including mining, manufacturing, electricity, gas and water supply altogether provide 31.13 percent of GDP. Every year, this sector is expanding and there is no need to iterate its contribution behind our success story. On the other hand, Scaling up of this sector is taking a hand on our environment because swelling up of industries means colossal amount of blighting of natural resources, emitting more hazards in water and more greenhouse gas in air surface.
Thirdly, Bangladesh's per capita income jumped up to $2064 in FY20. Compared to past, people of all strata of life's standard of living has risen up significantly. Transportation structure which has been changed substantially, along with, increasing income incentivizes businesses and people to pursue personal vehicles. However, average vehicles entailing cars, buses, truck are reconditioned, imported from developed countries, contributing to fall of air quality as used transports are more susceptible of disentangling particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen oxides.
All the above mentioned points are the proof of burgeoning of our economy, but, we need to remind ourselves, it is becoming possible in exchange of shoving environment beyond its tolerance and fading away the dream of achieving a sustainable environment, a foremost one, among three dimensions of sustainable development - social, economical and environmental sustainability. If Bangladesh avoids conservation of nature issue, it may not be ever successful to attain other two pillars of sustainability. Doggedly, quality of environment will not ameliorate in twinkling of an eye. But, certainly, if Environmental Management Measures, comprised of regulatory, economic and suasion instruments can be implemented, we can certainly shield environment from further crumbling albeit economic growth.
Firstly, government should execute concoction of Environmental Policy Instruments at local level by broadening their horizons to mend any action harming environment, from releasing wastes to establishing haphazard construction, from decimating biodiversity to encroaching lands, rivers and canals. Thus, whose activity is detrimental, will have to pay hefty charges and those who choose environmental friendly way, will be subsidized. Another impeccable weapon, suasion measure - igniting moral responsibility towards environment with the help of television programs, conference, exposing youngsters to environmentally vulnerable group can offer us a hazard- free and sustainable biosphere. Moreover, government should enact regulatory instruments like enforcing laws, inspecting and monitoring on regular basis whole heartedly irrespective of the polluter's or annihilator's social status, political power.
Secondly, confirming proper education, health care, provision of timely impetuses, and people of natural calamities areas' should be safeguarded. So that, they will not be the burden of nation, whenever nerve wracking catastrophe will shake us to the core.
Thirdly, in rural areas, facilitating off- farm employment, mitigating difference between rural- urban migration ought to be accelerated at next level to tackle uncontrolled exodus and lessen dependence on lands.
Furthermore, government should take a step back, before engaging in new coal based power project. Though Bangladesh has eyed to produce 100% electricity by renewable energy within 2050, its target is to generate only 1552 MW with renewable energy, 2.8% of total capacity of 2041. The good news is, already, 13 of 18 approved coal based power plants are on the chopping block. While government is trying to transform them into LNG based power plant, CPD suggested investing for solar power plants, which will be capable of generating 4779 MW of electricity.
Lastly, Bangladesh should continue to raise its voice in international arena regarding the consequences developing, underdeveloped countries are suffering from climate change. I hope, as a chair of Climate Vulnerable Forum, Bangladesh will try heart and soul to unite all the nations to make wary of future challenges and hardships, foisted by climate change.
To conclude, we should not be overwhelmed with the flow of economic growth blindly, rather, for a scintillating future, both economic growth and environment management and protection must not be sundered and equal balance between them is necessary. As per WMO, the mean temperature of 2020 was 1.2 degree Celsius more than pre-industrial epoch and the temperature is likely to be above 1.5 degree by 2024. So, the probability of melting ice, sea level rise, frequent floods, droughts is leaping up, which will press a plethora of people under poverty line by demolishing basic rights, livelihoods. All the growth, development at the expense of razing flora and faunas will seem toothless then. Hence, along with growth, conservation of environment should get equal priority for achieving the goal of sustainability before time stops ticking.
Tahsin Sahriar is a student of BRAC University