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OP-ED: Nature at the heart of climate action

  • Published at 12:24 pm June 4th, 2020
Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

A Bangladesh-UK partnership can pave the way towards solutions

Where nature stops, folly begins -- this German proverb is a reminder that we neglect nature at our peril, particularly when it comes to tackling climate change.

As many readers will know, the UK has the presidency of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at its 26th session (COP26, for short). I have been appointed as COP26 envoy for the South Asia Region, and am delighted to be writing in this newspaper on this World Environment Day 2020.  

COP26 will bring together states and non-state actors from across the world in Glasgow on November 1-12 next year. This is a year later than initially planned, reflecting the current need for world leaders to focus on responding to the global coronavirus pandemic, and the relevant restrictions on international travel. 

But we are clear that the pressing threats posed by climate change remain as urgent as ever. We are determined to work with our international partners to ensure that the global recovery from this pandemic delivers a fairer, greener, and more resilient global economy.

Bangladesh will be a very important partner for the UK in these efforts. Our two countries launched a new partnership in January, pledging to work together to increase global action on climate change. The UK, as COP26 president, is encouraging all countries to come forward with ambitious plans for emissions reductions. 

Bangladesh, as chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, can champion the inescapable need to adapt to climate change and share its expertise in building resilience to the impacts.

Nature can play a critical role in combating climate change. The theme for World Environment Day this year is biodiversity -- or the variety and variability of life on earth. Just as we are experiencing a global climate emergency, we are also experiencing a global extinction crisis.  

Globally, biodiversity is declining faster -- in fact about 100-1,000 times faster -- than at any time in human history. This has enormous consequences: Our economies, livelihoods, and well-being all rely on healthy, biodiverse eco-systems.  

Climate change is already becoming a major driver of biodiversity loss, as habitats become less suitable for some species. Protecting and enhancing biodiversity will help us address climate change, by helping both to mitigate climate change by storing and sequestering carbon in eco-systems, and to adapt to the inevitable effects of unavoidable climate change. 

The Sundarbans played an important role recently in mitigating the impacts of Cyclone Amphan -- by bearing the brunt of high winds, it provided some shelter to many inland communities. A study published in the journal Nature earlier this year showed that mangroves provide flood protection benefits exceeding $65 billion per year. 

Vietnam, India, and Bangladesh receive the greatest benefits in terms of people protected. Often these savings are not appreciated or reflected in public accounts. Studies like this show the need to provide incentives for greater mangrove conservation. 

So, nature must be at the heart of our climate actions. The UK presidency has identified nature-based solutions for climate change as an area that needs particular action in the run-up to COP26. Simply put, this means harnessing the goods and services of natural systems to provide solutions to human-induced problems.  

This can include planting trees to capture and store some of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It can also include drawing on nature’s variety to find crops that are able to grow in areas frequently inundated by saline water, or using the earth-binding capacity of root systems to resist erosion along banks of rivers.  

Both Bangladesh and the UK have been using nature-based solutions for some time, to address a range of man-made problems. I hope we can now work together to scale up these interventions and try new ones. I see two important opportunities this year:

The UK and Bangladesh can share expertise: Both are prone to seasonal flooding, for example, and are both witnessing the scale of these floods increasing as a result of climate change. There is plenty of expertise in natural flood defenses that can be shared. 

As part of our partnership on climate action, we intend to build a community of practice to share such experiences. We can also work together to test new ideas, such as using oyster beds to protect coastal areas from storm surges, erosion, and flooding. 

The UK and Bangladesh can show global leadership: As we look ahead to COP26 and the Convention on Biological Diversity, the coming year is critical both for action on the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity. In our respective leading roles, we can raise greater awareness and provide evidence and analysis to encourage action and improve livelihoods across the world.

Bangladesh was the first country, in November last year, to declare a planetary emergency reflecting both the climate crisis and the irreversible loss of biodiversity. The UK government has commissioned a review of the Economics of Biodiversity, to shape the international response to biodiversity loss. This will be launched at the next Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and an interim report is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/interim-report-the-dasgupta-review-independent-review-on-the-economics-of-biodiversity.

One lesson the recent coronavirus pandemic has taught us is that global problems need international cooperation to find solutions and to tackle the problem in all parts of the world. The solutions to climate change are right under our feet. We must look to find them, before they too are gone. 

Ken O’Flaherty is COP26 Regional Ambassador for the Asia-Pacific and South Asia.

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