By Enayetullah Khan
Sep 30 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)
There are two schools of thought on the current debate regarding the global conservation of natural resources agenda: one is a pessimistic view of our future which thinks that it is already too late to avoid a catastrophe – and therefore, we must now focus on survival and recovery – which puts people in despair. Others feel that humanity has faced and overcome many challenges in the past and will continue to do so. With these views in mind, over ten thousand conservation leaders from government, civil society, indigenous communities, faith and spiritual traditions, the private sector, and academia from about 200 countries gathered in an historically important IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i, from September 1-10, 2016.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has about 1,300 members and over 1,600 experts who assess the state of the world’s natural resources from over 160 different countries. The members decide the global conservation agenda every four years. This year the World Conservation Congress was held in Honolulu, Hawai’i, USA. The UN estimates that today’s some 7.3 billion people on earth, under a medium growth scenario, will be more than 8.4 billion by 2030. It is alarming to note that over half the world’s population is already living in urban areas, increasingly disconnected from the complex systems of nature and the biodiversity that keep us all alive. So this year’s theme was rightly chosen as Planet at the Crossroads.
Discussions focused on how to reverse environmental decline and secure a healthy, livable planet for our future generations. The meeting came to the conclusion that we have an opportunity to move to sustainability and harness nature-based solutions for conservation. As global citizens, we all need to address the major threats to species loss, ecosystem decline and climate change. The congress kept the following in mind: the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Promise of Sydney, Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Earth Charter, and the Honolulu Challenge on Invasive Alien Species. These gave the global leaders to find ways to alleviate the spirit of partnership and collaboration. Eradicating corruption, we could save the world from ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss and stop eroding traditional bio-cultural relationships.
Healthy and sustainable future is synonymous to healthy ecosystems. To ensure a healthy environment for all and to eradicate poverty, Bangladesh needs to establish an environment court to address ecological, political, economic and legal issues related to environment and biodiversity conservation.
The Hawai’i Commitments highlight nature-based solutions to climate change. The document also gives emphasis on the role of indigenous people, and women from local communities, as critical to successfully implementing the Paris Agreement. This Congress for the first time voted to create a new category of membership for indigenous people’s organisations. This would not only strengthen the presence and role of Indigenous organisations in the IUCN but would also help achieve equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. We should begin to relearn the wisdom of indigenous traditions, how to live in communion with, rather than in dominance over, the natural world.
The Hawai’i Congress also emphasised that the environmental rule of law is essential and needs to be cultivated and strengthened. The establishment of environment courts in more than 50 nations is an encouraging and necessary development in today’s world. Today there is a growing trend to sue for climate change damages. I understand that lawsuits have been filed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Peru, Washington, Philippines, Massachusetts, and Oregon. The Dutch were perhaps the first government to lose a lawsuit against climate change litigators.
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and we may think of this.
Hawi’i Congress tells us to engage and empower youth to nurture a new generation across all sectors of society to connect with nature and take action to support conservation. The Congress is committed to address the challenge of sustaining the global food supply and conserving nature. Traditional farming practices are under pressure and associated knowledge is being lost. It is committed to face the challenge of preserving the health of the world’s oceans. The world’s oceans, and the communities that depend on them, are under immense and unprecedented human pressures. Sea level rise not only affects livelihoods but threatens human security. It’s very encouraging to note that President Obama designated the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, protecting fragile deep-sea ecosystems off the coast of New England as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument on September 15 this year.
In his speech, Obama says: “Over the past several decades, the nation has made great strides in its stewardship of the ocean, but the ocean faces new threats from varied uses, climate change, and related impacts. Through exploration, we continue to make new discoveries and improve our understanding of ocean ecosystems. In these waters, the Atlantic Ocean meets the continental shelf in a region of great abundance and diversity as well as stark geological relief. The waters are home to many species of deep-sea corals, fish, whales and other marine mammals.”
The WildTeam delegation, composed of three, was headed by me, its chairman. WildTeam, through its poster presentation (http://iucncongress.ipostersessions.com/default.aspx?s=1B-C4-0B-0C-D7-86…) and knowledge café, informed the audience how it has been working closely with the Bangladesh Forest Department and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to protect the tigers in the Sundarbans. WildTeam is now implementing USAID’s Bengal Tiger Activity under the guidance of the Forest Department and with technical assistance from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, and Bangladesh Centre for Advancement of Science. We had the opportunity to interact with many participants who showed great interest in tiger conservation in Bangladesh. One gentleman said: “Bangladeshi cricketers are known as tigers, why don’t they then raise their voices and say NO to tiger and deer poachers, and come forward to save tigers?”
The world community feels that Bangladesh should turn the tiger from an ‘umbrella species’ to a ‘flagship species’, as this is the national animal of Bangladesh. In our knowledge café, we discussed how to raise funds for tiger conservation. We need the support from business people and the civil society. All conservation efforts need good investment. One speaker at a business session asserts: “Conservation measures would cost $100-200 billion year, or about one percent of all new and reinvested capital. This sum is beyond the capabilities of governments, and therefore businesses are the solution to protecting species.” WildTeam urges upon all to join us to save our national pride: the Bengal Tiger. I reassure my commitment to give all out support for this good cause.
The writer is Editor-in-Chief, UNB and Dhaka Courier.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh