POST TIME: 1 April, 2020 00:00 00 AM
Coronavirus: A wake-up call for promoting sustainable, greener and resilient planet
Covid19 crisis proves the need for adopting and building a sustainable, greener and low-carbon world
Arif M. Faisal

Coronavirus: A wake-up call for promoting sustainable, greener and resilient planet

It is simply unavoidable now not to talk on the very critical issue like COVID19 and its consequence on the entire human being, economy and the planet. Global leaders are proposing all efforts and ammunition at their disposal to fight against coronavirus. This virus is changing our everyday lifestyle and behavior e.g. hand washing, using of masks, social distancing, lock down, home quarantine, isolation, travel bans, closing of borders, billion to trillion dollars of economic stimulus, etc. Most of the government is now adopting whole of society approach i.e.,engaging state and non-state actors to address this pandemic. Even most of the developedcountry like Italy, Germany, USA, etc. are uncertain, scary and a bit helpless to address this dangerous pandemic. However, the world is investing billions of dollars for inventing vaccine and medicine and biomedical research and development for treatment of COVID19 patients.

There are thousands of reports and communication message on coronavirus are floating in the press, electronic and social media. But I would like to discuss a bit off-track issue that is comparatively less focused in the mainstream media. I would like to discuss how this monster released from the wilderness due to indiscriminate destruction of our pristine ecosystem, hunting of wildlife for consumption and greed. How our irresponsible consumption pattern, lifestyle, behavior and greed make the planet sick.

Firstly, this mutant virus seemingly jumped from a wildlife to a human(s) in a wet market in Wuhan, China. These wild animals were hunted, trapped and then taken to the local markets to be sold for food, traditional medicine and the pet trade. Chinese including many Asians and Africans eat wildlife meat which include bats, snakes, civets, crocodile, pangolin, fox, turtle, birds, etc.Lots of wild animals are career of deadly virus and other pathogens. Many scientists suspect that the new coronavirus may be passed to humans from bats via pangolins, a small ant-eating scaled mammal whose scales are expensive in traditional Chinese medicine. Some scientists also believe that spread of SARS, HIV, Ebola, etc. virus passed to humans from wild animals. Zoonotic disease is a type of diseases that spread from animals to humans. This type of infectious disease has quadrupled in the last 50 years, mostly in tropical regions, according to a letter more than 100 wildlife and environmental groups sent to US Congress in this week.Prof Andrew Cunningham, the deputy director of science at the Zoological Society of London recently warned that “world will be faced with more deadly viruses like Covid-19 if there is not a drastic change in human behaviors”.

Secondly, planet has been so altered that the world ecosystem could be near to a tipping point that would disrupt the climate and biological systems that sustain life on earth. Last year the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES),reported that more than one million species are at risk of extinction. This report concluded that “it’s not only species that are at risk, the myriad life-support functions that these species and ecosystems provide also are threatened”. The non-living elements of ecosystem like water and air are also becoming polluted due to aggressive human intervention. Habitat for wildlife are shrinking or shifting and in some cases are rapidly disappearing due to indiscriminate felling of forest, destruction and conversion of ecosystems and habitat for consumption and for various human need and greed. Since we are hunting them and destroying their homes, they are jumping to other species and humans and transmitting virus and other pathogens.

Thirdly, climate change is also connected to spread of infectious disease in some context. A study of the 2003outbreak of the SARS in Asia found that “people exposed to the highest level of air pollution were twice as likely to die from the disease as those who were not”. Deforestation is linked to increased CO2 emissions, also destroys wildlife habitat, which increases the risk of close human-animal encounters. Other strains of infectious viruses, like the seasonal flu, often peak during winter season, partly because people spend more time inside in closer quarters. Scientists are still studying whether this coronavirus will behave like that when it comes to warmer weather.

We all know the horrific death tolls of COVID19 around the world everyday. The good news of COVID19 is that dolphins are dancing in the Cox’s Bazar sea and river in Venice and turtles have returned to the coast of Odisha for mass nesting. Mobs of monkeys and deer are roaming now in streets in Japan and Thailand. The bounce-back of these wild animals are not only great news for the species but also for the environment. Air quality have been significantly improved in the recent time in China, New York and many cities around the world due to lockdown and travel bans for COVID19. The CO2 emission has also been sharply declined in major cities of the world due to travel ban, closure of international flights and temporary shutdown of many industries.Coronavirus has led to a surprising shutdown of economic activity and a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels. The global oil price fell to lows of US$25 a barrel in last week and experts projected that may further fall to US$10 a barrel this year if pandemic situation continues. These all are good news for planet!

To keep this momentum, we can consider taking following actions to protect the ecosystem and biodiversity of our country:

•    All parks, protected areas (PAs), ecologically critical areas(ECAs), important sea beaches and coral island could be lockdown for tourists for some periods during breeding season of wildlife. This temporary lockdown will support regeneration of wildlife and will support them for free movement for mating and breeding. We should also strictly ban hunting, poaching and illegal trade of all types of wildlife.

•    Bangladesh parliament has declared a planetary emergency in November 2019 which includes both climate change as well as biodiversity and pollution concerns. Only such declaration is not enough in itself and an action plan with dedicated fund is required to turn the declaration into action. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment should play a crucial role to oversight, monitor and guide implementation of the declaration.

•    Bangladesh set 20 National Target in line with Aichi Biodiversity Targets 2020 and most of the target should be fulfilled by 2021. Some of the notable targets includes, initiate implementation of restoration plan for degraded ecosystems, especially, forest lands and wetlands;5% of terrestrial ecosystem (forests), 3% of inland wetlands and coastal ecosystems and 5% of marine area will be under PAs or ECAs; mobilizefinancial resources towards accelerated implementation of targets and activities of updated National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan(NBSAP). Time is very short as we need to implement it by 2021. Therefore, we should immediately allocate adequate resources to implement the National Target and NBSAP.

•    Cities contribute 70 percentof global greenhouse-gas emissions. We can consider celebrating ‘car free day’ in a week in all the major cities where no private car will be allowed in the city areas for whole day. Only public transport will be available for citizen to commute during this scheme. This will contribute to reduction of CO2 emission as well as air pollution in major cities. Currently ‘car free street’ scheme is operational on the first Friday of every month in a part of Manik Mia Avenue, Dhaka.

•    Due to spread of coronavirus our lifestyle and behavior are gradually changing. Peoples in our country are now adopting hygiene, good sanitation and cleanliness lifestyle (e.g. frequently washing hands, using mask, disinfecting city and public transport,etc.). To keep the momentum, we should continue these hygiene and cleanliness practice throughout the year regularly even after ending of this dangerous pandemic.

•    We should responsibly use our scarce natural resource and avoid over-consumption to reduce our footprints on environment. Promoting responsible consumption, adopting circular economy, and invest more onclimate resilient and green growth could resolve lots of environmental and climate change challenge that are accelerating transmission of infectious diseases.

We are trying our best to tackling this global pandemic with our limited capacity and resources. Even developed countries have almost failed to tackle this global challenge. Although we are taking urgent and medium-term measures to address this challenge. We should adopt above medium- and long-term measures immediately. There is no planet B. Now we are sick as our planet is sick. Therefore, we should take immediate action to heal our sick planet and as a result the nature will protect us from this pandemic and other infectious diseases in the long run.Covid19 crisis presented us an enormous opportunity to adopt and build a sustainable, greener, low-carbon and resilient world.

The writer is working with UNDP Bangladesh