The current pattern of global economic development is unsustainable. It is based on the extraction of natural resources and use of a carbon-intensive production and consumption system to produce goods and services for the economy. Indeed, the global development path has been based on the philosophy of accelerating growth by way of burning fossil fuels. Since the ’60s and ’70s, several economists have been arguing for sustainable economic development which would take care of natural resources and ensure intergenerational equity.
As the world is struggling to recover from the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of sustainable use of natural resources and adopting a green growth strategy have taken an important place in the global discourse. Therefore, in the wake of the pandemic, countries are working to “build back better” which puts environmental concerns at the forefront. Several advanced countries are using their stimulus package to create green infrastructure. In fact, during the global financial meltdown in 2008-09 also, several countries had invested in green industries. However, progress since then has been rather slow. Instead, extraction of fossil fuels in some of the large countries continues till now. Moreover, some advanced countries also provide subsidies on fossil fuels which is a counter-productive measure. The spirit of green growth has been affected by these activities.
Low-income countries like Bangladesh have also shown much enthusiasm in adopting a green growth policy. Even though its carbon emission is only a little over 0.1 percent of global carbon emissions, Bangladesh has committed to make a transition towards a green economy in its national plans and strategies. Bangladesh’s green growth strategy will mostly be geared towards addressing environment-related challenges. It will be to reduce the burden of future environmental costs. This requires huge investment in green infrastructure.
Given the enormity of investment required, the private sector has to come forward. In order to attract private sector investment in this field, the government can provide fiscal incentives for green investments. Measures, such as a low interest rate for loans to support low-carbon technologies, tax incentives for environmentally friendly cars, measures to increase energy efficiency in industry and agriculture, and allocation for protected areas and cultural heritage could also be undertaken to encourage adoption of a greener development path.
In Bangladesh, the private sector has already felt the urgency of greener technologies. For example, as the global trade regime is getting stringent on compliance issues, many Bangladeshi readymade garments factories have already implemented green technologies in their factories. However, for smaller factories, this is an additional burden. They will need the government’s support. Development partners will also have to support green investment.
The other aspect of a green growth strategy is to protect and manage environmental resources. These resources are essential for the existence of humankind and the ecosystem. However, the value of such resources is often forgotten by us. Moreover, we often only see the use value of natural resources. But natural resources have both use and non-use values. These resources are used as raw materials for economic activities. However, the non-use value of natural resources is also important as they are foundations for life. The market prices also cannot capture the price of those resources. For example, the ecosystem services provided by forests are often ignored. As a result, the cost-benefit of trees would be compared with the return from a factory established by cutting those trees.
The economic value of natural resources and how these resources can help achieve sustainable development often go unrecognised by most of us. One of the reasons behind this is that we often forget the basic features of natural resources. But, depending on the characteristics of natural resources, public policy will have to be different. In order to meet our economic demand we use the naturally created environmental resources as raw materials for production and energy. So, natural resources create direct utility for human beings. We undertake economic activities based on several resources that nature has created. These include water, air, fuel, coal, gas, mineral resources, solar power, fisheries and much more. But the stock and source of all types of natural resources are not the same. Their longevity is also not the same. Some natural resources are depletable while some are non-depletable.
Therefore, the efficient management of natural resources is extremely important. Even if resources are non-depletable their excessive use and mismanagement can have a negative impact on human health and lives. For example, despite being plenty in supply, unsustainable use of water and air can do harm to human beings immensely. Health hazards would not only increase health costs but also reduce productivity and economic growth. Therefore, policy interventions are needed in case of sustainable resource management and economic growth.
Degradation and depletion of environmental resources emanate from the market and policy failures. To address market failure in case of resource depletion, market-based instruments have been suggested. For example, based on the polluters’ pay principle, the polluters would be charged. However, this is a difficult and unpopular method to implement. In the absence of good governance, there is a possibility of the method being arbitrarily used. The powerful and corrupt polluters may get away through bribes. There are so many polluting vehicles and industries in the country. There is also rampant deforestation and heavy pollution of river waters. How many have been penalised? What is the rate of success in reducing such pollution? Dhaka is still one of the most polluted cities in the world. The resources generated through pollution fees could be used for environmental development and natural resource management.
Policy failure also leads to overexploitation of resources. Subsidies can damage the environment. Subsidies on fisheries, agriculture and energy, for example, encourage higher use of resources. Of course, the affordability of the poor will have to be taken into consideration. The poor depend directly on nature for their livelihoods. Therefore, the poor should have access to natural resources. But instead of cross subsidisation, the government can help the poor by providing targeted direct support so that they can use resources for survival.
Policymakers should undertake cost-benefit analysis before initiating all infrastructure projects. How the environmental impact would be taken into account and how the environmental costs would be internalised, should be clearly specified in the project documents. Besides, the negative social impact due to the change in natural resource management should also be addressed. Often, large infrastructure projects such as roads and highways require shifting people from their original places. How these measures may affect their employment, income and social lives have to be assessed and dealt with adequately.
Environmental policies have to be cross-cutting as environmental degradation can impact several sectors at a time. The government’s decision-making with regard to sectoral policy design and implementation should be based on economic, social, and environmental consideration. Decisions should be based on scientific evidence on the possible impact of such policies. Regular review and data on the progress in these areas should be shared with the people.
The narrative of sustainable development has to be shared among broader stakeholders including the private sector, non-governmental organisations and workers. They can play important roles towards environment-friendly policies.
Finally, production will invariably create environmental pollution. Without production, the economy cannot run, society cannot exist. Therefore, technological development and use of technology are a must to reduce pollution.
Dr Fahmida Khatun is the Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
Views expressed in this article are personal.