As the 27th Climate Change Conference (COP27) gets underway in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh, Bangladesh is set to get first Global Shield financial support as one of the ‘Pathfinder Countries’ that also include costa Rica, Fiji, Ghana, Pakistan, the Philippines and Senegal. This country, due to its geographic location and climatic conditions, is one of the countries that can be severely affected by climate change, which is projected to alarmingly affect various other sectors of the country. In that circumstance, Bangladesh was recently hit by cyclone Sitrang, which showed the country only a glimpse of the grim picture of the effects of climate change, which could be even worse. The climate change risk Bangladesh possesses was also reflected in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s speech in the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The premier called upon the world leaders to promote inclusive climate action for mitigating climate change effects. Basically, climate change is the longterm continued shifting of temperatures and weather patterns on planet Earth. They are mostly caused by the emission of greenhouse gases; burning of fossil fuels for energy production, certain agricultural practices, industrial processes, and forest loss are the additional factors. There have been previous periods of climate change in the world, but the current changes are distinctly more rapid.
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Climate change in Bangladesh is a critical issue as the country is at the forefront of climate change impacts and vulnerable to the effects of it. There are many factors that influences Bangladesh’s fragility concerning climate change including a combination of geographical dynamics; such as, its low-lying and delta-exposed topography, high population density, high levels of poverty, dependence on agriculture, and some other socio-economic factors. Over the last decade, it has seen some of the strongest storms on record, massive flooding, and exponential property losses. Despite being a role model in management, Bangladesh is considered one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, and the poor are disproportionately affected by the effects of such disasters. Furthermore, climate change adversely shakes a country’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Due to the ongoing global crisis, sustainable solutions and project developments for mitigation and adaptation have become crucial. To enable these, a high-level risk-screening approach is needed to address climate threats at an early stage.
What Does Statistics Show?
Over the last two decades, the Global Climate Risk Index rates Bangladesh as the seventh most affected country in the world from extreme weather events. Evaluating the extent of sea-level rise in the coming decades, an estimated up to 30 million Bangladeshis could be displaced from coastal areas, reveals the data. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released its sixth report last year on the state of the earth’s climate and it too paints a dire picture. The report argues that unless all the governments take appropriate measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions and spur behavioural change, the world is moving toward a climate crisis. The report’s findings are particularly relevant in Bangladesh, where low elevation, high population density and weak infrastructure make it highly vulnerable to climate change.
Beforehand, a United States based government report noted that 90 million Bangladeshis, which is approximately 56 percent of the population, live in high climate-exposure areas and 53 million live in ‘very high’ exposure areas. The United Nations Children’s Climate Risk Index in last year rates the climate risk children facing in the country as ‘extremely high’. Furthermore, it was recently recorded that the temperature of Bangladesh is rising at a rate of 0.2°C per decade.
In addition, according to a risk assessment report by the World Bank, two-third of the country is less than 15 feet above the sea level makes it defenceless to rapid sea-level rise. Because of climate change, cyclone-induced flooding could cause damages worth $570 million across coastal areas every year in future. The report, “Bangladesh: Enhancing Coastal Resilience in a Changing Climate”, also analysed the effects of a 0.5 metre rise in sea level, which is ‘equivalent to the conditions likely to occur in the second half of this century’.
Climate Change Impacts and Risks
In Bangladesh, the top climate impacts include cyclones, flooding, rising sea levels, rising temperatures and lower crop yields. While many impacts of climate change are already evident around the world, the worse is still to come. Having a clear picture of future risks is essential to spur into action now on a scale that matches the problem. Scientists estimate that by 2050, one in every seven people in Bangladesh will be displaced due to climate change impacts, resulting in almost 18 million climate migrants. Amid the complex interaction of poverty and climate change, people in coastal communities have already begun migrating inland, mostly to urban areas. Comprehensively weak local governance, poor urban management, existing ethno-religious tension, climate-driven migration and poverty will amplify the country’s challenges. It will affect many sectors, including water resources, agriculture and food security, ecosystems and biodiversity, and human health. Predicted rainfall increases, particularly during the summer monsoon, could expand flood prone areas in Bangladesh.
I. More Natural Disasters will Occur
A major risk Bangladesh will face is the increased frequency and strength of extreme weather events, like tropical cyclones. The main threats of cyclones are rain, high wind speeds and storm surges. Bangladesh is fragile against these disasters due to its large river deltas and flat landscapes. The country’s average elevation is less than 10 metres above sea level. These conditions can lead to large storm surges that travel hundreds of kilometres inland, flooding the surrounding countryside. In 2007 cyclone Sidr inundated the land of 3.45 million people, producing damages and losses equal to 2.6 percent of country’s gross domestic product. Experts predict that tropical storms will increase in intensity by up to 10 percent in the next several decades. In 2050, cyclones can inundate 88 percent more land than it would today and expose almost 9.7 million people to severe floods more than 3 meters deep. The last cyclone in the country before Sitrang was Amphan, occurred in May 2020. To date, few storms matched its ferocity in Asia. It killed at least 31 people, destroyed many agricultural lands and damaged over 83,000 structures. Estimates put the economic burden of this event at $131 million. With the storms increasing in frequency and intensity, events like this will likely continue to occur often.
II. Heavy Rainfall
The severe impacts of climate change will also bring heavy rainfall. New rainfall patterns will lead to polarised river flows, with flows exceptionally higher in summers yet lower in winters. In a country already prone to flooding and drought, such a trend will only make matters worse.
III. Flooding in Low-Lying Regions
In this land; Jamuna, Ganges and Meghna rivers connect and enter the Bay of Bengal, makes flooding a significant concern. Already, flooding happens yearly in the country, and scientists predict that rainfall will increase by 10 to 15 percent over the next century will escalate it. Flooding damages infrastructure, ruins agriculture and forces people to move. As a result, we may see people increasingly migrating to Dhaka, where there is already an influx of close to 0.5 million people every year. The city is expanding exponentially, yet the infrastructure will not be able to keep up.
IV. Sea-Level Rise to Flood Coastal Areas
Global sea levels are already rising at an alarming rate. Since 1880, the sea level has shockingly risen by 8 to 9 inches, and over one-third of that has occurred in the last two and a half decades. Country’s scientists estimate that the coastal areas of Bangladesh will see sea-levels rise between 0.4 to 1.5 metres by the end of the century, displacing 15 to 30 million people. Sea-level rise is already under way in the Bay of Bengal, displacing an estimated 13 million people. However, Antarctic ice sheet is responding rapidly to global warming, and the Greenland ice sheet could melt irreversibly at 1.6°C warming. If this comes to pass, a sea-level rise up to 5 meters in coming centuries could even pose an existential risk to Bangladesh.
The impacts of sea-level rise go beyond just destroying homes and displacing the population. It also leads to the salinisation of agricultural land and drinking water. This will make some regions uninhabitable and lands unable to be farmed. These initial impacts could cause a cascade of effects, culminating in a decreased food supply in the region and even more climate migrants. In the last 35 years salinity has increased by 26 percent, heavily impacting the agriculture sector of the country. Increasing salinity also raises drinking water scarcity in coastal areas. Around 10 million people will be forced to consume saline water, leading to increased health problems such as cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
VI. Frequent Heat Waves
Bangladesh may see frequent heat waves during summer due to climate change. The country already has a hot climate, with summer temperatures rising it can hit above 45°C. New heat waves will break the records in a 4°C warmer world, with seven out of 10 summers being abnormally hot. Northern Bangladesh will shift to a new climatic regime, with temperatures above any levels seen in the past 100 years and monthly deviations five to six times beyond the standard.
VII. Food Shortage
Food shortage, already persistent in Bangladesh, will also worsen with climate change. 4°C temperature rise will severely damage crops, especially rice-grown, during annual monsoons. Yields will decrease despite any potentially positive effects of warming. Farmers will produce 3.9 percent less rice each year, and crops production will reduce by one-third per person.
VIII. Health Consequences
Climate change affects almost all aspects of human life, including health. The impact of climate change on human health and well-being can be manifested through different pathways and can be categorised by direct or indirect, mediated through complex biophysical and social dynamics. The direct effects of climate change that have been observed include morbidity and mortality due to heat stress, cyclones, floods, droughts and other calamities. The indirect effects adopt more complex routes which includes, threatening food and water security due to salinity intrusion, and spread of infectious diseases and malnutrition.
IX. Uncontrollable Urbanisation
Urbanisation has been a key part of Bangladesh’s development strategy. Although most Bangladeshis still live in rural areas, the urban population has been on a steady rise since the country’s founding, as citizens seek economic and educational opportunities in better developed areas. Over the last decade, Dhaka has been among the fastest growing cities in the world. But the rapid urbanisation has not been met with needed infrastructure improvements and environmental protections, which has deepened climate challenges. The United Nations estimates that around four million people inhabit the city with 5,000 slums, which are continually fed by an influx of migrants, who are often forced to depart good-quality housing for abject conditions due to climate-related displacement. These slums have poor water and air quality and unsafe infrastructure that endanger residents. Moreover, Dhaka is itself prone to floods that will likely become more common and severe with a changing climate. As these areas swell, communicable diseases and criminal activities are more likely to spread.
X. Inflamed Communal Conflict
Rural Bangladesh has long experienced an undercurrent of communal violence. In recent years, the growing social influence of Islamist groups and rise of majoritarian sentiment have led to increasing inter-religious tension in the rural areas. Climate change could exacerbate this problem. Bangladesh’s coastal divisions have large Hindu populations. As displaced persons from these communities will move into Muslim majority areas, increased interaction, competition for jobs and lands are likely to aggravate the tension and conflict.
XI. Refugee Problem
Although the government is eager for Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, most observers expect the refugees will remain in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district for an extended period. The simple presence of approximately one million refugees in a concentrated area has created environmental degradation including deforestation, groundwater depletion and pollution. They can migrate into the capital if major calamity strikes and it will intensify complications.
What Triggers Climate Vulnerability?
Bangladesh, being a Nano-emitter, has a reputation for climate management. But due to the lack of proper implementation of the plans, the country is repeatedly crunching to deal with natural disasters.
Weather Forecast is Incomprehensible
In Bangladesh, weather forecasting still gives warning signals for ports that ordinary people do not understand. It is to be noted that during the floods in Sylhet and Sunamganj, no measures were taken to protect the crops of the farmers with any advance forecast. Because, there is no weather forecast in the country keeping farmers and agriculture in mind. Farmers do not know when it will rain or when the water will rise; as a result, there crops and houses sink. Disaster management expert Gowhar Nayeem Wara said in this context, “If the farmers were informed that it would rain on such date or water would rise on such date, the crops of the farmers would not have been destroyed.” Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) head Bazlur Rahman feels that the country’s weather forecasting is still not centred on agriculture. “Do we know that warning signal 5, 6, 7 are the same warnings? Then how will the farmer know? It’s not meant for them, it’s for the port,” he said. According to him, if weather forecast are available, farmers and common people would be saved from many losses.
Mismanagement in Shelters
About 256,000 people and around 44,000 livestock can be sheltered in the 320 cyclone shelters along the coast. But people don’t want to take shelter there. Gowhar Nayeem Wara identified, “Two square feet of space is allotted to a person in the shelters. How long can a person stay in such a small space? Many have women and children in their families; can they stay that long? As a result, they don’t go there. For this, many die in cyclones.” “Even if there is infrastructure, it is not useful,” he added.
No Suitable Project Implemented
Although Bangladesh has achieved commendable success in disaster management, analysts feel there is still a long way to go. Disaster management expert and Bangladesh University of Professional Vice Chancellor, Professor Dr Khondoker Mokaddem Hossain pointed out that the preparation is not enough to deal with climate change. Death of people due to lightning has come forward as a disaster in Bangladesh recently. To prevent this, the project of planting 38 lakh palm trees all over the country was taken. But it has been replaced with a project of installing lightning-rods. Dr Hossain said, “Actually, not just palm trees, we need tall trees. We have caused our own disaster by cutting trees ourselves. 50 percent of the green belt projects in the coastal areas are now untraceable. Due to lack of maintenance, those trees have become turbulent. As a result, 775 km of coastline is vulnerable to salinity and storm surges.”
Even though Bangladesh is at the forefront of climate change’s calamitous effects, the country itself is not one of the main contributors to global carbon emissions. Many view this as climate injustice. Bangladesh produces only 0.56 tonnes of carbon di-oxide per capita, whereas the United States produces 15.52 tonnes and China produces 7.38 tonnes. Cases like this are one of the main reasons developing countries are calling for the developed world to fund their energy transition efforts. Experts suggests that Bangladesh, being a victim, should raise its voice and reinstate climate diplomacy policy. They suggest the country should raise funds and ask the major emitters for funding.
Bangladesh has established the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF) and the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) to address the challenges due to climate change. Bangladesh is exempt from any responsibility to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, which primarily causes global warming. Large developed industrial nations are emitting increasing quantities of GHGs. The country cannot go far in struggle with reducing emissions and fighting global warming with the funding. They should reconsider existing plans such as the ‘National Action Plan on Adaptation’ (NAPA) of 2005, and the ‘Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan’ (BCCSAP) of 2009. Additionally, several countries have pledged to provide funding for adaptation and mitigation in developing nations, such as Bangladesh, to build their capacity to reduce emissions and respond to impacts of climate change. This funding is intended to be balanced between mitigation and infrastructure adaptation in various sectors including forestry, science, technology and capacity building.
To counter the horrid effects of climate change, a comprehensive plan comprising 27 years and involving $230 billion to combat adverse impacts of climate change is set to be placed before the cabinet shortly. The draft plan titled ‘National Adaptation Plan (NAP) 2023-2050’ entails a detailed outline to attract both domestic and foreign funds, according to experts who drafted it. The NAP has been drafted selecting four sectors; water resources, agriculture, urban area and coastal zone. The plan has divided Bangladesh into 11 climate-change areas, and considering the target to become a developed country by 2041.
Can Bangladesh Achieve Most From CVF?
The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) was launched over 10 years ago, and has been operating since. The current chair of CVF is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose term is scheduled to end this year. CVF consisted of 48 member countries when Bangladesh took charge, and now has 55 developing countries after Sheikh Hasina led the group at the 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland last year. Over the years, the CVF has become a leading group of countries tackling climate change, and has evolved from emphasising their vulnerability to highlighting their resilience. And now, under Bangladesh’s leadership, it is focusing on climate prosperity with the development of Climate Prosperity Plans. The country needs to properly utilise its positional benefits for tackling upcoming climate challenges.
A major development that took place several years ago was the finance ministers of CVF countries banding together under the banner of V20. The V20 now consists of the finance ministers of all 55 CVF countries, chaired by the finance minister of Bangladesh. One of the highly innovative actions taken by the CVF finance ministers was the creation of the CVF and V20 Joint Multi-Donor Fund, with an initial funding from the CVF countries themselves, and then further contributions from international foundations and the government of Germany. The V20, with support from the fund, recently initiated a major programme to join the Resilience Initiative to provide support for subsidised insurance premiums against climate impacts, and for better data gathering on climate risks in the CVF countries. This will hopefully become a significant programme for Bangladesh in tackling damage from human-induced climate change.
More recent development under the CVF and V20 Joint Multi-Donor Fund has been the beginning of a new funding window to support the communities suffering the climate impacts in member countries, and get support to address the impacts of climate change after they have occurred. As the world has now entered the new era of loss and damage, the CVF and V20 fund is now the first UN fund to explicitly work on climate-related loss and damage. Bangladesh should look into this seriously to get the most. It is important to note that the finance ministers are not involved in the climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but they have to seek the money needed to cope with climate disasters such as floods, cyclones and droughts. Hence, they are by now well aware of the adverse impacts of climate change in their respective countries. They have, therefore, agreed to set up their own loss and damage fund under the CVF and V20 fund—a programme of assistance to the victims of climate change that welcomes contributions from others in the spirit of solidarity, and without invoking any liability or compensation. It is expected that this loss and damage fund and other programmes of the CVF and V20 can boost both funding and actions to address loss and damage from climate change, which might have a positive influence on the upcoming discussions on setting up a facility for financing loss and damage at COP27.
To wrap up, Bangladesh in last fifty years has moved from being vulnerable to being resilient and now achieved uncountable success stories in climate change adaptation, claiming the title of “Global Leaders in Adaptation.” As a result of an increasing number of cyclone shelters and improved early warning systems, deaths have been reduced by 100 fold in the last 50 years. The country now has more than 14,000 shelters, capable of holding 2.4 million people. Despite being the adaptation leader, there is still room to improve. Although the increased number of cyclone shelters has reduced deaths over the past few years; but the country still lack management techniques, and policies to address loss and damage generated after any climate change induced disasters. Therefore, Bangladesh desperately needs new transformative adaptation measures which will be integrated in local and national policies and will benefit communities at all levels. The country has also moved towards nature-based solutions and local adaptive measures, which experts believe an exceptional and timely initiative. The country should not be afraid to deviate from traditional adaptive measures and not be hesitant about sharing its mistakes in this adaptation journey. Then, Bangladesh can be introduced as a country bearing dual identities; first as one of the most vulnerable entities and second as adaptation champion!