Climate Change Adaptations in Bangladesh - Dr Swapan Paul
There remains no further doubt that human-induced Climate Change and Sea Level Rise will have profound impacts on the lands, lives and livelihoods of the people living all over the world, however, very badly the people in Bangladesh. Very many forms of changes that have been predicted to take place in Bangladesh include increases in intensity and frequency of extended rainfalls; extended droughts; prolonged cold fronts; more frequent and intense floods, cyclone and hurricanes; greater fluctuations in water table; inundations of seaward lands by the rising sea level; more pests and diseases to crops; etc. In fact, many of these have already been taking place. Together, or in isolation, these disasters will bring tremendous troubles and chaos for the nation. Loss of land, life and livestock; loss of crops; loss of income; more expenses in rebuilding and reconstruction; loss of working and school days; unsecured food reserve; loss of biodiversity; decreases in protein intake and increased malnutrition; diseases and disabilities; land erosion and sedimentation; changes in water courses; increased pollution; etc will be among the consequences and sufferings. Ultimately, the end results will be famine, increased corruption, disrupted law and order, political unrest and even civil war.
Climate sceptics do not want to accept the above. They claim that these are meant to happen anyway and they are natural phenomena. Their beliefs are often religion-motivated and akin to punishments given to people by God for their evil acts. Their ‘fear’ is for God; not the climate change and its effects on people. They are not prepared to make any counter-projections because they do not believe in science; their bases are simply ‘beliefs’ and illogical negativity. Climate predictions or projections are primarily based on scientific modelling and maths; their arguments are based on beliefs or myths. Such sceptics can trust science for devising life-saving tools and medicine but when it comes to climate science, they remain one-eyed.
Climate models are essentially mathematical representations of the climate system, expressed as computer code and run on powerful computers. Climate models use mathematical equations that describe the behaviour of the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, snow cover, the land surface, and other elements of the Earth system, including the biosphere. Climate models are constructed by dividing the earth into a series of grid boxes. These grid boxes define the spatial resolution of the model and are normally constructed in such a way to resolve the important physical processes occurring in the climate. The size of the grid boxes vary from a few hundred kilometres for ‘coarse’ resolution, to hundreds of meters for ‘fine’ resolution models. Climate models are designed for two main purposes: (i) to simulate the processes that produce climate and (ii) to project the future trends. They take various forms and involve various levels of complexity, depending upon the application for which they are designed. The earliest climate models were representative in nature, attempting to describe and explain the workings of the atmosphere rather than predict them. In the recent times, a majority of the climate models involved projections.
Essentially, climate projection models are based on some specific assumptions. Climate models in these days are more of projections. Projections differ from forecasts. Projections are based on trends analysis and simulations, not the real-life data. The single largest limitation in any climate modelling is that it is not an experiment; we do not have another earth to conduct experiments by changing or relocating it. Therefore, it is based on trends analysis and the projections are limited by assumptions. When any parameters in the assumptions do not behave the way it was assumed, there may be a deviation in the model output. This is a universal limitation in any modelling, whether climate, traffic or population. So, irrespective of how strong a climate analysis model may be, it will always have to live with some uncertainties, which are mainly derived from the changes in the factors of assumptions. The target always has been to reduce or minimise uncertainties and not ignoring or avoiding uncertainties.
In addition to the abovementioned limitations, the other limitation of global climate modelling is that the inputs (data) in trends analysis are global averages, not always regional or local datasets. Naturally, there remains a range in the individual data that are gathered and fed to the trend analysis. It is, therefore, obvious that the projections are often unlikely to represent any regional or local events; rather they are global in nature. For example, global temperature increase is estimated using the simulation with increased greenhouse gases run over a period of time, typically 100 to 200 years in the future. The initial conditions are the present-day climate conditions, so uncertainties in the projection of future climate are related to (1) uncertainty that the climate models may not perfectly represent the real system, and (ii) the lesser temperature increase in the future.
For the benefit of climate science, climate scientists keep debating yet working together towards gaining more accuracy in the projections. Often, climate sceptics take advantage of this situation of climate scientists questioning each other’s scientific rigor. Systematic questioning is the foundation of scientific methods but it does no good when the critics are opportunistic.
Adaptation is adjustments of a system to reduce vulnerability and to increase the resilience of a system to change, in this case in the climate system. Adaptation occurs at a range of inter-connected scales, and can either occur in anticipation of change, or be a response to those changes. Most adaptation being implemented at present is responding to current climate trends and variability. Some adaptation measures, however, are anticipating future climate change, such as the construction of a bridge at a higher elevation to take into account the effect of future sea-level rise on ship clearance under the bridge.
Since a majority of the climate impacts would be taking place and there are no means to revert them in the near future, the best strategy should be to progressively adjust or adapt our own actions to avoid devastations from those changes. Adaptation has the potential to reduce adverse impacts of climate change and to enhance beneficial impacts, but will incur costs and will not prevent all damages. Extremes, variability, and rates of change are all key features in addressing vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, not simply changes in average climate conditions.
Human and natural systems will to some degree adapt autonomously to climate change. Planned adaptation can supplement autonomous adaptation, though there are more options and greater possibility for offering incentives in the case of adaptation of human systems than in the case of adaptation to protect natural systems.
How to adapt and what specific measures or means to be employed depends on the nature of the trigger, locality, resources and potential victims. For example, measures for floods in an urban area would most likely be addressed differently in case of rural farming areas.
When it comes to adaptation tools it is not necessary that all tools would need be freshly invented or newly devised. In fact, there have been many measures or tools that can be procured from our existing practices, however, being practiced in different situations. For example, to cope with prolonged drought, southern part of Bangladesh may need to grow crops that currently (usually) grow in the northern part of the country under low-irrigation/low-water condition. Another example could be traditional way of leading life in the hilly areas of the country, which may be an adaptation measure for other non-hilly parts of the country in the event of a climate response. In this manner, much time might not have to be invested in discovering a measure or a tool, which may have already been prevailing in another part or another culture within Bangladesh. Certainly, there are situations where further research and innovations would be warranted, as adaptation challenges may be unique and some responses may have to be quick.
Bangladesh’s diverse geographical, topographical, ethnic and cultural diversity may itself provide answers to many of our adaptation challenges. Whilst its under-developed status is a big setback in sourcing funds for implementing adaptation measures, its thousands years’ practices may well be a repository for sustainable solutions to very many adaptation challenges. What is needed is to look around and look back. It may well be a world leader in climate adaptation measures. One approach may be to explore and compile traditional tools that have been spread all over the country, create databases, match them with potential adaptation measures, identify any further improvements or modernisation that is required to meet present-day needs, trial the new measures and then finally rollout.
The International Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and Development
The establishment of the International Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and Development in Dhaka in 2009 is a significant boost for the developing nations in taking adaptation measures, especially community-based adaptation measures.
The Center is located just outside of Dhaka, at the Independent University, in Bangladesh, and has linked academic and research between some of the leading universities of the world, including the United Nations University, the Institute for Development Studies, the University of East Anglia, Oxford University and Imperial College in the UK; Universities of Toronto, Guelph and British Columbia in Canada and Wesleyan, Harvard and Yale in the US, as well as a number of universities in developing countries.
Managed from London, by the International Institute for Environment and Development, with assistance in Bangladesh from the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, the Center is already a productive source for helping Bangladesh adapt to climate change.
Dr. Saleemul Huq has been leading this Centre who has already relocated to Dhaka from London. The Center’s International Advisory Board includes R. K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and a member of the START Scientific Steering Committee and Ian Burton, professor at the Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Toronto.
It has opened its operation to the Bangladesh community with its first short course on community based adaptation (CBA) aimed at NGOs in November 2009. Then, in Autumn of 2010, the Center has started Masters courses in Climate Change and Development.
Although there is much to be done in reducing uncertainties and improving global climate models but information from today’s climate models are already useful. The range of possibilities highlighted for future climate at all scales clearly demonstrates the urgency for climate change mitigation measures and provides non-discountable ranges which can be used by the impacts community. Most organisations are very familiar with uncertainty of many different kinds and even qualitative guidance can have substantial value in the design of robust adaptation strategies which minimise vulnerability to both climate variability and change. Better and accurate communication can be also helpful in managing public perceptions. Many adaptation measures may already exist but just need explorations. The International Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and Development in Dhaka, no doubt, will work with many community-based groups and bodies to facilitate climate adaptation measures for Bangladesh as well lead the world.284