Climate Change and Bangladesh - Kamrul Ahsan Khan
As world leaders continue to fight over how and when to act on climate change, Bangladesh is losing time to save its future. Bangladesh will be one of the worst-affected countries by climate change. According to United Nations estimates, if the climate continues to warm at the same rate, over 100 million Bangladeshi climate refugees will be internally displaced and the country will lose 10 percent of its landmass from rising sea levels and river-bank erosion. Bangladesh’s fertile land will be rendered barren due to increased salinity. The country will be strangled by droughts in the winter and increasing floods in the Monsoon. More and more natural disasters such as floods and cyclones will wreak havoc on already vulnerable communities. Diseases will multiply. Our families, friends, communities and collective futures are threatened. Our natural wonders like the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world and home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, will virtually vanish.
These statistics may seem abstract to many around the world. But to Bangladeshis, this is a deep and disturbing reality. However, there still may be a chance to limit these dangers of climate change. The responsibility lies both with the international community and Bangladeshis living at home and abroad.
Mitigating this catastrophe will one of the most significant challenges of our lifetime. Globally, the only way we can combat these threats is for high carbon-emitting countries to make immediate and deep cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions.
Tragically, the countries that will be affected, and, in cases, annihilated, are not the high emitters of greenhouse gases. Bangladesh, like many other countries that will be hit hardest by climate change, has contributed the least towards climate change. Sadly, the countries that are responsible for the highest greenhouse gas emissions, have not demonstrated the urgency that this challenge requires. But, recently, more and more of global leaders are demonstrating the willingness to recognise that climate change is bigger than the short-term self-interest of nations and mitigation is imperative.
There are plenty of ways to significantly limit the dangers of climate change. Firstly, advanced industrial countries, such as the United States, Britain and Australia, must reduce carbon emission by at least 40% within 2020, followed by a gradual phase-out of carbon emissions. A backlash will surely be expected due to the lifestyle changes this requires, but these governments must remind their citizens that a failure to change their lifestyle would end the lives of hundreds of millions. Global citizens must be made aware that even this level of drawdown of emissions will expose Bangladesh and other low-lying states to potential catastrophe. Secondly, a collective fund must be created to compensate the damage that will be incurred from the effects of climate change. Thirdly, there must be a greater willingness to share technology with countries going through heavy industrialisation so they can reconcile clean energy with economic development. Bangladesh is a prime candidate for such technology, given its robust economic growth generated by a thriving manufacturing sector that requires greater industrialisation.
Unfortunately, these mitigating efforts will not be enough. Many of climate change’s harmful effects are irreversible due to the high concentration of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. Hence, adaptation must be given key simultaneous focus along with climate change mitigation. Adaptation measures require both global and local efforts.
Industrially developed countries must work with Bangladesh to develop adaptation measures. Bangladesh already leads adaptation research and practice in the world. Historically, Bangladeshis’ acquaintance with floods and droughts has provided them with rich indigenous knowledge on adaptation. But, they need help now due to the rise in frequency and intensity of floods and droughts caused by climate change. Independent researchers and development practitioners are training locals to use their indigenous knowledge-base to find new ways, but finance and technology are in short supply. Health experts already struggle with sheer volume of patients. But, as diseases multiply, they will be left further exposed. Moreover, comprehensive defence against climate change’s inundation and more frequent natural disasters require large, costly and cumbersome projects. As such a mix of finance and technical help is imperative.
Just as importantly, countries must discuss ways of accommodating millions of climate refugees and its consequent security concerns. With over-population already a problem, the loss of landmass will further compound the problem for Bangladesh, which is likely to have a population of 222 million by 2050. Although Bangladesh’s climate refugee problem will be most acutely felt by India, the tremors will be felt across the globe.
Bangladeshis also have a very important role to play.
Internally, Bangladeshis must ensure the government is prepared to implement adaptation strategies. The government must develop the capacity to absorb financial and technical help. Moreover, it must demonstrate sincerity in its efforts rather than show enthusiasm for greater funds, which have had a history of ending up in the wrong pockets. Most importantly, Bangladesh must draw up a comprehensive plan to adapt to climate change that is ecologically and economically sustainable.
For those of us living overseas, our role is just as important. We in the Bangladesh community in Australia can play a critical role in shaping Australia’s response to climate change, as Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gas.
Firstly, we can work as ambassadors for change in Australia. Members of the Bangladeshi community in Australia have already made significant contributions to Australian life. From restaurants and train stations to doctors and engineers, members of the Bangladeshi community have demonstrated a strong willingness to engage with the local community. In our daily professional and social lives, we can raise awareness of the dangers of climate change not only to Bangladesh, but also to other countries, especially Australia. A greater awareness of these issues will be invaluable in mobilising popular opinion in favour of tougher action on climate change.
Politically, we can use the weight of our growing size and influence in the community to shape Australia’s policy on climate change. In 2010, the Australian parliament will decide the country’s response to climate change for the next decades. It is imperative that we in the Bangladeshi community add our voice to lobby our local MPs and the federal government to curb its greenhouse gas emission to 350 ppm. As the debate swings between the short-term loss to the coal and agriculture industry and the future of our planet, the effect of climate change on Bangladesh, along with other countries including Australia, must be stressed. We have already received encouraging support from members of the present government, including Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
Our goal to mobilise popular opinion and political action must be larger than deep emission cuts. We can push our local MPs to ensure that the Australian government, along with other industrialised countries responsible for most of the world’s emission of greenhouse gases, can transfer the necessary financial and technological resources to developing countries like Bangladesh to adapt to climate change.
There is no one better placed to present Bangladesh’s case in Australia than the Bangladeshi community.
With Australia’s climate change role in the balance, there is no better time to represent Bangladesh’s cause in Australia. It is time we utilise this opportunity to not only restrict climate change’s effects on Bangladesh, but also contribute to building a safer world in the future.
Kamrul Ahsan Khan
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