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Call for immediate adaptation as climate crisis intensifies

UNB . Dhaka
11 Feb 2024 14:42:22 | Update: 11 Feb 2024 16:18:43
Call for immediate adaptation as climate crisis intensifies
— Representational Photo

Bangladesh has been on the front line of climate change for decades, repeatedly confronting heatwaves, tropical cyclones, floods and droughts. Between 2000 and 2019, the country experienced 185 extreme weather events, making it the seventh most vulnerable to climate change.

In June 2023, temperatures surpassed 40 degrees Celsius during a prolonged heat wave.

Average losses per year from cyclone damage amount to an estimated $1 billion, an average of 0.7 per cent of GDP annually.

The recent scientific synthesis by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) highlights the exacerbating of climate vulnerabilities and the cascading effects on people's lives.

Saber H Chowdhury, Environment, Forest & Climate Change Minister, emphasized during COP28, "Due to our country's geographical position, we are witnessing flooding, depletion of water sources, escalating sea levels, and the intrusion of salinity. Projections indicate that millions, perhaps 1/7 of the population, might face displacement as per the World Bank's estimations."

The report highlighted that climatic impacts already damage ecosystems, livelihoods, infrastructure and food security. The recent rise in heat waves exposes workers to heat stress, costing lives and reducing productivity.

In 2017, floods made more likely by climate change contributed to a 30 per cent hike in rice prices. The rise in sea level is forcing people to leave their homes and has increased the amount of land affected by saline soils by 27 per cent.

Professor A K M Saiful Islam, Director of the Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and a Lead author of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) stated, "Sea level around South Asia will continue to rise over the 21st century, increasing flooding in low-lying Bangladesh. This will devastate vital food crops, forcing more people to leave their homes."

The report states that Bangladesh has been recognized as a pioneering least-developed country in adaptation and resilience.

The adaptation policies and local initiatives have saved many lives and averted the worst impacts of climate change.

Afsara Binte Mirza, Research Officer at ICCCAD, stated, "Increasingly, national policies are recognizing the vital importance of locally-led adaptation.

The concept refers to adaptation that is "controlled by local people, grounded in local realities, ensures equity and inclusivity, and is facilitated by local networks and institutions.”

However, despite progress in adopting locally led adaptation as an approach, significant gaps still need to be addressed in monitoring and implementing these policies at the grassroots level and their effectiveness.

In the last few decades, the number of people who have died during cyclones has fallen from six digits (e.g., 300,000+ from Cyclone Bhola in 1970) to double digits (e.g., 35 from Cyclone Sitrang in 2022), largely due to the success of the country's Cyclone Preparedness Programme.

Prof Mizan R Khan, Deputy Director of ICCCAD and one of the leading authors highlighted, "Although the number of cyclones has fallen over the satellite era (1970–2015), the proportion of intense events has increased. Average losses yearly from cyclone damage amount to an estimated $1 billion (0.7per cent of GDP)."

Additionally, the report stresses other national initiatives, such as community-based early warning systems, strengthening of polders, coastal afforestation and elevated housing, which have reduced the human cost and damage of extreme weather events.

In the last few decades, the government has invested in saline-tolerant rice varieties, floating agriculture in regions that suffer flooding, and water-saving technologies in drought-prone areas to help safeguard food security in the face of increasingly extreme weather.

The report highlights major findings based on the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, including how climate impacts in Bangladesh are increasing alarmingly and that current policies and adaptation strategies will not be enough to safeguard the people and ecosystems.

For instance, by the end of the century, even under a very low emissions scenario, Bangladesh could see a further 0.8°C of warming compared with 1981–2010, and heavier rainfall could increase peak river flow by 16 per cent relative to 1971–2000, raising the inevitable risk of flooding.

Even with accelerated climate action, continued warming and more extreme weather will strain adaptation efforts in Bangladesh, making it harder to protect lives and livelihoods.

For instance, a global temperature rise of 3°C is projected to decrease labour productivity in Asia by 25 percentage points for those working outside in full sunlight and by 19 percentage points for those working in the shade or indoors.

This will particularly affect Bangladesh, where 37per cent of employed people work in agriculture and 22per cent in the industrial sector.

The authors also stress the consequences of saline water infiltrating groundwater and surface water resources, affecting drinking water supplies and, potentially, human health.

An often-overlooked effect of salinity intrusion is on the menstrual health and hygiene of women and adolescent girls in coastal regions of Bangladesh.

This problem serves to intensify wider social insecurities.

Bangladesh is ahead of several less-developed countries adopting instrumental climate change adaptation policies and plans.

However, current policies could be more effectively implemented with improved governance and better integration of Indigenous knowledge and the needs of local communities into adaptation policy.

Maintaining Bangladesh's status as an adaptation champion requires closing the gap between top-down government adaptation activities and bottom-up projects centered on local perspectives.

At the national level, adequate and long-term domestic finance is needed to support adaptation efforts.

The accelerating impacts of climate change in Bangladesh highlight an urgent need to scale up international action against climate change.

As the loss and damage fund was established in COP28, the pledges need to be clearer on how the money will be distributed, with the potential not to reach the countries that need it most.

Nonetheless, Bangladesh supports a loss and damage mechanism that upholds principles of climate justice, collectively addresses the extensive adaptation finance needs of vulnerable countries, and follows participatory decision-making approaches such that the voices of the intended beneficiaries are represented.

Saber H Chowdhury also stated during COP28, "Acknowledging the very real climate impacts, we find solace in establishing a loss and damage mechanism at COP28. Reflecting on the UNFCCC's responsiveness in decisions like Sharm El Sheikh, within 12 months, over 600 million USD has been allocated—an initial step, yet hopefully the beginning of greater contributions. Bangladesh aims to proactively access and efficiently utilize these funds nationally, drawing upon Bangladesh's wealth of experience in adaptation."

Moreover, it will be critical for Bangladesh to transition away from fossil and get the needed technological and financial support from developing nations to work on a just transition strategically.

Additionally, Bangladesh must meet the conditional and unconditional emission reduction targets mentioned in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).