Combating climate change: Agenda for Bangladesh
CLIMATE change issues in Bangladesh are generally viewed as the way issues are perceived at global scales. The activities and action plans those are currently in progress in Bangladesh are deeply influenced by the estimates and model predictions produced by IPCC. The most recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4, 2007) states that climate is indeed changing and mentioned that this change took place over the decades as a result of human activities.
The changes those have been taking place at regional scale or at global level have strong connections with the occurrence of natural hazards at local levels such as floods, cyclones and drought, specially in our part of the globe. Therefore, relying upon global estimates of climate change should be considered necessary and is justified. However, we also need to be aware and careful about the recent developments and confusions taking place on related issues at international forums. Especially the outcomes of Copenhagen meeting and recent emergence of misconducts and wrongdoings in the climate change related assessments should be taken seriously by the government of Bangladesh.
It is pertinent to mention in this regard that CoP 15 meeting held in Copenhagen in December 2009 rarely brought fruits that the countries like Bangladesh wanted to see, specially in terms of endorsing firm commitments on adaptation funding. Moreover, the confusions recently turned up with model estimations at Hadley Centre (based in East Anglia University, UK) and recent removal of widely used global temperature rise Hocky Stick graph from the latest Climate Change Compendium of the UNEP made a big knock on the accuracy of global scale assessments and appropriateness to quote in local contexts.
And lastly, recent acknowledgement of conducting mistake in sea level rise estimations by the UN Secretary General regarding glacier melt hypothesis in the Himalayan region may cause parties like Bangladesh to be more careful (please know more from Swedish Geologist and Physicist, former Chairman of the prestigious INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change about the IPCC's errors).
We need to understand the adverse local impacts of climate change in terms of the disturbance in morphological processes, biophysical systems and on socio-economic conditions. Clear understanding about these issues, the consequences of their breakdown (i.e. the physical and social systems and processes) on human life and livelihoods would be necessary to develop future direction for Bangladesh in regards to the implementation of climate change related action plans.
We also need to be careful in developing directions for climate change adaptation and mitigation because not all the impacts are the sole results of climate change, rather different development activities as a combined effect make a community vulnerable by destabilising the physical, social, economic characteristics of the society. These overlapping phenomena and their aggregated impacts need to be discerned properly to identify what is responsible for what. This distinction will help to delve for the correct approach for tackling climate change threats.
Based on the above background, this article attempts to set certain agenda so that climate change issues could be examined as contingent to local circumstances which could later guide to produce future directives for Bangladesh to combat the impacts.
Understanding local context of climate change
IPCC received climatic data in estimating global temperature increase from weather stations which were able to maintain the criteria such as (i) the weather station should have been engaged in gathering weather data at least for 130 years, (ii) data should be recorded through maintaining scientific procedure. Only few weather stations from different parts of the world were able to meet those criteria, especially which were established in developing countries. No weather stations from Bangladesh qualify for those criteria. Therefore, the way IPCC model results are produced may be appropriate to ascertain climate change for global scale but may not be properly suitable for understanding local pattern of change. IPCC results also indicate that change in the climatic variables is not always linear; nor always mean increase. Therefore, it can be said that deriving strait-forward conclusion about change would be difficult, at least at local levels, without focusing on local data to understand the local pattern of change.
A study, undertaken by this author and appeared as a book, shows that summer average temperature for Sylhet has slightly increased while for Dinajpur station, the 30-year trend line shows temperature decrease. Even Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) expressed its concern by mentioning “…we are still uncertain about the timing and exact magnitude of the likely impacts of climate change”. It is also necessary to understand the effect of sea level rise in our coastal areas within the context of our geo-physical and tectonic processes including tidal basin dynamics, dynamics of 600 million ton sediment load that our country annually receives, runoff and river morphological processes, the size of the river basin and so on before making any inference.
In this respect, there is a need to set off major research initiatives (not sporadic efforts) that may develop a likely climate change scenario based on local climatic variables and other pertinent parameters.
Assessing factors and processes responsible for impacts
Some of the natural disasters in Bangladesh are the results of combined outcomes of many different human interventions and may be the effects of climate change. For example, all the water inundation events may not be attributed to climate change; rather unplanned development activities are sometimes responsible for flood hazards, water logging. Similarly, shrimp cultivation, withdrawal of water by the upstream neighbouring countries and sea level rise all may collectively contribute to salinity problems in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. In this respect, the different origins of certain events that have identical consequential signs (e.g. floods or water-logging) may need to identify properly so that contribution of climate change on that event could be ascertained. This distinction may help design future directives for the country to deal with major and minor factors responsible for making the communities susceptible to adversities.
Determining achievement indicators of adaptation interventions
The National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA), the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) gives a long list of programmes under six thematic sectors to be implemented in order to develop capacity of the individuals, community and institutions so that they can cope with the climate change uncertainties. BCCSAP clearly demonstrates, the thrust of the strategy should be based on sustainable development, poverty reduction and increased well being of the vulnerable groups. It indicates that the strategic action plan aims to develop overall capacity of the community that is sustainable, and secure a wider impact in the society. Disaster management by enhancing community resilience is also echoed in the Hyogo Framework of Action 2005-2015 and also in the National Plan for Disaster Management 2007-2015 of Bangladesh.
However, the BCCSAP did not mention what would be the quantifiable indicators by which achievement of implementing interventions to reduce climate change impacts could be determined. It also did not mention whether any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is required or not before deploying any adaptation interventions. In this regard, there is a need to develop indicators that will be useful to crosscheck the progress of climate change adaptation activities and put those assessment indicators in the future directions to address climate change impacts.
Identifying appropriate mitigation options
Mitigation options are generally less prioritized in the climate change initiatives in Bangladesh since her contribution to green house gas emission is negligible although industrialized world is pointing at methane (one of major green house gases) production in the rain-fed agriculture systems in the developing countries. Despite all the arguments, Bangladesh might need to plan for several options for mitigating climate change, at least at local levels; emphasis on energy efficiency in the form of renewable energy development, large scale tree plantation projects, and appropriate urban waste management for the reduction of methane gas would be suitable as climate change mitigation.
Large scale tree plantation may help to develop microclimatic conditions in an area by lowering temperature, instigating rainfall, helping groundwater recharge by intercepting rainwater, prevent soil erosion, act as wind breaks and so on. In addition to these direct impacts, there are many off spin benefits of vegetation coverage in an area such as, soil formation, habitat maintenance for different species and to keep biodiversity rich. These benefits, in turn, may act as the base of climate change adaptation.
There is no doubt that climate change is taking place and its consequential impacts are becoming visible in different forms. It is immensely important for a resource scarce country like Bangladesh to examine and understand the pattern, dynamics, scale of influence/impact of certain problems before deploying interventions. Impacts of the proposed interventions on environment and society also need to be scrutinized to make sure that the actions are sustainable and right for the local environment and communities. Inappropriate actions may make the situation worse or gap in understanding may deter us employing alternative actions which may be more effective to address the problem.