What to do about climate change
CALAMITIES such as Cyclone Sidr, endemic sea level rise and recurrent floods serve as testimony to the realities of climate change. These events call for Bangladesh to brace for a future in which it must live with environmental disasters on a daily basis.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- the global watchdog on climate change has identified South Asia as the most susceptible region in the world to climate change. The international community also recognises that Bangladesh is especially vulnerable due to hydro-geological and socio-economic factors that include: geography, flat deltaic topography with low elevation, extreme climate variability governed by monsoons, high population density and poverty incidence and dependency on crop agriculture, highly influenced by climate variability and change.
Despite recent strides towards achieving sustainable development, Bangladesh faces significant challenges posed by climate change. It is, therefore, of utmost importance to assess its vulnerability in terms of population, areas at risk, and potential for adaptation.
The fragile bio-diversity of Bangladesh
Pressures on Bangladesh's resources are intense and growing, due to the poor management of aquatic and terrestrial resources, population growth, overexploitation, indiscriminate development of infrastructure, and agricultural expansion.
Bangladesh is endowed with several natural ecosystems, including the inland sal forest, dipterocarp forest, savanna, bamboo bushes and swamp forests. In addition, the country has very rich aquatic bio-diversity (with over 400 species) and bird and plant life, all of which are threatened by human intervention and habitat erosion. Climate change adds another dimension to these ongoing problems.
The Bangladesh Climate Change Country Study analysed the impact of climate change on Bangladesh's forest resources, finding that increased rainfall during the monsoon causes increased runoff on forest floors (instead of infiltration into the soil), leading to soil erosion.
In contrast, enhanced evapo-transpiration in winter would increase moisture stress, especially in the northeastern tea plantations and the Barind and Madhupur Tract areas, affecting the sal forest. The most severely affected region, however, would be the Sundarbans mangrove forest. Due to a combination of high evapo-transpiration and low flow in winter, soil salinity would increase, affecting the growth of freshwater species.
Eventually, non-woody shrubs and bushes would replace the forest canopy, significantly decreasing the forest's overall productivity. The degradation of forest quality might cause a gradual depletion of flora and fauna in the Sundarbans ecosystem, endangering species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger and the sundari, the dominant tree of the Sundarbans.
Little research has been conducted to fully investigate the implications of climate change on ecosystems and bio-diversity, though it has been suggested that they face the greatest risk. Because the management of ecosystems is relatively weak in its institutional capacity, adaptation to climate change warrants special arrangements. Future strategies, founded upon existing processes and practices, should be designed to reduce the adverse effects of climate change.
Though some strategies to counter climate change have been pioneered at the community level, addressing future issues appears problematic for Bangladesh and may require an integrated systems approach within communities. It will also be important to monitor the effects of climate change in different areas, to more accurately predict the full extent of the phenomenon's impact and, thus, clearly target challenges to effective resolutions.
It is evident from scientific research that the severity and frequency of the effects will increase in the future and, therefore, limit our existing coping strategies, calling for new and improved measures. This necessitates the creation of a research system within the existing framework for studying climate change. However, it is important to bear in mind that no adaptive measure can entirely eradicate the impacts of climate change and climatic variability.
The following measures must be taken to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of Bangladeshi people. These are based both on existing and suggested future coping mechanisms and practices. While addressing the climate change issues on various levels, we should uphold the following methods of intervention and facilitation.
- Promoting adaptation to coastal crop agriculture to combat increased salinity.
- Identifying drought and saline resistant tree species to be included in plantation programs.
- Researching the impacts of bio-diversity loss.
- Reducing climate change hazards through coastal afforestation.
- Strengthening community level resilience to cope with the changing scenario.
- Integrating climate change in infrastructure design, conflict management and land water zoning for water management institutions.
- Exploring insurance options to cope with natural disasters.
- Mainstreaming climate change adaptation into policies and programs in environment, disaster management, water, agriculture, health and industry sectors
- Integrating environmental issues in educational curriculums.
- Disseminating environmental information to vulnerable communities for emergency preparation and consciousness-raising.
- Promoting research on drought, flood and saline tolerant varieties of trees and plants.
- Developing eco-specific knowledge (including indigenous knowledge) on climate variability to enhance resolutions for future environmental issues.
Bangladesh must continue to develop and strive as a nation, taking into account its susceptibility and its ability to manage environmental threats. The government should take bold steps to prepare and respond to the challenge -- regional and international cooperation is essential to help the country and its people build the necessary capacity and resilience. The measures suggested above must be considered and implemented to mitigate the impact of climate change and to achieve sustainable development in accordance with the global effort to combat environmental degradation.
The threat of climate change is very real, and the associated challenges are formidable. As a country, however, we have a legacy and history of wading through seemingly insurmountable crises and odds; our resilience remains our greatest asset and weapon in overcoming this emerging endangerment.