Covid-19 and SDG 13: Countering Climate Change
In a "stag hunt" game, multiple hunters must cooperate each other to successfully encircle and hunt a stag. In the event that a hunter fails to cooperate and instead hunts a rabbit, it will no longer be possible for the remaining hunters to catch the stag. In such a case, the hunters will be better off abandoning any idea of cooperation and individually hunting rabbits for themselves. As long as the total meat obtained from the single stag is greater than the total meat obtained from all the rabbits, the hunters lose from failing to cooperate among themselves.
In many ways, global problems such as the Covid-19 pandemic or the climate change crisis, which demand greater international cooperation in order to be tackled successfully, may also be viewed as stag hunt games. Unless all countries of the world cooperate among themselves to deal with the "stags" of Covid-19 and climate change, we will ultimately be left with only "rabbits", if anything at all.
As one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, Bangladesh is in a precarious position when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, which calls upon countries to "take urgent actions to combat climate change and its impacts". Up to 15 percent of the land area of the country could be inundated by 2050 due to the rise in sea level caused by climate change. Projections show that Bangladesh could lose around 1.1 percent of its GDP due to climate change during the period 2017-2041. According to data from Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the total number of households affected by natural disasters increased from 550,555 in 2009 to 1,934,629 in 2014. This implies that as many as 44.36 percent of all households in the country were affected by natural disasters in 2014.
Although every natural disaster cannot be directly attributed to climate change, there is substantial evidence that anthropogenic climate change is responsible for the increase in the frequency, intensity and amount of heavy rainfall globally. Hence, the increase in the number of households affected by natural disasters in Bangladesh over the years can be partly explained by climate change.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has caused a precipitous fall in economic activity leading to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions. Satellite data for Bangladesh showed that between February 1, 2020 and May 30, 2020, the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide fell by 40 percent and the average concentration of sulphur dioxide fell by 43 percent, compared to the same time period in 2019. Unfortunately, global greenhouse gas emission was estimated to fall by 6 percent in 2020, which is less than the target of a fall of 7.6 percent required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as proposed by the Paris Agreement. This elucidates that countries are significantly off-track in terms of achieving SDG 13 and even radical reductions in economic activities may not be sufficient to prevent global warming.
It must be kept in mind that climate change is caused by the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions over time, and so the decrease in pollution due to lockdowns in 2020 would have only a limited effect without more reductions in emissions year-on-year. Thus, fundamentally different approaches are required to mitigate the drivers of climate change and to march forth on the road to a green recovery from Covid-19.
In the midst of the pandemic, the effects of anthropogenic climate change continued to increase the number of natural disasters and amplify their deadliness. Thus, climate-vulnerable populations became more vulnerable due to Covid-19 and their ability to absorb shocks was compromised. On May 20, 2020, super cyclone Amphan hit 19 southern districts of Bangladesh, killing 26 people and affecting 2.6 million others. The cyclone affected more than 176,000 hectares of productive land and partly or completely damaged 261,135 houses and 440 kilometres of roads. It also damaged or destroyed 18,235 tube-wells and 40,894 toilets, creating a water-sanitation-hygiene (WASH) crisis and compromising the ability of households to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Some estimates suggest that economic loss due to Amphan would be equivalent to at least Tk 11 billion (or approximately USD 130 million). Cyclones such as Amphan make it very difficult for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) such as Bangladesh to fight Covid-19 or achieve SDG 13.
While Bangladesh continues to repeatedly feel the brunt of anthropogenic climate change, the country itself has contributed very little to global warming. Recent research has shown that between 1990 and 2015, the richest one percent of the global population caused twice as much carbon emissions as the poorest 50 percent of the global population. Such extreme carbon inequality means that the ostentatious lifestyles of a small group of super-rich individuals in developed countries is causing anthropogenic climate change which is endangering the basic survival of millions of poor people in countries like Bangladesh. Unless a concerted global effort is made to address carbon inequality and chart a path of green recovery from Covid-19, we will simply be moving forward from one disaster to another in the years ahead.
In the book titled "Four Years of SDGs in Bangladesh: Measuring Progress and Charting the Path Forward", which I co-authored, we call for a number of steps that need to be taken urgently in order to implement SDG 13 in the context of Bangladesh. These steps include: i) scaling up adaptation measures to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change; ii) implementing national adaptation plans through participatory measures, and strengthening adaptation-related institutional arrangements; iii) increasing investment in renewable energy to make agriculture and manufacturing greener; iv) campaigning for greater funding of climate change adaption measures and joining forces with other climate-vulnerable countries to persuade developed countries to fulfil their climate funding commitments; v) considering transboundary action and collaboration on mitigation and adaptation by setting up a separate fund amongst climate-vulnerable countries to address the impacts of climate change on the lives and livelihoods of people; and vi) increasing natural disaster preparedness by improving the efficiency of multi-hazard early warning systems.
Syed Yusuf Saadat is a Senior Research Associate at Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).