The subject of adaptation to climate change has gone through two major phases already and is now on its third phase.
The first phase was about identifying and stopping “maladaptation” to the future impacts of climate change. This was based on initial vulnerability assessments in each country, and identifying policies and actions that instead of reducing vulnerability were in fact enhancing vulnerability to climate change impacts, such as building on floodplains that would be flooded more frequently in future due to climate change. A major portion of this phase, of vulnerability assessments, has already been completed in most countries, and steps to prevent further maladaptations are now in place.
The second phase of adaptation to climate change, which is still underway, looks at current and planned investments in different sectors of countries, adding investments and actions to make them more adaptive to the adverse impacts of climate change. This phase is called “incremental adaptation”, and cities and countries around the world are currently focusing on this phase of adaptation.
The third phase, which is still in the stage of theory rather than implementation, is the notion of “transformational adaptation”, which means going well beyond just incremental adaptation to manage the additional risks due to climate change to make transformational changes.
I will share below some thoughts on how Bangladesh can become perhaps the world's first country to carry out transformational adaptation at scale.
First, let me start with the more conventional incremental adaptation phase where we have already identified the low lying coastal zones of the country as being the most vulnerable to possible salinity intrusion due to sea level rise, affecting millions of people living there. Another associated vulnerability to those millions of people forced to drink saline water is that young women, particularly pregnant mothers, are especially vulnerable to high blood pressure which can lead to problems at childbirth. Therefore, the immediate (incremental) adaptation is to provide fresh and safe drinking water to these people, especially to young women.
However, we can also start to think about moving beyond simply looking at girls as victims of climate change but rather as potential agents of change, not only for themselves and their respective families but for the entire country. This can be done if we formulate a priority programme of investment in education (not just quantity but also quality), that can enhance the skills of the girls of Bangladesh (with a focus on the coastal zone). This will enable them to obtain gainful employment in towns and cities inland away from the coast.
There is one other corollary that will need to be done at the same time; investing in creating educational and job opportunities in around a dozen towns further inland so that girls can study or work within their own communities.
Thus, over the next decade or so, the young girls of today can become agents for enhancing Bangladesh's resilience to climate change through transformational adaptation. The women of Bangladesh over the last several decades have already contributed to a transformation through their education and family planning awareness programmes to bring down the population growth rate from over 3 percent to less than 2 percent over a single generation. With the right kind of investment and support, the girls of today can help the subsequent transformation of the country over the next generation.
The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.