Global warming and climate change: Challenges ahead for Bangladesh

Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury

Bangladesh may think of forming a scientific panel comprising of scientists and leading researchers to assess the vulnerability including the magnitude of climate variability in terms of natural disaster to provide the best guidelines for policy makers to address the issues in global warming that 21 century might encounter.

Climate change appears to be a serious threat to humanity and ecosystem. It is said that with global warming bio-geographic atmosphere of the world is changing gradually. Scientists predict catastrophic impact of climate change associated with sea level rise enormous coastal areas of some densely populated countries going under water.


Climate change might result in shifting of climate zones, changing agricultural productivity, forest bio-diversity and other ecosystems. Frequency and duration of natural disaster might increase. It may have direct or indirect impact on public health with increased incidence of various menacing diseases like dengue, malaria etc. A number of initiative launched globally to address this disastrous situation including United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol but the global warming barometre is rising higher than expected. A portion of IPCC report mentioned in the UNEP's Global Environment Outlook 2000 says:

"The IPCC mid-range scenario projects an increase in global mean temperature of 2.0 C, within a range of 1.0 to 3.5 C, by the year 2100, the largest warming in the past 10,000 years. Average sea level is projected to rise by about 50 cm, within a range of 15 to 95 cm, by the year 2100. A 50-cm rise in sea level would lead to the displacement of millions of people in low-lying delta areas and a number of small island states could be wiped out (IPCC 1996b)".

This critical issue of climate change is a matter of concern for Bangladesh also. Now-a-days Bangladesh is much cited in the global environment discussion as one of the most vulnerable countries of the world. Cyclones, floods, storm surges, droughts are very frequent. Out of 54 Commonwealth countries Bangladesh stands second after Vanuatu in vulnerability ranking. In the recent past it witnessed several cyclones and floods, which caused huge casualties with colossal damage to property and infrastructure. Although Bangladesh achieved commendable success in the field of disaster management, relief and rehabilitation, it is possible that global climate change may result in even worse trends in the future.

Bangladesh, a deltaic country, is largely flat and nearly 50 per cent of the landmass has an elevation less than 10 metre above sea level. Several studies were undertaken on the vulnerability of Bangladesh to the climate change, particularly to the sea level rise. In the IPCC report of 1995 it was estimated that one metre sea level rise could displace nearly 15 million people in Bangladesh. Projected impacts include:

The report also said: "The Ganges-Brahmaputra delta is one of the world's most densely populated areas, and the combined effects of subsidence and sea-level rise could cause serious drainage and sedimentation problems, in addition to coastal erosion and land loss. With higher sea level, more areas would be affected by cyclonic surges; inland freshwater lakes, ponds, and aquifers could be affected by saline and brackish-water intrusion. The present limit of tidal influence is expected to move further upstream, and increases in soil salinity, as well as surface-water and groundwater salinity, may cause serious water supply problems for drinking and irrigation over large areas (Alam, 1996). Reduced dry-season freshwater supply from upstream sources may further exacerbate salinity conditions in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. These impacts clearly would have immense socioeconomic costs (The Regional Impacts of Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, P.401)."

This depressing scenario projected in the 1995 report is even worse now as IPCC projected more warmer world in future increase in the average temperature 50 per cent higher than predicted just half a decade ago. This dismal projection combined with other environmental degradation and over population puts enormous stress on the environment and stands between the choices of an uncertain future. Now, it's time to work with intelligent environmentalism, otherwise millions of people will be forced to migrate further inland and even the largest mangrove forest (the Sundarbans), a world heritage site of pride will go in oblivion for ever.

What Bangladesh would do in this disastrous scenario while it contributes little in these warming process? For Bangladesh little GHG emission is survival emission to ensure bread and butter for her poor people. If Bangladesh cuts all of its emissions, it will make people starving but nothing will happen to stop the forthcoming peril. Since the Bush administration has taken office in the US, Kyoto Protocol seems dead or at least in a slumber. If US agrees to ratify the protocol now, yet nothing will be achieved in the short run. "In the short run, there's not much chance of halting global warming, not even if every nation in the world ratifies the Kyoto Protocol tomorrow. The treaty doesn't require reductions in carbon dioxide emission untill 2008. By that time a great deal of damage will already have been done (Time, April 9, 2001).

Bangladesh is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. Government puts much emphasis on this global issue. So far, Bangladesh actively participated in all conferences of the parties, working group meetings, successfully drawn attention of the world community on the issue of country's vulnerability. At home number of conservation and aforestation programmes have been undertaken, including Coastal Green Belt Project, to halt cyclone and tidal surge and to enhance sink; ODS phase out programmes are being implemented. Simultaneously environmental rules and regulations are framed and enacted, including "Environmental Court Act 2000," in response to the needs and priorities, that as a whole might improve environmental consciousness in the country. But for addressing the colossal issue, these are not sufficient.

To my view, Bangladesh should think locally for a sustainable future evolving mitigation policies and strategies to combat the adverse impact of the climate change that may result in displacement of millions of people from their habitat. Would Bangladesh be able to face this grave consequence of loosing its coastal areas and accommodating one tenth of its population in the mainland that would likely not vanish but will carry the scar of a catastrophic disaster associated with the loss of bio-diversity, threatened ecosystem, contaminated water, numerous diseases and widespread environmental pollution? In its present context, it is difficult to answer, but we must answer. We don't want to see our coasts in peril, people displaced, heritage lost. We don't have reason to doubt on the report as we have no different research-based information that disprove existing predication. We have one task ahead that is to prepare for the possible consequences. But unless we can apprehend the gravity and magnitude of the climate change efforts will be futile.

Bangladesh should take immediate action programme based on sound scientific research. To this end Bangladesh may think of forming a scientific panel comprising of scientists and leading researchers to assess the vulnerability including the magnitude of climate variability in terms of natural disaster to provide the best guidelines for policy makers to address the issues in global warming that 21 century might encounter. It is also important to have a working group comprising of a law and policy maker, scientist a researcher and a civil society representative to review the findings of the scientific panel and to recommend appropriate policy initiatives and action programme to be undertaken immediately. This integrated approach will help us to develop climate change adaptation strategy for the country to face future challenges.

Source:The Daily Star,07 June,2001