Stop abusing and start utilising the environment: Daily Star contributor

DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Although long-term dialogue and negotiations for the mitigation of climate change and for the recovery of losses and damages caused by this globally unfolding catastrophe are underway, the solutions will take time to come by.

Climate-change-affected people need an interim solution to protect their constantly threatened lives and livelihoods, and adaptation strategies at the local and national levels need to be strengthened in order to provide it. This is where integrated adaptation can be of use.

Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to all kinds of climate-change-induced disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones, storm surges, sea-level rise, landslides, heat, and cold stresses. The overall economic loss for the country over the last four decades due to climate change amounts to about US$12 billion (S$16.8 billion). This continues to suppress the annual GDP by about 0.5 to one per cent, with the potential for this to increase to two per cent by the year 2050.

According to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index 2021, Bangladesh ranks 162 out of 181 countries, indicating high vulnerability and medium to low readiness to adapt to climate change. Efforts must be made to remedy this falling status.

What Bangladesh lacks in size and economic might, it makes up for in sheer pro-activeness in taking initiatives to bolster its climate change readiness status. In 2005, Bangladesh took up the National Adaptation Plan, and in 2009, it took up the Climate Change Strategic Action Plan. In 2018, it initiated the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP 2100) and very recently, the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan 2030. The Cancun Adaptation Framework 2010, which was initiated in COP16, spoke about the need for a national adaptation plan for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and Bangladesh conjured up a plan in the subsequent five years. Till date, the country continues to be a strong base for adaptation initiatives.

Bangladesh has taken up a number of development initiatives on national and international levels, and while it replicates the processes and blueprints of global endeavours, it is important to strike a balance between global methods and local ways.

Similarly, structured coordination and a positive interchange in experience between international, local, and Indigenous groups should be a topic of consideration for Bangladesh’s climate change adaptation plan. What is also important is for all government institutions, non-government agencies, financial institutions and other stakeholders to work together in the spirit of shared responsibility, and keep each other accountable for their commitments, capacity levels and contribution, rather than putting the onus on any one person, institution or country. Each individual, community and institution has the scope to contribute towards this shared responsibility for environmental sustainability and climate action.

Water is both a friend and foe to Bangladesh. While we try to stop it during floods, we must also recognise the immense benefits water brings to a country like ours. In the same way that we aim to work with our soil, serious thought must be given to how we can also extract economic benefits like food and transportation from the sea, river water, wetlands and from our “blue economy” under the sea. Being able to manage and use water and wetlands sensibly can help us convert this disastrous force into a money-making resource for the country.

Urban development in Bangladesh is still taking traditional routes and does not yet seem to take the environment into account in its planning or implementation phase. It is imperative that urban infrastructural development be looked at, revisited, and redesigned through the lens of climate change. It is up to municipalities and city corporations to plan a specific climate change action plan for towns or cities, keeping in mind their unique scopes and challenges.

Health and education are also big issues. Due to river erosion and other calamities, the Northern areas of Bangladesh face a lot of interruption in their health and educational facilities. Besides, sanitation, particularly around water, is a silent yet pressing issue in Bangladesh and countries like it. The idea is to use every possible solution to ensure that the environment is utilised, rather than abused, and to carry out adequate research and subsequent implementation to make proper use of the techniques towards integrated adaptation.

Droughts are becoming increasingly severe in Bangladesh, while on the other hand, the country has seen five mega-floods in the last few decades, whereas previously there was hardly one in three decades. The average temperature of the country has risen by 0.015 degrees Celsius already, there has been a six per cent increase in super cyclonic activity in the last three decades, sea levels are rising by 3 mm to 6 mm annually, and the frequency of hotter days and nights is increasing too.

Monsoon floods, landslides, storm surges, lightning, cold spells, urban floods, salinity, excess rainfall, and river erosion – we have them all. It would be an understatement to say that the country has many climate vulnerable areas. In the southwestern coastal area, the Sundarbans are an area of concern. The southeastern coastal areas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts are also prone to flooding and erosion. The haors experience flash floods and droughts. Therefore, Bangladesh is susceptible to numerous climate hazards and an integrated and multi-faceted national adaptation plan is required to give the country renewed hope.

While all initiatives towards the protection and improvement of human life are underway, we must also remember the biodiversity around us and ensure its conservation. Working in harmony with the environment will guarantee additional security. Therefore, in our quest to make human lives better, we must consider the protection and preservation of the ecosystem of the area as a priority and responsibility.

  • The writer is senior director at Friendship and is working for strategic planning, climate action, and development. The Daily Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media organisations.