Serious threat of global climate change

Dr. Anu Mahmud :
“For centuries, wars have been fought for territorial expansion, ideological or religious dominance, and national pride. In the future, as climate change progresses and its effects become more pronounced, conflicts between states …could increasingly take centre-stage.”- Byers & Dragojlovic.
The very succinct quotation above alludes to the upcoming challenges of climate change. Undoubtedly the forces of nature are unpredictable, dangerous and devastating. They have far-reaching implications and heart-wrenching impacts. Science itself attests to the fact that throughout the ages, the Earth has experienced climate changes and consequent natural disasters-even on epic scales. Throughout the world today, we are witnessing the growing frequency of climatic anomalies such as flooding, storms, droughts or persistent forest and bush fires. They can have dramatic consequences for those affected, entailing loss of property and livelihood, famine and life threatening situations.
Recently, studies and journalistic investigations have focused on one particularly chilling potential social consequence of climate change : an increased frequency of armed conflicts around the world.
Applicable to global warning
In two separate studies presented four years apart, David Zhang and his colleagues looked at the period between 1500 and 1800 to understand the social and political effects of climate change. They used time series data from the Northern Hemisphere, especially from Europe and, to a lesser extent, from China, to develop and refine their theory. Through that, they concluded that “a drop in average temperature around 1560 was immediately followed by a reduction of bio-productivity, which negatively affected agricultural yields and thus food supply per capita.” Over the next thirty years or so, this was followed by cascading escalation of social unrest, migration, famine, war, and epidemics and widespread conflict. From 1618, the crisis culminated in Thirty Years War. Subsequent warfare, together with famine and epidemics, led to a considerable shrinking of European population. Furthermore, in their findings it was highly surprising to observe similar macro-patterns for regions as disparate as Europe and China at a time when both areas were largely detached from one another both economically and politically. The authors argue that this synchronicity can hardly be explained unless one assumes social mechanisms triggered by the same kind of climate stresses. They also asked, “Does it also apply to global warming, both in the North and in the South?” And replied that “yes it is applicable in both the cases”.
In fact, while Zhang and colleagues have shown that social and political dislocations in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere are mostly associated with climatic cooling, others have demonstrated that the opposite holds true for the tropics where warmer El Nino years have always been, and are still, associated with serious social and political trouble. From all this, it seems fair to conclude that global warming of the scale associated with future climate change would have negative effects comparable to those studied by Zhang and colleagues with regard to climatic cooling. In fact climate change is expected to be more severe than any previous climate shock since the end of the last ice age. Like the previous incidents in history, in the 21st century also humanity is going face miserable climatic stresses; which will portend scenarios of violent conflicts and wars.  
Because of strategic salience of change to the climate and consequent disasters the debate about relationship between climate change and conflict rages on. Scientists and strategic thinkers are convinced that even small changes in temperature or rainfall are correlated with rise in conflicts and wars. In 2007, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, citing climate change as a threat to international security. Some, including United Nations Secretary-General (former) Ban Ki Moon, have even claimed that the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan – which pits farmers against pastoralists – stems, in part, from environmental pressures and the scarcity of water and land. And the former Secretary General termed the conflict in Darfur as the first Climate War.
Climate change and conflict
The argument about the connection between climate change and conflict boils down to an argument about resource scarcity and competition over the means to sustain livelihoods. Long-term trends such as desertification, rising sea-levels, and the spread of disease vectors, along with the increased frequency and severity of short-term natural disasters such as flooding and hurricanes, will disrupt economies, reduce the available supply of natural resources, and generate mass migration out of affected areas. Competition between haves and have-nots will intensify, and wars will be fought over dwindling food and water resources. Some areas may well become net beneficiaries of climate shifts, even as the absolute availability of resources declines, but this will only exacerbate global and intrastate inequalities and produce further friction. Environmental refugees fleeing uninhabitable areas will place strains on receiving communities, undermine the ability of those communities to provide basic services, and contribute to ethno-cultural tensions.
Developed countries will erect physical and virtual barriers to entry in order to protect their resources and way of life. States will falter as they are unable to meet the demands of their people, face a reduction in revenues, and be unable to contain outbreaks of violence. In summing up their core predictions in a US Department of Defense report, Schwartz & Randall write, “nations with the resources to do so may build virtual fortresses around their countries, preserving resources for themselves. Less fortunate nations … may initiate struggles for access to food, clean water or energy … defence priorities will shift and the goal is resources for survival rather than religion, ideology, or national honour.”
Competing of scarce resource
Conflicts occur when different groups of people are competing for scarce resources. As climate change plays out, areas of the world that can now feed themselves will no longer be able to do so, in some cases because of flooding, in others because of low rainfall (southern Europe and much of Africa, China and central America), in some cases because the loss of mountain glaciers mean that rivers will run dry in the summer (Pakistan and California are both dependant on glacial melt water to irrigate their farms.) This will lead to pressure on land (China, for instance, might resurrect land claims in Siberia), and disputes over water. (What would Egypt do if countries upstream were to divert the waters of the Nile? It will also lead to huge migrations across the world in which the still relatively viable countries will either have to seal off their borders, or face an influx of climate refuges. All these are impetus to think about the possible scenarios which may take the toll on the vulnerable countries and nations.
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is advancing rapidly. Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC expects a global rise of 2-7 Degree Celsius to occur by 2100, unless resolute counteractions are taken. This global warming will cause more frequent and more severe extreme weather events such as heavy rains, droughts, heat?waves and storms. There is also a danger of tropical cyclones not only becoming stronger but also occurring with greater frequency in extra-tropical regions. At the same time, sea levels continue to rise. According to the IPCC these direct impacts of climate change will have far-reaching effects upon societies and the lives of people around the world (IPCC, 2007).
Former UN Secretary?General Kofi Annan and the Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva stated that each year the impacts of climate change are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths with hundreds of millions of people severely affected directly. According to Annan, climate change is a serious threat to over half the world’s population; half a billion people are at extreme risk (Global Humanitarian Forum, 2009). (Ref.:Mr. Ahmed Noor Hossain, Daily Star, 26-02-2016)
Impact of Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement (PA) on climate change which was achieved at the 21st conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December 2015 was historic in several ways.
Firstly, it, unlike its predecessor the Kyoto Protocol, which only required developed countries to take actions to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, includes all countries-both developed and developing, who have pledged to take actions at home to reduce their emissions as much as possible.
Thus it is a truly universal agreement regarding taking actions to reduce emissions from use of fossil fuels.
Secondly, it includes a long term global temperature goal of staying below 2 Degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels while striving to stay below 1.5 Degrees. This was due to active advocacy and diplomacy from the most vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh, to persuade others to include the 1.5 Degree goal in addition to the previously agreed goal of 2 Degrees.
Thirdly, the PA put in place the mechanism through the newly created Green Climate Fund (GCF) for delivering the pledges from developed countries, of funding support of 100 Billion US Dollars each year starting from 2020 onwards, with an expectation that the amounts would increase in time to help the developed countries tackle climate change through both mitigation as well as adaptation. The Board of the GCF in turn have decided that they would allocate half their funds to mitigation and half to Adaptation, with the latter being focused on the most vulnerable developing countries.
Fourthly, the PA put in place a new global goal on adaptation which mirrors the long term temperature goal which was not well defined as adaptation is very site specific and difficult to aggregate across countries. This goal will need to be developed over time.
Fifthly, the PA in its article 8 on Loss and Damage finally recognised that loss and damage was a new and important topic that needed to be addressed in addition to the already accepted issues of mitigation and adaptation. This was also a big win for the vulnerable developing countries, including Bangladesh as we had been arguing for this for a number of years.
Implemented in Bangladesh and globally
The above issues agreed in the PA can be implemented in practice both globally as well as in Bangladesh.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, being a universal agreement it is important that each and every country takes their obligations seriously to take actions to tackle climate change through both mitigation as well as adaptation. For Bangladesh this means that the commitment to mitigation is as serious as the commitment made at COP 23 in Marrakech in November 2016 as part of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CFV) to become 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. It also means that we need to continue to be very active on the global diplomatic front both through the Least Developed Countries (LDC) as well as the CVF to push all countries to raise their levels of ambition as well.
Secondly, in the long term, global temperature goals. The world has already crossed 1 Degree above the pre-industrial revolution and thus staying below 2 Degrees will be very difficult and many are saying that 1.5 Degrees may already be beyond reach. The actual situation is that it is still possible to stay below 1.5 Degrees but this will require all, including developing countries such as China, India and even Bangladesh, to raise their ambitions to reduce emissions to a much higher level.
The effort to raise ambitions are therefore the most important priority for Bangladesh both at home as well as in its diplomacy and global advocacy.
Thirdly, on global funding for developing countries to tackle climate change these promises and pledges made by the developed countries need to be kept and the procedures for access to that funding also need to be made easier than they have been in the past. This will require considerably enhanced improvement in reporting and transparency of global climate funds, both from those countries providing the funds as well from those receiving the funds.
Access to global fund
Here Bangladesh has an opportunity to access the global funds by developing its own capacity to do so and by ensuring that the funds are used in a transparent manner and monitor the results to ensure that they actually benefit the most vulnerable communities.
Firstly, on the new global adaptation goal which needs to be developed, Bangladesh has an opportunity to play a leading role in developing the indicators and methodologies for assessing successful adaptation. Having invested in hundreds of adaptation actions from the community level to the sectoral and national levels over the last decade, Bangladesh has gained a significant amount of experience of what works and what doesn’t. As gaining knowledge on adaptation comes from learning-by-doing, we are in a good position to capture the learning from our own experiences so far.
Thus Bangladesh has an opportunity to be a world leader in developing measurement, verification and reporting (MRV) on adaptation which is an essential pre-requisite for agreeing on the details of the global adaptation goal.
Secondly, the issue of loss and damage which we fought hard to include in the PA, is an extremely important issue where we need to develop agreed methods to deal with issues of liability and compensation at the global level for which Bangladesh needs to keep up the active diplomatic activities globally.
Also at the domestic level, the country may wish to develop a National Mechanism. On Loss and Damage as an example for other counties to follow. Thus Bangladesh has another opportunity to be a world leader on this important issue.
On the effect of President Trump’s policies on climate change, once they become known, we can expect backtracking on both actions to reduce emissions domestically in the US as well as providing funds for developing countries. While both these actions, if indeed taken in reality, will be a major setback for achieving the goals of the PA they will not cause other countries to backtrack so will probably have relatively little effect on global actions.
On Bangladesh’s vision to graduate from LDC status and strive to become a middle income country over the next few years, while a laudable aspiration it will need the government, along with other stakeholders such as the private sector, civil society and academic sectors to work together and build both awareness as well as capacities to tackle climate change, both through adaptation (which should remain our priority) as well as mitigation. (Ref: Saleemul Haq : Daily Star, Feb. 26, 2016.)
Migration in climate change
Perhaps the most controversial issue in the global climate change literature is migration. During the 1990s and early 2000s, in climate change discourse, migration was presented as a threat. These studies perceived climate change as an independent variable driving migration from ecologically vulnerable areas. Those who moved were termed as a new group of forced migrants or environmental refugees. Subsequent studies underscored that migration is a complex and multi-causal phenomenon. Along with the influence of climate change, migratory behaviour is also shaped by other macro issues such as social, political, economic and demographic influences. Micro-level realities like household characteristics and meso-level facilitating or intervening factors play a role in inducing or restricting migration of individuals, households, or communities.
Two strands of debate currently dominate the migration and climate change discourse. The first one is environmental determinism versus multi-causality. The other strand is migration as one of the adaptation tools versus migration as failure of local level adaptation.
Climate characteristic of Bangladesh
Considering the climatic characteristics of Bangladesh and the trend of exacerbation of climate related hazards in coming years, studies inform that the volume of certain types of population movements are likely to increase in Bangladesh. It is important to note that all types of population movements are not equally sensitive to climate change. The result of sensitivity tests conducted by RMMRU-Sussex Centre for Migration Research (2014) shows that both internal displacement and internal livelihood rural to urban migration are highly sensitive to climate change, whereas cross border population movement and short term international contract migration had mixed sensitivity to climate change and long term permanent migration to the west had extreme low sensitivity.
On climate hazard related displacement some estimates have already begun to surface. Global estimate of Brown (2008) suggests that by 2050 one in every 45 people of the world will be displaced by climate change, and in case of Bangladesh one in every seven people will be displaced. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates that more than 4.7 million people were displaced due to disasters in Bangladesh from 2008 to 2014. A UNDP (2013) study, identified that population growth in environmentally fragile areas, especially in the coastal regions, experienced low population growth over the last two decades compared to the national average. Again, a RMMRU-SCMR study (2014), based on historical analysis of upazila level census data of 2001, and 2001 predictions of global climate models and World Bank studies of 2010 and 2011, estimates that as many as 16 to 26 million Bangladeshis will migrate from places of origin due to floods, storm surges, riverbank erosion and sea level rise in the period 2011 to 2050. Of this 2 to 5 million will migrate due to riverbank erosion, 3 to 6 million due to inland flooding, 5 to 7 million due to coastal storm surges and 6 to 8 million due to sea level rise.
River bank erosion displaced
Siddiqui (et al, 2016) found that majority of people of Patuakhali, Lakshmipur and Sirajganj who were displaced by river bank erosion and coastal erosion have resettled themselves by the side of the embankments, and a section of them have moved to different urban locations. Health, hygiene, sanitation conditions in both embankments as well as in urban slums is extremely poor. Young and adolescent girls and children are particularly vulnerable to different forms of harassment. In all these areas government has developed some resettlement sites such as Ashrayon and Guccho Gram. In the resettlement sites the living arrangement is much better compared to that of in the embankment, as well as security concerns are also less for the family members. A major problem of these resettlement sites is the residents’ access to work. This has led to situations in which those resettled had sold their allocated land and moved to locations close to their work.
Influenced by climate change
There are many other forms of migration which will also be influenced by climate change. Rural to urban temporary labour migration is the most dominant among them. Currently an origin area survey is underway under the Deltas, Vulnerability and Climate Change: Migration and Adaptation (DECCMA) project, which is a five country research consortium. This research highlights the voluntary labour migration scenario from fifty climate hotspots of Bangladesh. It listed 8,713 households in these hotspots. Interestingly, 35 per cent of these households are labour migrant households. This means that at least one member of these households had migrated for livelihood either internally or internationally. Of these 35 per cent migrant households, almost two-thirds were internal migrants and one-third was international migrant households. A large segment of the household expenditures of these migrant households are gathered from the remittances sent by their migrant family members.
Siddiqui et al (2016) found that those families have adapted better to different stresses of climate change which combined local level livelihoods with livelihood migration of a few members of the households. Migration of household members provided better income and financial situation to migrants compared to non-migrant households. They found that economic status of 6.1 per cent of migrant households before migration was sufficient. But after migration of a few family members, it has increased to 10 per cent. Five per cent of non-migrant households belonged to the “always sufficient” category. They attempted to adapt locally. Their percentage share in the “always sufficient” category has dropped to 2.5 per cent. The number of persons in the category of “just sufficient” has also increased in case of migrant households. But it has decreased in case of non-migrant households. The number of households in “occasional” and “chronic deficit” has reduced in case of migrant households whereas it increased in case of non-migrant households. The study also found that a section of households that are trying to adapt only locally might have trapped themselves into “occasional” or “chronic poverty”. This means that people of climate change affected areas autonomously used livelihood migration as one of the adaptation tools. (Ref: TasneemSiddiqui : Daily Star, Feb., 26, 2016.)
Bangladesh highest disaster country
With a population of about 152 million, Bangladesh has been identified as the highest ranking disaster prone countries and the fifth ranking in the risk index (2012) in the world. An estimate indicates that fourteen per cent of the country’s GDP is exposed to disasters per year. Although over the last four years the GDP growth (6.12 per cent) and per capita income (USD 1312) have shown an upward mobility, high level of poverty (24.7 per cent in 2015) remains a major concern. The underlying causes of persistent poverty in Bangladesh are of many folds, resulting from geo-physical settings within South Asia combines with social, economic and political factors. People living in the fragile geophysical location have to face frequent disasters. These people hardly have alternative options to come out of the vicious cycle of poverty and are forced to live in precarious conditions either in their original locations or moving elsewhere.
Floods are the most frequent disasters in Bangladesh, causing immense suffering to a large number of people, damaging infrastructure and other resources. Roughly one-third of the country become severely affected by floods while the catastrophic floods of 1988, 1998, 2004, and 2007 caused inundation of more than 60 percent of the country’s land. The four types of flooding in Bangladesh include flash floods caused by overflowing of hilly rivers of eastern and northern Bangladesh; rain floods caused by drainage congestion and heavy rain falls; river floods during monsoon season; and coastal floods caused by storm surges. Flood has been characterised as both natural and human induced disaster as it is related to many natural as well as humane structural and non-structural causes. Severe floods in Bangladesh have inundated areas, increased river erosion, breached embankments, and damaged standing crops and infrastructures.
Cyclone has old history
Cyclone in this land is as old as its history, which has been mentioned by the eminent historian Abul Fazal in his Ain-E-Akbari in the 16th century. For ages, cyclones have remained as the deadliest and most hazardous disaster for human populations, other species and resources. Cyclones increase vulnerabilities of affected communities as recurring events, lingering in post disaster phases and associated with complex recovery. The deadliest cyclones in Bangladesh occurred in 1991. Two more severe cyclones Sidr (2007) and Aila (2009) affected the coastal belt of the country.
Slow onset disasters such as drought (already affected about 8.3 million hectare of land) and salinity intrusion (in 2007 intrusion spreading from 1.5 to 2.5 Mha) and climate change-related hazards, earthquakes, arsenic contamination in groundwater, fire incidence, infrastructure collapse and lately lightening have been putting people at multidimensional risks. Projected displacement would be 6-8 m by 2050. Bangladesh ranking, based on the number of people to be exposed to disaster risk, has been calculated as: first out of 162 countries due to flood; third out of 73 countries due to tsunami; and sixth out of 89 countries due to cyclones.
Serious impacts on human
Data indicates that disasters pose serious impacts on human populations, societies and surrounding environments. It is a well recognised fact that climate change increases frequency and severity of disasters with adverse impacts on humans, other species and ecosystem. Human health is at risk from growing incidences of diseases due to disasters, rising temperatures and rainfall variability. Deforestation, over fishing, over grazing, salt build up, waterborne diseases from irrigation, endangered wild life from loss of habitat, loss of genetic diversity, water pollution, air pollution and disasters related to each other and having impacts on people and ecosystem. Although disaster affects an entire community, all segments of population do not suffer from the adverse impacts equally. There are multifaceted dimensions of vulnerability to disaster: children, elderly, people with disability, special occupational groups and women in poorer categories are among the most vulnerable.
Disaster Management Initiatives
In independent Bangladesh disaster management initiatives had commenced following the consequences of the devastating cyclone of 1970. Bangabandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman launched the “Cyclone Preparedness Programme” in 1973 and provided high preference on disaster management activities. However, attentions on disaster management issues had not been given priority by the successive governments, which is apparent from the country’s inability to manage the two consecutive floods of 1987 and 1988 and the devastating cyclone of 1991. These disasters attracted international attentions while Bangladesh urged for international cooperation and expert support.
Since then challenges of managing disasters and to recuperate disaster loss Bangladesh has gradually stepped towards disaster response mechanism through shifting paradigm from reactive emergency response to proactive risk reduction. In 1997 a well-designed document was drafted: Standing Orders on Disasters (SoD) (revised in 2010), which explains specific roles of relevant stakeholders (local and national levels) during different phases of disasters. A Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP I and II) has been launched to facilitate disaster management approach. Academic institutes have been established at higher education levels to provide technical knowledge to disaster managers.
Disaster risk reduction efforts
Another important agenda in the contemporary disaster risk reduction effort is involvement of the private sector in disaster risk reduction. In Bangladesh, the government is expected to play the major role when disaster strikes and must provide services almost without any direct commercial return. Private sectors have hardly been involved explicitly in disaster mitigation or risk reduction activities as part of their corporate activities. Traditionally the sectors’ involvement in DRR was of welfare-oriented philanthropy or one-off charity. It was never thought of as an investment. Role of private sectors in context of common disasters such as flood, cyclones and others systematic knowledge has only been collected in rare occasions and therefore, data in this regard is not available. Out of four pillars of SFDRR, two (“Investing in DRR” and “Build Back Better”) are directly indicating for investment and sufficient resources for disaster preparedness and recovery. It is relevant to mention that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been announced as one of the winners of the environmental accolade “Champion of the Earth” in Policy Leadership category of the United Nations (2015), in recognition of Bangladesh’s initiatives to address climate change. One of the main reasons for achieving the award, as narrated by UNEP in a release is, “Sheikh Hasina has proven that investing in climate change is conducive to achieving social and economic development.” Disaster risk reduction efforts are also to be connected with such successful initiatives.
Prior to the Sendai framework the government introduced several policies instruments to facilitate the private sector engagement to establish a well-encompassing disaster management framework. The National Disaster Management Plan provides strong emphasis on equitable and sustainable participation of all stakeholders including the private sector. As the capacity to deal with earthquake and human-made urban disasters is yet to reach a satisfactory level, the implementation of disaster management policies and plans in line with SFDRR, SDGs and Seventh Five Year Plan requires huge financial and technological resources and systematic efforts.
The SDGs have also given specific focus on disasters and reducing the risks. Disaster risk reduction efforts would become successful when effective communication is established among multidimensional actors including inter-governmental agencies, researchers, academics, development partners, national and local level disaster managers, humanitarian agencies, private sectors and communities who are at risk. (Ref: Mahbuba Nasreen: Daily Star, Feb. 26, 2016)
Impact on food security
Bangladesh is among the most precarious and unpredictable countries due to climate risks (Bangladesh Country Study, 2013). It is regularly stricken by annual flooding, or shortage of water during dry seasons; it frequently suffers from cyclones, storm surges, along with changing groundwater aquifer situations. Most of the land mass comprises of floodplains, and up to 30 percent of the country experiences annual flooding during the monsoon season, while 60 percent of the country is susceptible to extreme floods (UNESCAP, 2013).
Among the numerous potential unfavourable outcomes of climate change, the risks posed to the agriculture sector and food industry are among the most disruptive to the health of the citizens, to the economy, and growth in Bangladesh. Agriculture comprises a vital economic sector in Bangladesh, amounting for nearly 20 percent of the GDP and 65 percent of the labour force (World Bank, 2010). The performance of this sector has significant effect on economic growth, trade balance, budgetary position of the government, the intensity and patterns of poverty and malnourishment in the country. Furthermore, agriculture sector is the contingent source of income and employment for most of the poverty-stricken rural residents.
The achievement of food self-sufficiency continues to be a key development agenda for the country. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” The contemporary challenge for Bangladesh is to improve productivity, especially as demand for food increases with the growing population, and improved incomes, whereas, climate conditions are depleting. On the other hand, overuse, decline and changes in resource quality place further pressures on the scarce land and water resources.
Climate change poses crucial impediments to sustainable development for Bangladesh. Sea level rise due to climate change could engulf 17 percent of the land area in Bangladesh by 2050, diminishing cultivatable areas and causing 35 million people to be landless (Ismail, 2016).
Food system and food security
“Food system” typically describes all the elements of manufacturing, processing, transporting, selling, storing, and consuming food. To be precise, food system encompasses particular actions, resources, and structure that collectively influence the level of food security within a region or community.
There are four elements of food security, namely – food availability (manufacture and delivery), food access (affordability, distribution, and preference), food utilisation (dietary