An estimated 10 million Bangladeshis are at risk of becoming climate refugees over the next two decades if the current climate change trends continues, an expert has warned.
Bangladesh has been featured in The Guardian's recent list of seven climate change hotspots
. Changing climates will mean more extreme weather that would see from heatwaves to hurricanes and floods to famine.
The subjective appraisal of the climate hotspots say delta regions, semi-arid countries, and glacier – and snowpack – dependent river basins are all in the frontline. Tropical coastal regions and some of the world’s greatest forests and cities are facing the threat.
Although low-lying Bangladesh contributes little to global warming, it is nevertheless one of the worst climate change victims.
The country faces major risks from sea level rise, worsening storms, floods, droughts and other climate change impacts.
Changing climate has made it difficult for residents of coastal areas to grow crops, forcing many of them to try their lucks somewhere else.
Saleemul Huq, director of International Centre for Climate Change and Development, told The Guardian that they expected five to 10 million people to move from the coastal areas.
He said the coast was the most vulnerable area in Bangladesh, a climate hotspot. Most people leaving their homes prefer to move to Dhaka, the capital city.
Huq, who has advised the Bangladesh government at successive UN climate summits, told The Guardian that there was strong evidence that climate change was impacting Dhaka.
He said temperatures had already gone up by 1 degree Celsius that the weather patterns have changed visibly – the frequency of floods, for example. Major floods that used to hit Bangladesh once every two decades were more frequent now.
He said he expected to see more extremes.
Last year, there were four cyclones – Roanu, Kyant, Nada and Vardah – in the Bay of Bengal where there is usually only one.
According to Huq the rise in sea levels and increased salinity in coastal areas were “slow onset” that would “get worse”. This was an unprecedented “climate change phenomenon”, he told The Guardian.
UN scientists have predicted that south-east Asia will see some of the worst impacts of climate change and said sea level rise will threaten over 25 million people in Bangladesh by 2050.
about 0.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, much lower than the United States’ 16.4 tonnes, Australia’s 16.3 tonnes and Qatar’s whopping 40.5 tonnes, World Bank figures show.
Huq, who leads research into how Bangladesh can adapt to climate change, said they researched the most vulnerable hotspots in details.
The government, he said, had started investing in a major climate change action plan.
Bangladesh has made a name for itself as an international leader in climate action, particularly in terms of innovative adaptation to climate change.
The country spends almost $1 billion annually on adapting to climate change. Sheikh Hasina's government established a $400 million ‘Climate Change Trust Fund’ in 2009 from its own resources.
A huge project to harvest rainwater and coastal protection has been undertaken to counter coastal salinity. Scientists are developing saline-tolerant rice.
Both the people and the government are participating in the effort, he said, noting that Bangladesh was “always catching up with the problem”.
He suggested developing other towns and cities to make sure people, whose livelihood would be affected by climate change, did not move to the capital city only.
Other hot spots in the list are Spain's Murcia, Malawi's Mphampha, Norway's Longyearbyen, Brazil's Manaus, New York, and Philippines' Manila.