Beyond the tangible and monetary costs of climate change are the consequences that cannot easily be valued by money. Within the climate change world, this is referred to as Non-Economic Loss and Damage (or NELD).
While a lot of research has been done in Bangladesh regarding the impacts of climate change on livelihoods, infrastructure and ecosystems, there is considerably less work on how climate change may impact Bengali cultures and traditions.
Culture and traditions are important because they tie us to our history, and connect us to our landscape. Although cultures change over time, our connection and understanding of our cultural heritage helps us define both our values and sense of self.
Climate change has the potential to disrupt these cultural traditions in Bangladesh, since so much of Bengali culture is connected to the natural landscape. For instance, the traditional six seasons of the Bengal calendar are based on the climatic cycles farmers would follow to plant their seeds and harvest their crops.
As climate change alters these seasons, what will happen to the festivals Pousha Mela and Chaitra Shangkranti (celebrated by Bengali Muslims and Bengali Hindus respectively) at the start of winter if winter no longer comes? And how about the rice harvesting celebration, Nobanno that occurs during the fourth traditional season called Hemonto?
While many of the urban young in Dhaka may not be connected to these festivals, these celebrations would traditionally ground people in environmental and climatic patterns that are now subject to change.
The UN climate body tasked with addressing Non-Economic Loss and Damage is the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage established in 2014. Consisting of nine different action areas, one of the tasks of the WIM Protocol is to address the losses and damage of climate change that cannot easily be measured by the economy.
Of course, there is no easy way to deal with Non-Economic Loss and Damage. You could try to create an index that attempted to measure the impact of climate change on traditional cultures; but such a measurement would be highly subjective as best. Who is to say one cultural artefact is more important than another? And what elements of our heritage were already fading away due to modernization?
Non-Economic Loss and Damage is not only about cultural loss, but also includes mental health impacts, deaths of loved ones, loss of homes and other consequences.
Yet it is important not to forget that culture is an important component also. Something for future climate change researchers in Bangladesh to investigate further.
Meraz Mostafa is a research officer at ICCCAD, IUB. For two years, he has been researching climate change in Bangladesh and is currently focused on how culture and the arts can be used to aid people to gain a better perspective on environmental issues.