Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to climate change hazards due to its low-level landscape, its topographical position which makes it susceptible to cyclones and tidal surges, its high population density and rural poverty, and an economy based on agriculture and fisheries (IPCC, 2014).
Ranked number one in the list of countries at risk by National Geographic, the impacts have already been manifested by migration patterns and inundated lands. As the landscape and life style changes, the effect poses serious questions for the country.
With limited natural resources and heavy dependency on agriculture, climate change strain the environment and economy. At present, 8.3 million people live in cyclone high risk areas, but if global warming continues at the present rate, 21 million people will be at risk by 2050.
The sixth most-vulnerable nation to flooding was once again exposed to flooding last August. The unprecedented level of monsoon rain affected an estimated 3 million people across 20 districts. Thousands have sought refuge in shelter houses. The flooding broke the 100-year water level record at one of the stations.
The Bay of Bengal in the south holds even dire consequences. Almost 25% of the population live in coastal areas. Salinity intrusion into soil and ground water due to both natural and human induced climate change challenge agriculture patterns, livelihoods, and living conditions.
Current saline intrusion reaches 100km from the Bay of Bengal. Consumption of salty water has created health concerns in that region.
A report by Earth journalism network last December pointed out that drinking tube-wells in southwest Bangladesh have been contaminated with salty ocean water for so long, that people have gotten used to the taste and it is impacting maternal health. By 2050, additional 7.6 million people could be exposed to very high salinity compared to current levels.
The sixth most-vulnerable nation to flooding was once again exposed to flooding last August. The unprecedented level of monsoon rain affected an estimated 3 million people across 20 districts. The flooding broke the 100-year water level record at one of the stations
There is also the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest. About 75% of the mangrove forest will be submerged if the sea level rises up to 45cm.
A paper published in 2013 concluded that effective sea-level rise in Bangladesh is significantly higher than what had previously been assumed.
Model-based predictions of future climate change indicate that for Bangladesh, an increase in both mean annual and seasonal temperatures, in the order of 2.0–4.7 °C, will occur by the end of this century.
According to a report published in November last year by WHO, under a high emissions scenario, mean annual temperature is projected to rise by about 4.8°C on average from 1990 to 2100 affecting up to 8 million people. If emissions decrease rapidly, the temperature rise is limited to about 1.4°C.
About 15 million people have to move by 2050 because of climate change causing the worst migration in human history. With the high emissions scenario, over 147 million people are projected to be at risk of malaria by 2070. If emissions decrease to the lowest level rapidly, projections indicate this number could decrease to about 117 million.
Thus the survival of people in Bangladesh depends on keeping the global emission to the lowest level and global warming below 1.5 degree. It’s almost a year since the climate agreement was reached and it recognised the common but differentiated responsibilities of the nations, depending on respective capabilities and different national circumstances.
Also, let’s not forget the agreement will take effect from 2020. Beyond making financial commitments, industrialised countries must facilitate technology transfers, and more generally, adaptation to a low-carbon economy.
Climate change is the single most severe threat for mankind and we can’t dawdle to act. Bangladesh belongs to the low-emission tier countries, yet they face the worst. USA and China ratifying the agreement last month gives us hope that if we want, we can bind ourselves to commit to keep the emission at the lowest possible to restrain global warming increase by 1.5 degree above pre-industrial temperature.
The international community as well as delegates from the developing and affected nations must push for urgency to take immediate measures to prevent global warming passing the 1.5C threshold at COP22.
Palash Sanyal is a freelance contributor.