For us, adapting to a less predictable climate is a matter of survival
United Nations former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was realistic in his comment during the recently concluded Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) two-day international conference held in Dhaka.
He pointed out that despite many constraints, “Bangladesh is our best teacher in climate change adaptation.”
He noted that Bangladesh, in the front line of countries facing problems arising out of climate change, had gained significance because of its experiences and vision, when it comes to adaptation.
It was also observed that “if sea levels were to rise by just one meter, 17% of the country would be underwater by 2050. According to the IPCC, Dhaka itself could be engulfed by even a slight rise in sea level.”
Other participants included Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, and BangladesPrime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
They noted that, while the rest of the world continued to debate various aspects, different mechanisms, and possible effects of climate variability and climate change, for Bangladesh adapting to a warmer, more violent, less predictable climate had become a matter of absolute survival.
The projected varied effects of global warming that came up for discussion included possible increasing of global surface average temperature by approximately 1.67 to 5.56 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
The meeting observed that Bangladesh had taken several anticipatory measures in this regard, including adaptation initiatives like cultivating water resilient crops, home solar systems, and the creation of a climate trust fund.
Adaptation is especially important for developing and least-developed countries as many among them have less capacity to adapt but are expected to bear the brunt of the effects of global warming.
Environmentalists and socio-economists both agree that adaptive capacity is closely linked to social and economic development. There is also consensus that we do not know the full economic costs of adaptation to climate change, but they are likely to cost billions of dollars annually for the next several decades.
Donor countries have promised an annual $100bn contribution by 2020 through the Green Climate Fund for developing countries to adapt to climate change.
However, though the fund was set up during the COP16 meeting convened in Cancun, concrete pledges by developed countries have not been forthcoming as expected. As a result, the adaptation challenge has grown with the magnitude and the rate of climate change.
The other response to this critical climate variability problem has been undertaken through the principle of climate change mitigation. This advocates the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or enhancement of the removal of these gases from Earth’s atmosphere through carbon sinks.
It is however agreed that even if there are reasonable reductions in emissions, this is unlikely to prevent further climate change impacts.
This has made the need for adaptation unavoidable. It was this realization that persuaded environmentalists after inter-active engagement during the conference in Dhaka to agree that they needed to focus on measures related to adaptation.
Adaptation and mitigation can be viewed as two competing policy responses, with trade-offs between the two. The other trade-off is with climate change impacts.
In practice, some even consider that the actual trade-offs are debatable. This is because the people who bear emission reduction costs or benefits are often different from those who pay or benefit from adaptation measures.
Participants in the Dhaka meeting and also in meetings convened in New York and Geneva have not agreed on all aspects pertaining to adaptive policy financing and its integration with the development aid process.
However, there is consensus on one important factor. The outcome of such financing is dependent on the political will in that area.
Scheraga and Grambsch, in this regard, have identified several principles that need to be considered when designing an adaptation policy -- effects of climate change might vary by region and across demographic groups.
The effects of climate change must be considered in the context of multiple stressors and factors, which may be as important to the design of adaptive responses as the sensitivity of the change and the systemic nature of climate impacts complicates the development of adaptation policy.
Economists also suggest that enhanced adaptive capacity would reduce vulnerability to climate change and promote sustainable development. Such activities need to include -- improving access to resources, reducing poverty, lowering inequities of resources and wealth among groups, and improving educational opportunities, sources of information and institutional capacity.
Before concluding, one also needs to reflect on interesting local adaptive efforts being undertaken in different parts of the world. Some have begun to take steps to adapt to threats intensified by climate change, such as flooding, bushfires, heat waves, and rising sea levels. This includes installing protective and/or resilient technologies and materials in properties that are prone to flooding.
Recently, a significant step has been undertaken to combat air pollution in the Western state of Gujarat. This measure has assumed significance given the fact that air pollution caused by factory emissions contributed to the deaths of at least 1.2 million Indians in 2017.
Now Gujarat has launched the world’s first “cap and trading” program in Surat to curb particulate air pollution where factories must comply with the prescribed standard of 150 milligrams per cubic metre of particulate matter released in the atmosphere.
An interesting exercise, it will be carefully watched by the rest of South Asia, including Bangladesh.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]