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Pathways to a low-carbon, hunger-free Bangladesh

  • Published at 12:56 am January 11th, 2018
Pathways to a low-carbon, hunger-free Bangladesh
Bangladesh has made impressive strides towards achieving food security, with the ultimate Sustainable Development Goal being zero hunger. But the gains are fragile. Food security, especially for the poorest people in the most vulnerable parts of the country, is precarious. Soil fertility is in jeopardy. Agriculture and the people who rely on it face daunting obstacles which climate change is exacerbating, including droughts and floods, steadily rising temperatures and changes to the seasons. Once national food security is achieved, the challenge of sustaining it in the face of climate change will be daunting. Bangladesh is already recognised as an international leader on climate change adaptation but under the Paris Agreement, it is also committed to playing its part in keeping its greenhouse gas emissions as low as possible as it develops. The ultimate global goal is for a world with net zero carbon emissions. As some 40% of Bangladeshi emissions come from agriculture, mainly via the powerful greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, the issue of how those emissions can be minimised as food production is improved and rural livelihoods enhanced, is becoming of great interest. Can the country’s ambition to achieve food security be delivered in ways that also help to achieve a lower carbon economy? If so, how? Is it possible that agricultural practices that result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions could make agriculture more productive, profitable and sustainable - a positive feedback loop? Or, will there be conflicts and trade-offs between the goals of more and better food with a lower carbon footprint? And how does this fit into the wider context in which Bangladesh is aiming to increase its energy use to achieve electricity for all, but doing this primarily through the increased use of coal that will increase climate change?
As some 40% of Bangladesh’s emissions are of the powerful greenhouse gases and come from agriculture, can the drive for food security and sustainable food systems be delivered in ways that also cut emissions?
Fortunately, many ways to make agriculture more productive, efficient and sustainable are also potentially excellent ways of reducing emissions. These include draining flooded rice fields when and where possible, modifying livestock diets, managing manures and changing or diversifying crops. The same measures can conserve water and help restore soil fertility. In the near future it is also possible that climate finance will come into Bangladesh to fund practices to sequester carbon in soils and vegetation, either via the Green Climate Fund or for offsetting emissions in other countries. Such developments could set agriculture, and rural livelihoods, in new directions. Further challenges – and opportunities – are presented by changes in Bangladeshi diets towards more meat, milk, fish, fruit and vegetables which are crucial for improving nutrition. However, new paths bring new risks; even sustainable agricultural methods may have risks attached. Changing agricultural practices may require new finance, new ways of working and living, new skills and knowledge and willingness and capacity to experiment. These raise social concerns. Who stands to benefit, and who decides what will be done and how? If changes are implemented in certain ways poor farmers and farm labourers could benefit and see production and wages rise, but if not, then they could finish up even poorer. And what happens to poor people in cities who are at the end of food chains? In the broader context of national development, how can the circle be squared that people need electricity, and better energy sources for cooking, but despite Bangladesh’s well-earned reputation as a solar leader, and the need for global coal phase-out by 2050, the country is banking on coal as the main way to meet energy demand?  On the other hand, utility-scale solar plants of the size being built in, for example, India, could run the risk of competing for scarce agricultural land. Food commitments and climate commitments, developments in agriculture and energy, raise the question, what sort of future do people want? What might – ideally – Bangladesh look like in 10 or 20 or more years? Seemingly contradictory aspects of national policies and potential social impacts raise the issue: how do societies discuss the ways forward? How do they identify paths that will help to achieve the dual goals of more and better food and lower emissions? How do they identify potential co-benefits on the one hand, and possible conflicts and places where there will have to be trade-offs on the other? And in that process, whose voices will be heard and whose interests will be represented in these decisions? Who gets to decide? There is always the risk that the people who are poor and most vulnerable to shocks to their livelihoods and to climatic hazards, will find themselves effectively excluded from the debate. Three organisations have banded together to pilot a way for people to develop these discussions in Bangladesh. They are the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), based at the Independent University of Bangladesh, Dhaka; Oxfam, the development agency that has worked in Bangladesh for nearly 50 years; and Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. They intend to use a method of enabling discussions about potential futures, and how to choose between them, called participative scenario developments. This “zero-zero” project, named after the twin goals of zero hunger and zero net emissions, is funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and Department for International Development and runs for 15 months from September 2017. Participatory scenarios development will involve parts of society that may be presently neglected in the decision-making process so that their voices are heard. Poor and marginalized people already most at risk from shocks and hazards have the most to gain or lose and must be at the heart of debates about co-benefits or trade-offs. Dr Monika Zurek of Oxford University ECI said: “Participatory scenarios have been used very successfully to bring together different communities of stakeholders and experts to discuss the implications of plausible future developments and how to change or prepare for them. “They are excellent ways to open up new ways of thinking about the future, question our beliefs about the future that determine decision making and for making connections between people and institutions who might not normally talk with each other. “We hope this methodology can be adapted and used in many other countries facing similar dilemmas.” Dr Saleemul Huq of ICCCAD said: “The agricultural sector is both key to achieving zero hunger in Bangladesh and could help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades. This requires inventive thinking about how we, as a society, can achieve these two goals in harmony, and participatory scenarios could be a great tool for this.” Dr Saleemul Huq of ICCCAD said: “The agricultural sector is both key to achieving zero hunger in Bangladesh and could help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades. This requires inventive thinking about how we, as a society, can achieve these two goals in harmony, and participatory scenarios could be a great tool for this.”   Zero Hunger --Zero Emissions: Enabling the debate on how to feed the world whilst mitigating climate change”is led by Dr Monika Zurek, Oxford University ECI, with Dr Saleemul Huq, ICCCAD/Independent University of Bangladesh, and Dr Irene Guijt, Oxfam GB. It is funded by UK ESRC and DfID.