The conservation of the world’s largest single mangrove forest and Unesco World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans, will be jointly managed by Bangladesh and India, ministers from the two countries announced after bilateral talks at COP21.
Environment ministers from the two countries yesterday announced the plans after a meeting held at the world climate conference venue in Le Bourget, near Paris, France.
“The Sundarbans may be in two countries but tigers know no boundary … this hotspot has to be preserved together. We have already agreed that we will have a joint management plan to preserve the Sundarbans. Within two months we will sit along with my colleague, the chief minister of West Bengal, to work out the joint management plan on the Sundarbans,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said at the meeting.
Echoing his Indian counterpart, Environment and Forest Minister Anwar Hossain Manju said: “The Sundarbans share tigers as well as the impacts of climate change. This [joint Bangladesh-India effort to conserve the Sundarbans from climate change] is an important initiative and we are fully prepared to support the Indian government on it.”
“We will try to work out how the climate vulnerability of the Sundarbans can be raised at the global platform jointly and much more strongly,” he added.
This is the first time that the two countries have come together to discuss the survival of the region, acutely threatened by climate change, at a key global climate change event.
The Sundarbans meeting was organised at the India pavilion of the Paris climate summit with support from the Bangladesh-India Sundarbans Region Cooperation Initiative (BISRCI), a civil society consortium supported by the World Bank.
About two-thirds of the Sundarbans lies in Bangladesh, the rest is in India’s West Bengal state. Sea level rise, more than twice the global average, and the increasing frequency of high intensity storms are threatening to submerge the island region.
The vulnerability is extreme as the population living there is very large and largely impoverished, with 44% of residents living below the poverty line.
Although its occupants contribute virtually nothing to climate change, the 13 million inhabitants of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India, are among the populations most vulnerable to changing climate.
According to a World Bank report, the population of the Sundarbans is equivalent to the population of 12 Small Island Country States (SIDS).
But while the vulnerability of small island countries is often highlighted at international forums, the threat to the Sundarbans hardly garners attention as it is spread across two countries.
“It’s a very welcome development. The Sundarbans’ climate change-related vulnerability has not come into adequate focus so far because the region is split among India and Bangladesh and the countries were not raising the issue together,” said Anurag Danda of WWF India, a Sundarbans expert.
“It’s a win-win situation for both countries, as apart from financial support, a joint push for the Sundarbans is also likely to create a high degree of climate adaptation strategies for the region, potentially the biggest among island regions,” he added.