Friday June 14, 2024 12:51 pm

Climate Justice for Bangladesh: A Question Worth Asking?

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🕐 2024-03-19 10:09:39

Climate Justice for Bangladesh: A Question Worth Asking?

Mohd Aminul Karim, Lt. General (Retd.)

Member of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh and Former Professor at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.



Introduction

Bangladesh is the world’s largest delta and is located on the northern coast of the Bay of Bengal. It is longitudinally divided into three main river basins: The Ganges, Meghna, and Brahmaputra, all of which flow from the Himalayas. They transport tons of silt from the Himalayas and deposit it in the Bay of Bengal, as all of these rivers have outlets in the Bay of Bengal. The rise in atmospheric temperature results in greater ice melting, resulting in more water flows in the Himalayas. This phenomenon powers these river basins to carry more silt to the bay over time. Consequently, the continental shelf in the Bay expands southward, increasing the size of the

Bay of Bengal continental shelf.

There are two conflicting theses regarding the depth of the bay in the north. Some experts say that smaller Bangladesh is likely to merge in the Bay because of the huge silts being deposited, while others argue that the mysterious ‘Swatch of No Ground,’ situated in the northeast of the Bay, washes much of these silts away as far as the Sumatra Islands in Indonesia. Even if Bangladesh gains land area (one third of Bangladesh), much of the distress caused by climate change can be overcome, as sea levels are projected to rise and potentially devour about a third of northern Bangladesh by the end of this century. This will lead to significant dislocations for the common people, who may even have to cross international boundaries, raising traditional security concerns for Bangladesh.

The Bay is notorious for generating numerous cyclones and tidal bores year in and year out. The Bay’s northern side, touching Bangladesh, is funnel-shaped and provides momentum to cyclones originating further south. These cyclones were occasionally accompanied by tidal bores. The funneling effect propels cyclones toward Bangladesh’s coast, making them more intense. As sea levels rise owing to rising atmospheric temperatures, tidal bores inflict unimaginable damage on the lives and properties of marginalized people. Approximately one-third of the Bangladeshi population inhabits the coastal region for sustenance. Many depend on the Bay for fishing, but they are vulnerable to cyclones and tidal bores likely to hit the coastal region of Bangladesh. Summers are gradually becoming more intense, winters are scarce, and monsoons cause more floods. Cyclone shelters, built over the years with the assistance of foreign donors, play a significant role in protecting the lives of people and their livestock. These shelters provide relief to people in the coastal region of Bangladesh.

Climate justice is a people-centred strategy for climate action. This entails the fair representation, inclusion, and protection of the rights of those most vulnerable to climate change. Solutions should prioritize equity and basic resources and ensure that young people can live in a healthy and clean environment. This approach is also based on human rights, as rapid urbanization gives rise to crucial issues, such as water, sanitation, and public health, especially for the younger generation. This chapter focuses on these two aspects of climate change in Bangladesh. We need to reconsider the traditional concept of Business as Usual. The next generation should not be deprived of the benefits of nature enjoyed by the current generation.

Moreover, these poor countries are plagued by internal governance issues, corruption, poor politics, and a multitude of climate-induced disasters. That said, the loss of lives and property in Bangladesh has dramatically decreased over the years due to significant improvements in disaster management mechanisms. In 1970, Bangladesh was devastated by a cyclone and tidal bores that reportedly killed about a million people; some even consider it the worst disaster of the century on this planet. At the time, cyclone warnings, rescue operations, and rehabilitation mechanisms

were not as effective and there was a lack of political will. Today, even the adaptive attitude of people has significantly improved, showcasing their resilience and motivation. Field staff in the affected regions are now better trained and motivated to undertake the monumental task of saving distressed humanity in terms of relief and rehabilitation at critical times. Bangladesh owes a debt of gratitude to various UN bodies and governments for their substantial assistance in building infrastructure and command-and-control mechanisms. The resilient and adaptable people in Bangladesh deserve credit. Different Bangladeshi agencies, including their professional armed forces, NGOs, and local government officials, are doing remarkable work to provide aid to distressed humanity in times of critical need.

 

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Its capital city is overcrowded by the influx of climate refugees, mostly coming from the southern part of Bangladesh. About 50,000 people per km2 live in the capital city, which is almost double the density of Manhattan, New York. Despite such overcrowding, up to 400,000 low income climate migrants reach Dhaka every year (Climate Reality Project, 2021). However, this crowding has been thinning out recently from an almost unbearable life in Dhaka, due to the unaffordable cost of living and the overbearing pollution and contagious diseases(1). Climate change is exacerbating these challenges for the marginalized poor, who can barely afford the costs of hospitalization and medicine. It is essential to note that Bangladesh’s public health system is not sufficiently developed to provide assistance to all affected people across the country, and that the system is plagued by corruption.

As a matter of fact, Bangladesh itself is not responsible for these disasters, but the West, China, and India are causing most of these emissions, making this planet inhabitable. Bangladesh produces only 0.56% of the global emissions that cause climate change, yet it ranks seventh among the countries that are most vulnerable to climate crises (Climate Change, 2021). Thus, Bangladesh is not a predator, but has to suffer the consequences of carbon emissions from industrialized countries. This climate crisis poses a real threat, tangible to its teeming millions, day in and day out. Why should Bangladesh suffer such colossal losses due to somebody else’s thoughtless activities? This begs the question of whether Bangladesh is undergoing climate injustice. Yes, it is. Climate impacts are imposed on Bangladesh by high-emitting, wealthy countries. Bangladesh emits only a small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions, as mentioned. To put in perspective, Bangladesh emits 0.5 metric tons of CO2 per person per year, while the U.S. emits 15.2 metric tons per person, which is approximately 30 times higher (Climate Reality Project, 2021).

 

1- Dhaka’s air quality index score rose from 145.1 in 2020 to 163.7 in 2020, implying air pollution has increased by almost 13 percent since 2020 (Source: “Dhaka City—Air Pollution Rose by 13 percent over three Years”, The Daily Star, September 28, 2023). Climate refugees are the worstsufferers as they live in shanties with minimal sanitary and clean water facilities.

 

With that said and emphasized, this chapter attempts to address the climate injustice meted out to the people of Bangladesh and its harmful impacts that people have to endure. It is even risking the very existence of human life. The chapter remains confined to the damages done to distressed people because of the huge volumes of emissions of other stakeholders. This chapter also attempts to highlight the linkage between climate change, climate justice, and human rights. A causative relationship exists between these outcomes. The chapter underscores the unfortunate reality that humanity is often sacrificed on the altar of industrialization, affluence, luxury, etc., particularly in developed countries. It conducts content analysis and observation given the author’s personal experience engaging in the government’s relief and rehabilitation efforts over three decades.

 

Vulnerability of Bangladesh Due to Climate Change

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guitterez hosts an annual Climate Action Plan in September. Over the years, in an attempt to describe climate change, the most significant human-induced global crisis, his language has taken on increasingly apocalyptic tones. Earlier, he described the world as having entered an era of “climate boiling,” which he now describes rather dramatically as “entering the gates of hell.” Despite such dramatization, the world leaders responsible for emitting most of the greenhouse emissions (GMG) are not doing enough to keep the global temperature below 1.5 °C as agreed to under the Paris Agreement in 2015 (Huq, 2023). Countries responsible for high carbon emissions have a high moral responsibility to provide the necessary compensation to Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Its vulnerability is more pronounced because of its overpopulation, lack of natural resources, and exposed coastal belts. Climate justice here is related to distributive and procedural justice. The Swiss Embassy Project ranks Bangladesh as the seventh most vulnerable country in the world and fifth in terms of losses and damage incurred due to climate change.

 

Located in the “high climate exposure risk area”, Bangladesh lost $3.72 billion over the past 20 years due to climate change. The impacts of tropical cyclones cost Bangladesh approximately $1.3 billion annually. As the World Bank forecasts, by 2050, one-third of the agricultural GDP may be

lost due to climate variability and extremities. This is most disconcerting as the agricultural sector caters for around half of the in-house employment as Bangladesh, as yet, could not make any breakthrough in industrialization except in Ready-Made Garments (RMGs). 13.3 Million people, as per the World Bank forecast, may become internal climate refugees in the next 30 years owing to climate impacts on agriculture, water scarcity, and rising sea levels, with profound impacts on women. In 2000-2009, Bangladesh suffered economic losses of $4 billion and had to witness 185 extreme weather events caused by climate change. A U.S. government report showed 90 million Bangladeshis—56% of the people—live in “high climate exposure areas”. Out of these 90 million, 53 million are subject to “very high” exposure (Climate Reality Project, 2021). In addition, if severe flooding occurs almost every year, the GDP may fall by as much as 9%. Bangladesh will need at least $12.5 billion, approximately 3% of its GDP, for climate-change correction in the medium term. This financial gap can be partially covered by carbon taxation, external financing, and private investments. External financing is coming too little and too late. There is a potential for climate finance from the private sector to increase to 0.2% of the GDP, that is up to $1 billion by 2025 (The World Bank, 2022).

The World Bank’s Global Change Knowledge Portal projects that the world’s climate is changing over this century and even beyond. Even if there are substantial reductions in GHG emissions, the increase in the average global temperature could be limited to 2 °C or below. If no such drastic actions are taken, the average annual global temperature could rise by 5 °C or more by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels (Rahman, 2023). What is most disconcerting about temperature rise is that September 2023 was the hottest month on record, as the EU climate monitor says. September’s average surface air temperature of 16.38 °C was above 0.93 °C above the 1991-2020 average for the month and 0.5 °C above the previous 2020 record according to a Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) report. “Climate change is not something that will happen 10 years from now. Climate change is here.” The C3S also reported average world temperatures from January to September of 1.4 °C higher than 1850-1900, which is breaching the 1.5 °C warming goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement (AFP, Paris, 2023).

Not only do carbon emissions affect the atmosphere, but also oceans. When oceans absorb excess CO2, they become more acidic, which is known as ocean acidification. Ocean acidification disrupts the food chain and can cause substantial damage to fisheries. People living in the coastal region of the Bay of Bengal greatly depend on fish resources for their livelihoods. Carbon emissions cause enormous damage to the environment and economy, which is glaring in Bangladesh. In addition, it also impacts society and social mobility. Vulnerable communities, such as Bangladesh, which have limited resources on shore and are less resilient, are disproportionately affected by climate change. When countries fail to meet their carbon emission reduction targets, and national interests are involved, a significant geopolitical issue arises (Uddin, 2023). Climate

change gives rise to traditional Climate Justice for Bangladesh security when there is a huge migration of people in Bangladesh from south to north by the end of 2100, as discussed later in the chapter.

Bangladesh is vulnerable to looming disasters. It is already experiencing the impacts of climate change in its life, ecology, internal migrations of people called climate refugees, public health hazards, intensified cyclones and floods, almost-no-water in its rivers during dry seasons and too-much water during monsoon seasons, riverbank erosions(1), damaged forestry,

 

1- River erosion has impacted a single upazila (sub-district) called Chowhali in Bangladesh, where around 50,000 people from 50 villages became homeless in the last twenty years. This upazila extended over 210 km2 of land in 2011, but by now it has lost 70% of its land to the river. A few decades age, this upazila had 73 km of concrete roads, which have now been reduced to 30 km due to river erosion. Added to these damages, what is most disconcerting is that at least 100 out of 128 government primary schools have been damaged—80 of them sustained significant and had to be relocated multiple times—due to river erosion in recent times. There were 32, 0000 students in the academic year 2017-18. This number fell to 24,000 in the academic year 2023. River erosion began after the 1998 devastating flood that engulfed almost the entire country, which took a severe turn in 2010 (The Daily Star, October 3, 2023).

 

especially its world’s largest mangrove forests called Sundarbans as life sustaining trees called Sundari are dying due to saltwater intrusion from the Bay of Bengal, and serious depletion in the flow of sweet waters along the Ganges River basin, which runs through India before joining the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. Bangladesh does not get enough water for the sustenance of its agriculture, fisheries, and biodiversity, below the water surface level, going further down, as it is a lower-riparian country. Much of the water is withdrawn or diverted by India to meet its needs before it enters Bangladesh. This has resulted in the natural death of many of its smaller rivers, mostly distributaries from the three main basins. There are speculations and indications—too much sand accumulated in the riverbank—that desertification may someday overwhelm Bangladesh. There is another looming disaster in Bangladesh on this horizon.

Bangladesh is affected by the growing threat of rising sea and plastic pollution in the Bay of Bengal (Karim, 2023). Two-thirds of the country stands at less than 15 feet above sea level. By 2050, one in every seven people in Bangladesh is expected to be displaced by climate change. Scientific American notes how “climate change in Bangladesh has started what may become the largest mass migration in human history. Some scientists project a five-to-six feet (sea level) rise by 2100, which would displace perhaps 50 million people.” In an estimate by Bangladesh’s Soil Resources Development Institute, in 1973, 8.3 million hectares—321,623 mi2—of land got affected by saltwater encroachment. By 2009, it had grown to over 105.6 million hectares. In addition, the overall salinity in the country’s soil has increased by 26% over the past 35 years.

Due to climate change, rainfall all over the world is becoming more erratic and often more intense, and Bangladesh is already trapped in this cycle, as in the month of October Monsoon lingers on in the most populated city of Dhaka. Due to severe river erosion, supercharged water levels in the Ganges—Meghna—Brahmaputra Rivers are destroying many villages and the livelihoods of millions of poor rural people in Bangladesh remain uncertain. Such devastation has caused over ten million people to become climate refugees, thronging cities like Dhaka and Chattogram for at least two meals a day. To sum it up, the UNICEF makes a pertinent observation, “Around 12 million of the children most affected [by climate change] live in and around the powerful river systems which flow through Bangladesh and regularly burst their banks. The most recent major flooding of the Brahmaputra River in 2017 inundated at least 480 community health clinics and damaged some 50,000 tube wells, essential for meeting communities’ safe water needs” (Climate Reality Project, 2021).

 

Climate Change, Adaptation(1) and Resilience

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report 2022 states that “Climate change is affecting nature, people’s lives and infrastructure everywhere. Its dangerous and pervasive impacts are becoming increasingly evident in every region of our world. These impacts are hindering efforts to meet basic human needs and they threaten sustainable development across the globe”.(2)

IPCC projects different possible scenarios of how badly global warming will affect the planet. The warming may range from limiting warming to 1.5 °C to worst case scenario where the global average temperature will be higher than 4.5 °C by 2100 as indicated. The IPCC thinks the deadline

for greenhouse emissions, reaching the peak, should be by 2025. Such a situation is called mitigation. Many countries have committed to the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to around

 

1- Adaptation implies decreasing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Its goal is to discourage human interference the earth’s climate, “stabilize greenhouse gas levels in a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” (Source: The 2014 Report on Mitigation of Climate Change from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, page 4). Adaptation, on the other hand, is adapting to a different environment condition due to climate change. One has to get acclimatized to actual or potential future climate. Its goal is to offset the harmful effects of climate change like sea-level rise, more extreme intense weather condition, or food insecurity. It has its positive impacts too like longer growing seasons or increased yields in some region.


2- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC provides regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

 

1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels (World Economic Forum, 2022). There are efforts to decarbonize relevant sectors of the world or Bangladesh economy, such as heavy industries, brick kilns, coal-fired gas stations etc.

In Bangladesh, RMGs industries are massively going for green technologies, which have been acknowledged by different stakeholders. But sad enough, Bangladesh is not doing good enough to green urban areas. This is important for water storage. Dhaka city suffers badly due to losses of lives and properties when fire breaks out, as both natural and artificial water storage facilities are not available in different parts of the city. Even the natural canals, flowing normally about a few decades back, are now clogged due to huge infrastructure development.(1) City roads become non-passable for transports and people when there is incessant rainfall during monsoon. This is also alarmingly true for the port city of Chattogram, the second largest city of the country. The municipal services of the city corporations are dismally poor in these cities. This is clearly visible in the death toll of this year’s dengue outbreak in Bangladesh that has resulted in nearly 1,000 deaths this year-till date across the country with concentration in the Dhaka City. The year 2023 is the deadliest since the disease was first detected in the country in 2000. At least 206,288 cases of the disease were detected or reported this year(2). The public health system needs to be decentralized than being so centralized. Referral system does not work in Bangladesh.

 

1- In the capital city of Dhaka itself, open areas and waterbodies are fast depleting. 70% of 71kmof the Hatirjheel project, including Begunbari canal area, will be transformed into a built-up area by 2025. If this trend continues, the capital’s open areas, including waterbodies, will be reduced to 3.5%. The storm water caused by six hours of rainfall on September 21, 2023 in Dhaka city took 32 hours to recede. Around 113 mm rainfall is not much in quantity, but due to the faulty drainage system, they all have to bear the brunt. The way forward is to build a nature-friendly drainage system, reclaiming the canals, improve the capacity of the drainage system, etc. Moreover, people need social awareness and political will, especially from local governments (Source: “Modernise Drainage, Reclaim Canals. Speakers tell Authorities on Mitigating Dhaka’s Waterlogging Crisis”, The Daily Star, October 4, 2023).

2-“Dengue Outbreak. Deaths Cross 1,000 Marks. 2,882 Admitted to Hospitals in a Day”, The Daily Star, October 2, 2023. This news item also mentions, quoting Mushtaq Hussain, a Consultant at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control, and Research in Bangladesh, “All our efforts to control the mosquito population have been ineffective. This led to the rise in the number of cases and deaths. The extended monsoon is yet another reason why dengue cases are persisting this year.”

 

The IPCC says that “adaptation to climate change means adjusting our behaviour (e.g., where we choose to live; the way we plan our cities and settlements) and adapting our infrastructure (e.g., greening of urban areas for water storage).” Adaptation can take place by building roads and bridges, reinforcing coastal protection, and introducing drought- and flood-resistant crops. Bangladesh has done a good job developing flood resistant paddy. Here creative ideas are clearly visible. All said and done, Bangladesh continues to remain a victim of climate injustice as only around one-fifth of climate finance provided by wealthier countries goes to adaptation and resilience, which is about $16.8 billion a year. COP26 adopted the Glasgow Climate Pact that called for doubling this amount for resilient and adaptation programs.

However, developed countries over promise and under deliver. It is still possible to double the adaptation fund in 2023. Another initiative by the UN promised funding a new Loss and Damage Fund to be created at COP28 in Dubai in December 2023. Optimistic discussions were held, but there were hardly any concrete pledges of fund except from the Government of Scotland, which is not even a party to the UNFCC (Huq, 2023). However, a silver lining has been showing in this dark cloud very recently. The UN Green Climate Fund (GCF) has pulled in $9.3 billion in pledges from 25 different countries to help the vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh to cope with climate change. The GCF is meant to channel money to poor countries to meet their targets to reduce carbon emissions, develop cleaner energy sources, and adapt to a warming world (Reuters, Berlin, 2023). There is a hunch that adaptation costs for developing countries could reach a staggering amount of $300 billion a year by the end of the 2020s. It may even skyrocket to as much as $340 billion a year by 2030. One of the four priorities for the COP27 summit was climate adaptation. According to the UN, “The Global Goal on Adaptation was one of the significant outcomes of COP26. We must ensure that COP27 makes the crucially needed progress and urge all parties to demonstrate the necessary political will if we are to capture and assess our progress towards enhancing resilience and assist the most vulnerable communities” (World Economic Forum, 2022).

 

Climate Justice: A Human-Centred Approach

Climate justice encompasses “a set of rights and obligations, which corporations, individuals and governments have towards vulnerable people who will be disproportionately affected by climate change” (Rahman, 2023). Justice implies that while all stakeholders need to contribute their bit to contain climate change, maximum burden should be shared by those who have contributed the most. The world’s richest 10% are responsible for 50% of GHG, and the poorest 50%, such as Bangladesh, are responsible for 10% of emissions. Climate justice encapsulates areas like social injustice, gender injustice, economic injustice, economic injustice, intergenerational injustice, and environmental injustice. Justice should not prioritize maximizing profit over sustainability (UNICEF, 2022).

Bangladesh is a densely populated country as mentioned with over 160 million people vulnerable to constantly changing and emerging climate change issues. By 2050, Bangladesh is likely to experience an increase of temperature of about 1.5 °C that may threaten the livelihood of about 15 million people residing near the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal. During COP26 in Glasgow, the issue of climate justice was brought to limelight in the eyes of negotiators and world leaders. Developed countries during COP15 promised $100 billion for developing countries by 2020 but faltered. It could raise about $84 billion. This setback has created a fragile bridge between high-emitters and climate victims. However, the Glasgow Climate Pact, an outcome of COP25, is showing some silver lining towards climate justice becoming an integral part of the UNFCC (North South University, 2021).

If climate victim nations are to resolve this injustice, they have to raise the issue in the appropriate fora that the Global North has the historical responsibility to accept the problem in right earnest and contribute meaningfully to the Global South. This becomes a win-win for both people and the planet. Unless it is a win-win for all, climate crisis will hit all stakeholders, either in the North or the South. This may be called climate justice—a human-centred approach to tackle climate change,

which was the complex outcome of a myriad of social issues. Climate justice recognizes that climate change is a result of many interlocking systems of capitalism, resource extraction, labour exploitation, and the commodification of nature.

Nature has been badly mauled by the developmental urge of both industrialized and developing countries. The sad part of the story is that people who are hardest hit are least responsible for this ordeal. To give a concrete example, the workers of the Bangladeshi garments factories are badly exploited both by the Bangladeshi owners and western businessmen who buy these products at a throwaway price. Pope Paul once called these workers ‘sweating slaves’. Most of these workers—who are mostly women—are climate refugees who have thronged the capital city for sustenance as mentioned. They lead a sub-human life as the buyers from the richest western countries do not want to pay enough to the suppliers from Bangladesh. They tend to curb the profit margin as much as possible. Accordingly, the owners pay minimal wages to these workers that hardly meet the nutrition, and other lower-orders sanitary needs of these helpless people. There is also another side of the coin even during the economic downturn of Bangladesh. Due to the depreciation of Taka, Bangladeshi garments’ owners incurred an additional profit of Tk. 90,000 crore(1) fiscal year (2022 -2023). In fact, it is a striking level of growth in Bangladeshi currency. Here lies a big question: will the owners share a miniscule part of this profit with the workers? They are disposal human capital, and it is a daydream for them to become respected citizens and, thus, can enjoy the higher-order needs of life((2) (Akhtar, 2023). There is a remote possibility

 

1- One US dollar equals to Tk. 110 (Approximately).

2- Food inflation, according to government data, accounted for 12.54% in August 2023, while overall inflation accounted for almost 10%. Another study, covering the period from September 2018 to September 2023, shows how prices of daily essentials have skyrocketed. The price of lentils has gone up by 120%, flour by 88%, potatoes by 80%, and fish by 100%. A family of four needs Tk. 23,000 per month just to meet their caloric needs. It may go up to Tk. 40,000 per month to lead a somewhat dignified life. Considering productivity, wages in other countries, production cost, owners’ profits, inflation, and daily expenses, wages should be much higher. They generally get between Tk. 8,000-10,000 per month, when they start working in factories. (Source: Taslima Akhtar, “TK. 25,000 for Garments Workers. Don’t They Deserve a Dignified Life?” The Daily Star, October 3, 2023).

 

for such a thing to happen since profit maximization is the main motive of any business. Social and environmental responsibility is still a far cry in Bangladesh. That said, some businessmen are gradually getting sensitized of this responsibility.

“Climate displacement and migration will continue to raise global security issues. We want justice, fairness, and a sense of responsibility from the world community. We want the world community to fulfil its promises to reduce carbon emissions and ensure climate funding,” Sohanur Rahman, a founding member of a grassroots movement on Climate Justice appealed so to the industrialized world(1) (UNDP, Bangladesh, 2021). Another young climate activist and founder of Climate Justice, Bangladesh Jabed Nur Shantaw, talks in a similar vein, “If we want to save our future generations, we must move away from coal-fired power plants. We need to move towards renewable energy sources. We had discussions with various levels of government officials. After that, we came to know that the government has cancelled ten coal power projects”(2) (UNDP, Bangladesh, 2021). It was a good move by young activists in 2021, but once the prices of fossil fuels skyrocketed after the Russia-Ukraine War, the government had no choice but to start operating some of the coal-fired stations. There is a huge depletion of in-house gas, on the shore, or no serious effort was made to explore the wells, even in the Bay of Bengal, so as an emergency

measure, the government had to start operating the stations by importing coal from abroad. The government is even importing LNG from abroad at a high price. All these are a big burden on this climate-change afflicted and densely populated—170 million in an area of 56,000 mi2—country of Bangladesh, where even the possibility of solar or non-renewable sources is far-fetched, given the technology or the non-availability of space in crowded Bangladesh.

 

1- His movement is called Fridays for Future Bangladesh. He is also a coordinator of YouthNet for Climate Justice, a large network to support coastal communities during crisis. He conveyed these to Gaon Connection (Source: (COP26: Climate Justice is the Strident War Cry of Young Activists in Bangladesh. UNDP Bangladesh, November 10, 2021).

2- He also told these to Gaon Connection. He was at the forefront of the movement against the ‘coal-power project’ in Cox’s Bazar, a town in Southeastern Bangladesh (Source: (COP26: Climate Justice is the Strident War Cry of Young Activists in Bangladesh. UNDP Bangladesh, November 10, 2021).

 

Use of Renewables - A Far Cry?

That said, as an expert shows us the silver lining in using renewables in Bangladesh, renewable resources include biomass, tides, waves, sunshine, wind, rain, and thermal energy stored in the Earth’s crust, which are easily accessible almost anywhere in Bangladesh. These resources do not

harm the climate or the eco-system as fossils do. They are inexhaustible in contrast to finite fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and natural gas. More emissions are produced by fossils than renewables. But the renewable picture is not rosy at all. Today, less than 2% of the energy mix consists of renewables in Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh had introduced the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan (MCPP) in 2021 that aims to reach a 30% renewable energy share by 2030 and at least 40% by 2041 (Raihan, 2023).

Bangladesh is a country that can do good planning, including setting targets, but its implementation is shockingly poor. It has inefficient bureaucracy—mostly generalists—so young activists, NGOs, private entrepreneurs, or professionals have to come forward to take over these challenging jobs of keeping this country and its economy functional. Good news is in 2019, Bangladesh declared climate change a “planetary emergency”. UNDP-Bangladesh, British Council-Bangladesh, Action

Aid-Bangladesh, Change Initiative are some of the organizations involved in training and empowering the youth to address climate change. They can do a good job doing climate risk-assessment, local adaptation, planning and climate change adaptation tracking. Their goal should be to transform the society and economy into a low-carbon climate resilient economy and society(1) (UNDP, Bangladesh, 2021). These youths should also be utilized to better harness the renewables. They should be integrated with risk-taking entrepreneurs to install the renewable energy infrastructure.

 

1- “COP26: Climate Justice is the Strident War Cry of Young Activists in Bangladesh”. UNDP Bangladesh, November 10, 2021. The sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August 2021 carried the voices of Ayna Rani Sarkar and those who are climate endangered. The people of coastal Bangladesh, like Ayna Rani, endured extreme weather conditions for more than a decade. They are marginalized with no homes, livelihoods, or savings, and they continue to languish in displacement.

 

Space may be limited, but creative ideas can generate fruitful results. Ideas range between installing the infrastructure on the rooftops of big factories and other organizations, in the Barind areas in northern Bangladesh, in the Char areas in the big river basins, in the coastal areas, etc. There is abundant sunlight in all parts of Bangladesh throughout the year except during the monsoon.

We should direct our initiatives from oil and fuel use to renewables like solar and wind energy and energy efficiency. Major investors are coming forward to invest in clean energy as it is, as it seems more profitable. Fossil fuels such as coal are becoming non-competitive without subsidies. To encourage more vigorous investments in renewables, subsidies on fossil fuels must be withdrawn immediately (Huq, 2023).

 

Human Rights and Climate Change

The governments have traditionally treated climate change as an environmental problem or an economic problem, recently. Now there is an awareness climate change should be seen from the prism of human rights, such as rights to life, to food, and a place to eat and work. Moreover, policies formulated to address climate change have implications on human rights. As an example, climate change may affect one’s right to life, which can be both immediate and gradual. Extreme climate change induced weather may cause sudden death of many people. Again, climate change may cause people’s health to deteriorate gradually, as it may limit people’s access to safe drinking water or make them more susceptible to diseases such as pandemics. Another such example could be the right to adequate food. Increased temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns may lead to more erosion and desertification. This may make previously productive land infertile thus affect negatively crop and livestock production. Yet, another example could be right to water and health. As this planet gets warmer, heat waves and water shortages will make it difficult to access safe drinking and sanitation. Changes in temperature are likely to affect the intensity of vector-born, water-borne and respiratory diseases (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2008). Bangladesh is already in the throes of extreme climate change conditions as discussed in this chapter. Marginalized people or the extreme poor people, especially in coastal areas and northeaster part of Bangladesh are already suffering from such human-rights deprivations.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2018 commended the establishment of the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust and the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund as mentioned. It also recommended that strategies and action plans on climate change and disaster response and risk reduction be formulated and implemented in the light of human rights. So, we see an interlinkage between human rights and climate change impacts. The Human Rights Council recognized this linkage in its recent resolution 50/9 and adoption of special procedures mandate on human rights and climate change. The United Nations General Assembly recognized that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a universal human right. This is a great call of the day. We grow up in the state of nature, which should be clean, healthy and sustainable. This is a right every citizen of this planet should be able to enjoy. Over 150 countries already recognize the right to a healthy environment within their legal system, in one form or another.

International human rights law provides a valuable framework to develop national policies and ensure accountability of the state and nonstate actors in protecting the environment and stall climate change. The national courts of law should come forward to implementing the direction of the United Nations. Environment is not national so all members should work together to protect the environment and its sustainability. That said, national courts can play an effective role in domestic implementation.

Bangladesh Supreme Court gave a landmark decision in 2019 to grant legal identity to the Turag River, in the outskirts of Dhaka city and all other rivers of the country. It identifies the potential for public interest litigation and action by the courts to protect the environment. The Court not only recognizes the legal entities of the rivers but also directs different government agencies to protect the endangered rivers, mostly encroached by the influential local businessmen, politicians, and even the big business houses of the country (Office of the High Commission of Human Rights, 2022). These can easily hoodwink the local administration and destroys the natural flow and cleanliness, ecological balance, normal trade and commerce through these rivers, keeping the transportation potential of these rivers alive, cultivation of fisheries etc. These age-old potentials of these historical rivers get destroyed by petty business interests, even to the extent of destroying the entire river system by building a mini-city on the riverbeds. This is happening in the Rivers Turag, Balu and Buriganga, all surrounding the city of Dhaka. They are extremely unscrupulous people who have no commitment to social and environmental responsibilities to the people living along the coasts of these age-old rivers. It is expected that the legislative and executive organs of the state will move expeditiously to implement the courts’ directives. As mentioned earlier in the chapter, Bangladesh administration is good in charting out a good plan, but it falters in implementing it. So, the Court has to issue its orders time and again. The executive bureaucracy is otherwise inefficient, but they are also stymied by the unscrupulous people. Corruption has also its tolls in this timid process. So, climate justice or human rights are sacrificed at the altar of judicial formal justice. It is extremely difficult to evict the river encroachers in the Rivers Buriganga, Turag and Balu. These encroachers build permanent structures inside or industries on the banks of the rivers thus contributing immensely to polluting or death of these rivers. These rivers are today biologically unfit to cultivate natural fisheries.

 

Concluding Remarks

Climate change is taking its toll on the people who bear the least responsibility for these changes. This, therefore, calls for justice to be meted out to the people who are seemingly undergoing existential threat. This chapter has highlighted the plight of the helpless and marginalized people, who are specially living in the coastal region of Bangladesh.

Climate justice can be achieved by providing adequate funding for both adaptation and mitigation. However, the available funds are insufficient. Bangladesh is suffering immensely both from cyclones and tidal bores that emanate from the Bay of Bengal in the south and three river basins, responsible for extensive river erosion and intrusion of salinity in the sweet water space, emanating from the mighty Himalaya in the north. Even the largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans—bordering the Bay of Bengal—that protects the people of the affected area from the fury of the cyclones and tidal bores, is under existential threat as there is intrusion of salinity from the Bay of Bengal replacing the sweet water vacuum created by the Ganges River as its up-stream water is withdrawn by its upper riparian neighbour. This results in the death of its life-sustaining Sundari trees. Due to sea water level rise in the Bay of Bengal there are extremes of temperatures in the climatic condition of Bangladesh. Climate change has now become more erratic and intense, so the suffering is causing people living in the coastal areas to migrate to the big cities such as Dhaka and Chattogram as climate refugees. These people live in sub-standard living conditions in shanties, with hardly any access to safe drinking water and food, and basic public health support. Bangladesh does not have an efficient public health mechanism as this year alone more than 1,000 people have already succumbed to death due to epidemic dengue fever. There are no referral system working in Bangladesh so people are crowding Dhaka city for medical support. Bangladesh needs to further decentralize its public health system.

River erosions are uprooting the marginalized people from their ancestral homes to move to big cities as climate refugees. Even many schools are being devoured and have to be relocated time and again. This adversely affects the education of children. River erosions are even damaging local medical clinic facilities.


Bangladesh is heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels, including coal, for generating electricity. This is more expensive and damaging for the environment. Bangladesh is far removed from installing comprehensive renewable infrastructure for electricity. It aims to increase the renewables share of energy resources by 2030 and 2041. It has created two climate funds as described in the body, which are great futuristic initiatives. These are the ways forward for Bangladesh, as is true for any other developed or developing country.

Climatic justice is a people-centred approach. However, ensuring this justice in densely populated cities in Bangladesh is challenging. The population density in Dhaka city is double that of Manhattan, where marginalized people are one-third of its population. These are typical climate refugees. Many of them work in the RMGs of Bangladesh, where they are poorly paid even to meet their lower-order needs. These people are even called ‘sweating slaves’. That said, their sweats are sustaining the economy of Bangladesh, as the RMGs industry generate the maximum export earnings—more than 80%—for Bangladesh. Thus, the poor workers do not have the option to go back to their ancestral homes in the villages. They have no choice but to bear the brunt of a cramped, unhealthy life in shanties of an otherwise posh city of Dhaka.

Climate justice calls for funds both for mitigation and adaptation. Temperature is higher than anticipated in different COPs. So, the fury is going to take higher tolls in the developing South. The North does not step up to salvage victims of the South as envisaged. This is in addition to the lack of governance, accountability, people’s welfare projects, etc, in the developing South, especially so in Bangladesh. This exacerbates the plight of the socio-economic life of the people.

Climate justice is also linked to human rights as every people on our planet Earth deserve a healthy life, safe drinking water, shelter, and basic public health support. All citizens should also have access to education, especially children and women. These segments suffer the most from climate change. Sustainability is key here. The environment should be sustained in a way that our next generation gets their due share as the present generation does. Bangladeshi courts— even known as the rivers legal entities—are stepping up, rather pre-emptively, to ensure environmental sustainability, especially of the rivers, but the administration that is supposed to implement the court directives are found, rather, not that agile as vested quarters are seemingly more powerful to hoodwink them. Corruption also plays a role here. It is heartening to see the Bangladeshi courts are stepping up to ensure human rights for its marginalized and climate-change afflicted people.

On a positive note, young activists, different NGOs and UN agencies are actively participating in both adaptation and mitigation programs of the climate-change impacts in Bangladesh. These agencies could also be integrated with the private-sector entrepreneurs of Bangladesh, especially

in the field of renewable energy.

 

 

References

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Australian Human Rights Commission. (2008). Rights and Freedoms--Climate Change and Human Rights. September.

Climate Reality Project. (2021). How the Climate Crisis is Impacting Bangladesh. December 9.

Climate Change. (2021). The COP26: How realistic is Bangladesh’s climate prosperity plan? Bangladesh has come up with its own zero-carbon-future plan, which it wants to share with other vulnerable countries. November 8.Huq, Saleemul. (2023). The Climate Action Summit in New York has Failed to Deliver---Politics of Climate Change. The

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Human security is conceived here along with its seven dimensions – that are Food Security, Health Security, Environmental Security, Personal Security, Environmental Security, Personal Security, Community Security and Political Security

See for this UNHCR Operational Data Portal https://tinyurl.com/3djw8sjb/

See for this https://tinyurl.com/5de4jpea/

See for this https://tinyurl.com/5de4jpea/

See for this Gerald Kairu (NY). Drought and People’s livelihood in the Horn of Africa:

https://tinyurl.com/396nvk2e

See for this https://tinyurl.com/bdd9s47d/

See for this https://tinyurl.com/yyzws3z2

See for this https://tinyurl.com/5yu7r5av

See for this https://tinyurl.com/yrtatujz

See for this https://tinyurl.com/y9f5x48w/

See for this Aryn Baker (2019). Can Africa’s Great Green Wall Help Fight Climate

Change? https://time.com/5669033/great-green-wall-africa/

See for this https://tinyurl.com/225hs35s