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Conference on Climate Change and Bangladesh Development Strategy : Domestic Tasks and International PDF Print
Written by Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon   
Thursday, 04 December 2008 16:38

The reality of climate change

There is now little disagreement that climate change is occurring, and human-generated green house gases (GHG) are the main cause of this change. In its 2007 report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provided convincing evidence of ongoing processes of climate change and the contributing factors. The main aspect of climate change is global warming, as a result of which glaciers and ice caps are melting, ocean water volume is expanding, and sea level is rising. Rising earth temperature is changing ocean and wind current, disrupting normal weather patterns, and increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events. If the current trends of GHG emission and global warming continue, the very existence of human beings on this planet will be at peril.
Bangladesh is likely to be one of the worst affected countries by climate change. Due to its low elevation, large parts of the country may get inundated as a result of sea level rise, forcing millions of people of this densely populated country to exodus. Melting of the Himalayan glaciers may dry up the Himalayan Rivers completely during the non-monsoon months. At the same time, excessive precipitation during the monsoon may aggravate flooding during the summer months. Such radical changes in the weather pattern may disrupt the country's agriculture, economy, ecology, and life in general. Further temperature rise may cause new problems of disease and epidemic in this tropical country. All in all, climate change poses for Bangladesh a danger of probable catastrophic proportions.

It is ironic that Bangladesh is going to be one of the worst victims of climate change when she is one of the countries least responsible for this change. Bangladesh's GHG emission is still one of the lowest in the world, both in the aggregate and more so in per capita terms. It is the GHG emission by the currently developed countries over the last 250 years (since the First Industrial Revolution) that has resulted in the current high atmospheric concentration level of CO2 causing the climate change. These countries continue to aggravate the problem each passing day by their currently high levels of GHG emissions. Clearly, it is the responsibility of the developed countries to arrest and prevent climate change by drastically reducing their GHG emissions.

It is unfortunate that developed countries so far have not done enough to live up to their responsibility. Several important developed countries did not even sign the Kyoto Protocol, the binding agreement for reduction of GHG gases that was reached in 1999 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Now that the Kyoto Protocol's term is expiring (in 2010), developed countries and other large GHG emitting countries have not yet been able to agree on a new treaty regarding reduction of GHG emissions.

Bangladesh obviously needs to raise a strong voice in international forums urging developed countries and other large emitters to reduce their GHG emission and thus to stop the process of climate change. In this regard, Bangladesh needs to join other developing countries who like her have not been historically responsible for global warming, whose GHG emissions levels are still very low, and yet who are likely to bear the brunt of climate change. Bangladesh also needs to align herself with those among the developed countries who are more sensitive to the issue of climate change and are willing to take mitigation measures. Hopefully concerted efforts by all will lead to deeper reductions of GHG emission at the world level.

Unfortunately, even if mitigation measures get momentum in the coming years, some climate change has become inevitable, because the high GHG concentration already reached has set off certain climate change processes that are now irreversible, at least in the short run. Second, reductions in GHG emission (under the Kyoto Protocol and the Protocol that will eventually replace it) will occur in phases so that it will take some time before the atmospheric GHG concentration level stabilizes and hopefully starts to decrease. Until that point, the GHG concentration will continue to increase, aggravating climate change processes. This inevitability of climate change to a certain degree in the near future implies that alongside demanding mitigation at the international level, Bangladesh also needs to work toward adaptation and mitigation at home.

The need for re-examination of Bangladesh's development strategy

So far the climate change issue has elicited in government and non-government circles of Bangladesh enthusiasm about seeking money from donor countries for ostensibly adaptation purposes. Thus Bangladesh has eagerly participated in international and bilateral conferences and has pleaded for financial help and compensation.

While outside financial assistance can be of some help, the experience shows that it is more important to look inward and find out what the country can do herself in confronting the problem. Unless a national vision and agenda are developed through domestic introspection, outside money may not prove to be that beneficial for the country and particularly the people who will be affected the most, even though it may benefit some specific groups and individuals. The country's experience with water development efforts illustrates this lesson very clearly. After spending millions of dollars and about twenty percent of national development budget each year on so called water development projects for almost half a century, what the country has gotten in return is mainly aggravation of flooding and intensification of waterlogging, with very little and not long lasting beneficial impact on agricultural production. Similar examples abound in other areas of Bangladesh's development effort. It is therefore very important for Bangladesh to avoid a repetition of this sorry experience as she now embarks on efforts to confront the challenges arising from climate change.

Unfortunately, Bangladesh's response so far does not seem to be very promising. Instead of domestic introspection, Bangladesh's response to climate change is getting shaped largely by foreign advice and funding, and incorrect ideas are often being promoted as response to the climate change challenge. For example, Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), the document that Bangladesh government prepared with help from DFID in preparation of its participation in the "UK-Bangladesh Climate Change Conference: Bangladesh Facing the Challenge" held in London in September 2008 puts a lot of emphasis on embankments and polders as adaptation measures. Yet the geology of the Bengal delta shows that sedimentation caused by Himalayan rivers is the most important bulwark that this delta can have against the rising sea level caused by global warming. Embankments and polders unfortunately harm this natural bulwark by obstructing the process of sedimentation. Also the likelihood of the Himalayan Rivers having excessive flow in the monsoon months and becoming completely dry in the non-monsoon months makes even more imperative for Bangladesh to make it easier for the river water to spread over the floodplains in the summer and to be able to retain much of this overflow for use in the winter. Embankments that cordon off floodplains from the river channels do exactly the opposite. Thus the climate change challenge suggests that instead of the Cordon approach to rivers, Bangladesh should adopt the Open, ecological approach. By emphasizing embankments and polders, BCCSAP is therefore pushing the country in the wrong direction. This example shows that just seeking and getting outside financial assistance will not solve climate change challenge that Bangladesh faces.

What is more important is to conduct a thoughtful introspection in order to develop a national vision about how to prepare the country better for the eventuality of climate change. It will involve an in-depth examination of the country's development strategy in order to find out how climate change is going to affect each of her sectors and then to develop concrete ideas about how to refashion the development strategy. Such an effort will have to go beyond "adaptation" as commonly understood in the international conference circles, where it is used in a narrow sense, referring to certain specific projects, and as a way of asking for donor support, either under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol or outside it. By contrast, the exercise proposed above is more comprehensive, of deeper nature, and not primarily geared to asking for financial assistance from donor countries. On this context, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) are going to jointly organize a Conference on "Climate Change and Bangladesh Development Strategy : Domestic Tasks and International Cooperations"on 02 January 2009, Friday at the Institute of Cost and Management, Bangladesh(ICMAB), Nilkhet, Dhaka.

The purpose of the conference is to take a step toward a national introspection, to facilitate a re-examination of the development strategy, and to help formulate the changes necessary in the strategy. In order to do so the conference will bring together climate change experts to discuss the issues from the above perspective. Many scholars and research organizations of Bangladesh have already been engaged in the discussion of climate change and its repercussions for Bangladesh for a long time now. Some of them have and are playing an important role in IPCC and other international forums. The conference hopes to pool all this national expertise and also to enlist participation of relevant experts from abroad.

However, it is not viewed as a conference of experts only. BAPA and BEN do not believe that solutions to major problems of the country can be formulated through discussions of experts alone. Thus, following already established BAPA-BEN tradition, the conference will also bring together representatives of society and members of the public, including political leaders, to participate in the discussion. In particular the conference will enlist participation of representatives of local communities of various parts of the country so that they can from their first hand experience inform about various changes that are occurring in their respective areas, from the coastal region of the south to the haor areas of the north. It is expected that through a shared discussion of experts, representatives of the cross-section of the society and of various parts of the country, it will be possible to develop a vision and a concrete strategy about how Bangladesh can navigate successfully through the coming challenges thrown at her by the processes of climate change. It may be hoped that the discussion and recommendations of the conference will prove helpful for the new government that the country is likely to have following the scheduled general elections of December 18.

General goal and concrete objectives

General goal

The general goal of the conference is to allow a national introspection about how Bangladesh can confront the challenge posed by climate change. In particular, it will re-examine Bangladesh's development strategy in order to find out how climate change will affect different sectors and based on the findings will develop a vision about how the development strategy needs to be refashioned in order to prepare the country better to withstand the dangers posed by climate change.

The concrete objectives are to:

  1. Discuss possible consequences of climate change for Bangladesh.
  2. Examine Bangladesh's development strategy in order to identify the weaknesses in view of the climate change processes.
  3. Develop ideas about how the development strategy can be modified in order to make it robust with respect to the dangers posed by climate change.
  4. Convert the ideas into concrete suggestions as to how development strategy needs to be modified with respect to different sectors of the economy and society.
  5. Formulate concrete recommendations for the policy makers of the country.
  6. Document and disseminate information and recommendations gathered at the conference for further analysis in the future.
  7. Make public aware about the dangers posed by climate change and what Bangladesh as a nation needs to do in order to face these dangers.

Topics for the conference

The conference will address the following topics.

  1. Possible consequences of climate change for Bangladesh in the areas of
    1. Shoreline movements
    2. Precipitation changes
    3. River flows
    4. Underground water table and subsidence
    5. Extreme weather events
    6. Agriculture and food production
    7. Disease and epidemics
    8. Forests, biodiversity, and wildlife
    9. Migration
    10. Other
  2. Re-examination of Bangladesh's water policies in the light of climate change
  3. Re-examination of Bangladesh's energy policies in the light of climate change
  4. Re-examination of Bangladesh's settlement and urbanization policies in the light of climate change
  5. Re-examination of policies regarding agriculture and food security in the light of climate change.
  6. Re-examination of Bangladesh's transportation policies in the light of climate change
  7. Re-examination of Bangladesh's policies regarding hills, forests, and bio-diversity in the light of climate change
  8. Re-examination of Bangladesh's health policies in the light of climate change
  9. Re-examination Bangladesh's education policies in the light of climate change
  10. Other domestic tasks for Bangladesh in the light of climate change

Call for papers

Papers on any of the topics above are invited for presentation at the conference. Papers can be in both Bangla and English, and should include an abstract of 200 to 250 words, but not exceed 30 pages (double spaced) in length. Completed papers should be submitted to the addresses below in Word files attached to e-mails. The deadline for submission is December 10, 2008. A selection of papers will be published in the form of a conference volume.

Authors within Bangladesh should send their papers to

Dr. M. A. Matin General Secretary, BAPA and Coordinator, Bangladesh Campaign against Climate Change (BCCC)

Authors abroad should send their papers to

Dr. Dipen Bhattacharya Dept of Geology and Geophysics University of California Riverside, CA, USA E-mail:

Conference Secretariat

For further information about the conference, please contact the conference secretariat below:


[For any clarification and further information, please contact BAPA General Secretary in Tel: (cell), e-mail: <>, Fax: ]

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