Building for climate change

As the Copenhagen conference on climate change begins next month, the most vulnerable nation to climate change, Bangladesh, facing the worst effects of greenhouse gas, aspires to be best adapted to its impacts. The latest of efforts along the lines is the beginning of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development. Here is where the intellectual flow reverses, whereby the West learns from the East…writes Saad Hammadi

There is a rise in the sea level across the world. In Bangladesh, it is rising by seven millimetres every year, owing to the extreme flat surface in the coastal areas. It is feared that it will rise faster in the future, because of the enhanced melting of snow in the Polar Regions and the accelerated meltdown of glaciers in mountains, including the Himalayas. The penetration of sea water into the coastal areas is turning fresh water saltier by the day.

The last three mega cyclones, Sidr, Nargis and Aila were unprecedented in the experience of the last century. Thus, the rise in sea level and cyclones are feared to push saline water deeper into the land, northwards.

Both the frequency and intensity of floods are increasing and so is the coverage area. Further, at the north-western part of the country, comprising the Barind tract, the dry areas are likely to be more drought-prone in the future. There is already a huge displacement of population in the char areas and climate change has started to increase the phenomenon.

Back in the rural farming lands, the farmers’ knowledge of cultivation that they had accumulated from their previous generation now appears ineffective in the face of erratic rainfall.

The seasons have changed. The regional model projections say that the rainfall pattern will become more erratic in the South Asian monsoon season. There is a possibility of heavier monsoon and longer dry seasons. While that is just the phenomenon being observed here, some places like the west coast of the United States are getting wetter. In fact the trend indicates that the dry regions are becoming drier while the wet are becoming wetter.

‘The hydrological pattern varies from region to region from across the globe,’ says Dr Saleemul Huq, an international climate change expert.

With the rainfall erratic, the heavy downpours containing thicker drops than ever, the summer expanding to the point of temperature rising above previous known limits, the impacts of climate change are evident on the farming lands and the char areas of the country’s remotest regions. Many of the crops that farmers planted earlier, on the lands, are not yielding as it did before.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found Bangladesh to be the most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change, as many of its impacts become apparent.

‘We are entering the era of climate change and the whole world has to deal with it,’ says Huq. ‘If we can gather our strength, the world will come to us.’

The people in the coastal and remote regions of the country are in a constant process of adapting to climate change. To make adaptations more effective and feasible through research and academic studies, the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) in partnership with the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and the UK based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) have initiated the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).

‘Through this centre, IUB is committed to enhancing national capacity and producing leaders not only for Bangladesh, but for the world,’ says Dr M Omar Rahman, pro-vice chancellor of IUB. ‘We want to reverse the flow of intellectual traffic from the north to the south.’

Alongside offering an MSc in climate change and development from early next year, the centre will run regular short courses for different professional groups. In addition, the centre will facilitate postgraduate students from around the world with field work in Bangladesh.

Omar emphasises on collaborative work and open access to research and information. ‘We want to work with other groups. There has to be a collective effort, whether it is our sister university or other institutions.’

‘What we want to produce from the masters’ degree is not necessarily climate change experts but people who will work in developments that will now have knowledge of climate change,’ says Huq, who is also the director of ICCCAD and a senior fellow at IIED. ‘The short courses are for those who can play a role in the issue of climate change from their existing field of profession.’

In the United Kingdom the London School of Economics, University of Sussex, Manchester, Leeds and the Oxford have just set up climate change centres. ‘They know the technological aspects but they do not know the social, institutional aspects of adaptation,’ says Huq.

Bangladesh evidently becomes the ideal field of research for climate change adaptations, as Dr Huq divulges, ‘we will host their PhD field work over here.’

The partnership in the formation of the centre at IUB reflects an integration of local as well as international expertise and research. The BCAS has been active in research, advisory and project work on climate adaptation for more than 20 years, and has great experience in the key issues regarding Bangladesh, as well as internationally.

The IUB has existing teaching facilities and research on climate change, with regards to both adaptation and mitigation. The IIED will enhance its expertise by bringing internationally-renowned experts to teach and train, and work with IUB and other university staff.

The ICCCAD, meanwhile, will be funded by DFID and UK Overseas Aid Ministry, with a view to promote capacity development on climate change in Bangladesh and other least developed countries.

Although the United Nations University headquartered in Tokyo does not award degrees, with the inception ICCCAD in Bangladesh, it is considering those perimeters.

‘The poorest families in Bangladesh’s remotest regions know how to adapt to the climate change but the technologically rich in the US do not,’ says Huq, justifying as to why Bangladesh holds so much importance. ‘It is where the action is,’ adds Omar.

‘When we talk about Bangladesh, internationally, people know it because of its vulnerability to climate change,’ says Huq ‘but in 10 years time we want Bangladesh to be recognised for its adaptability.’

THE drastic changes in the climate across the world are largely attributed to greenhouse gases heating the earth’s surface. The components of greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, ozone and chlorofluorocarbon.

The industrialisation and urbanisation that has occurred in the last 200 years has made the earth warmer by 0.86 degree centigrade. If it reaches above two degrees from the pre-industrial period, then scientists apprehend it will cross the tipping point which will veer upon climatic disaster. ‘Crossing this tipping point will lead to an irreversible climatic system which will result in disastrous impacts for most countries of the world,’ says Dr Atiq Rahman, executive director, BCAS.

The rise in temperature as most climate change experts point out is a result of excessive exhaustion of greenhouse gases by the developed countries, especially by burning fossil fuel comprising of coal, oil and gas. The emission of oil, coal and gas not only cause pollution but is also the source of climate change.

‘The damage has already been done,’ says Dr Rahman, ‘what is required now is reducing the use of carbon content.’ In the climate change jargon, it is called mitigation, explains Dr Huq.

Thus at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen beginning next month, Bangladesh has to pursue a common agenda with other vulnerable nations like Maldives, Nepal and African countries. The common agenda for the vulnerable countries has to be getting an ambitious target for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and financing in the order of hundreds of billions of dollars from the developed world to assist the developing world in adaptation and mitigation.

The European Union has agreed to reduce the use of carbon dioxide by 20 per cent within 2020. It has further agreed to reduce the use by another 10 per cent within the same time if other countries also begin the mitigation.

‘So that makes it a political issue,’ says Rahman. ‘It forces all other industrialised countries to act for rapid reduction in greenhouse gas.’

While the coal and fossil fuel companies spend millions funding the sceptics for denying the reality of climate change, the majority of the US senate is now convinced about the existence of climate change and its adversities, says Dr Huq.

While reducing the carbon content is the responsibility of the developed countries, the affected and vulnerable states have to prepare for adaptation. ‘Bangladesh happens to be the first to formulate a National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) that many other countries including the United States is now following,’ says Dr Huq.

In fact Bangladesh is much ahead on the issue. In addition to the NAPA, the government has also formed the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.

In the adaptation process, floating gardens is a good example. ‘But, it’s not a guarantee that the arrangement will work everywhere. We need to find hundreds of such examples of similar survival, not just one,’ says Terry Cannon, visiting director of studies for the ICCCAD. ‘The research will help to find them.’

While the vulnerable nations prepare themselves for adaptation, the developed countries have to shift from fossil fuel to cleaner energies. On the brighter side, climate experts find a new economy emerging from the cleaner energies.

‘The new cleaner and greener economy will be one that no longer depends on fossil fuel but leads to cleaner, greener energy from renewable sources like solar and wind power,’ says Dr Huq. China is leading the way in investing in the technology.

The use of compressed natural gas in fuel consumption for vehicles is an example of cleaner energy. Similar efforts are required globally to mitigate the greenhouse effect on the earth. At the end of the day, it is a matter of common but differentiated responsibility, with respective capability.


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