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The hard truths of climate change


Rayhan Ahmed Topader:



The planet is warming, from North Pole to South Pole. Since 1906, the global average surface temperature has increased by more than 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius)-even more in sensitive polar regions. And the impacts of rising temperatures aren’t waiting for some far-flung future the effects of global warming are appearing right now. The heat is melting glaciers and sea ice, shifting precipitation patterns, and setting animals on the move.Many people think of global warming and climate change as synonyms, but scientists prefer to use climate change when describing the complex shifts now affecting our planet’s weather and climate systems. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas, and a range of other impacts. All of these changes are emerging as humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.With two-thirds of the country less than 20 feet above sea level and with rapidly growing urban centers, Bangladesh is highly threatened by climate change. Resources listed below summarize existing information on climate change impacts, greenhouse gas emissions and USAID climate and development programs in Bangladesh. USAID staff and other development practitioners may find this information useful for climate risk management and for considering the linkages between climate change and development.

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change due to its low-lying deltaic landforms and close proximity to the Bay of Bengal. Therefore, climate change and its consequences are critical hindrance to the vision of sustained socioeconomic growth of the country. With the evolving climate change, Bangladesh has been frequently facing extreme climatic events, such as erratic rainfall, flooding, drought, sea-level rise, cyclones, and salinity intrusion. Climate change will worsen many of the current problems and natural hazards that the country faces. The mean temperature is projected to rise by 1.0 to 1.4°C during 2046–2065 and 1.0 to 3.7°C during 2081-2100. Rainfall is likely to change with more erratic pattern in the future. The western parts and drought-prone areas of the country will be at greater risk from droughts. The extent of flood intensity from cyclonic storm surges is likely to increase. The predicted sea-level rise in the coastal zone is 0.2-1.0 m in 2100, with a current trend of 6-20 mm year-1. The rising sea level, along with cyclonic storm surges, will increase the intensity and extent of coastal flooding, accelerate salinity intrusion, and hinder freshwater availability. The areas under 1 ppt and 5 ppt salinity in base (2005) condition will increase to 17.5 ppt and 24 ppt salinity, respectively by 2050 under extreme climate scenario. Under moderate climate scenario, crop production will decline by 27% for Aus rice and 61% for wheat. The yield of Boro rice may reduce by 55-62% under extreme climate scenario.

It is undeniably horrific that more than 2.8 million people have died of Covid-19 in the past 15 months. In roughly the same period, however, more than three times as many likely died of air pollution. This should disturb us for two reasons. One is the sheer number of air pollution deaths 8.7 million a year, according to a recent study and another is how invisible those deaths are, how accepted, how unquestioned. The coronavirus was a terrifying and novel threat, which made its dangers something much of the world rallied to try to limit. It was unacceptable though by shades and degrees, many places came to accept it, by deciding to let the poor and marginalized take the brunt of sickness and death and displacement and to let medical workers get crushed by the workload.We have learned to ignore other forms of death and destruction, by which I mean we have normalized them as a kind of moral background noise. This is, as much as anything, the obstacle to addressing chronic problems, from gender violence to climate change. What if we treated those 8.7 million annual deaths from air pollution as an emergency and a crisis and recognized that respiratory impact from particulates is only a small part of the devastating impact of burning fossil fuels? For the pandemic we succeeded in immobilizing large populations, radically reducing air traffic, and changing the way many of us live, as well as releasing vast sums of money as aid to people financially devastated by the crisis. We could do that for climate change, and we must but the first obstacle is the lack of a sense of urgency, the second making people understand that things could be different.

Due to its unique geographical location and high population density, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change. In coastal areas and arid regions of Bangladesh, climate change and climate variability have already proved incredibly destructive. It’s predicated that over the coming years, natural disasters like floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides, river erosion, and storm surges will become increasingly common and severe. Rising sea levels will wash away homes and leave land underwater, displacing huge numbers of people.Current estimates predict that 18 million Bangladeshis will be displaced within the next 40 years, from the impact of rising sea levels alone. The country’s government will be hard pressed to provide accommodation and jobs for all the people who have been stripped of their homes and livelihoods. Bangladesh has made great progress over the last 20 years, with increased incomes, reduced rate of poverty and self-sufficiency in producing rice, the country’s staple crop, but the effects of climate change could shatter these hard-earned achievements.The UN’s Programme Coordinator for Gender and Climate Change, Dilruba Haider, says that the women of Bangladesh are the first to face the impact of climate change. According to UN Women, gender inequality in the Asia-Pacific region limits the ability of Bangladesh’s women to respond to the impact of climate change Those deaths have been normalized; they need to be denormalized. One way to do so is by drawing attention to the cumulative effect and the quantifiable results.

Another is to map out how things could be different in the case of climate change, this means reminding people that there is no status quo, but a world being dramatically transformed, and that only bold action will limit the extremes of this change. The energy landscape is also undergoing dramatic change: the coal industry has collapsed in many parts of the world, the oil and gas industry are in decline. Renewables are proliferating because they are steadily becoming more and more effective, efficient and increasingly cheaper than fossil-fuel generated power. A lot of attention was paid to whatever actions might have caused Covid-19 to cross from animals to humans, but the actions that take fossil fuel out of the ground to produce that pollution that kills 8.7 million annually, along with acidifying oceans and climate chaos, should be considered far more outrageous a transgression against public health and safety. My hope for a post-pandemic world is that the old excuses for doing nothing about climate that it is impossible to change the status quo and too expensive to do so have been stripped away. In response to the pandemic, we in the US have spent trillions of dollars and changed how we live and work. We need the will to do the same for the climate crisis. The Biden administration has taken some encouraging steps but more is needed, both here and internationally. With a drawdown on carbon emissions and a move toward cleaner power, we could have a world with more birdsong and views of mountains and fewer pollution deaths. But first we have to recognize both the problem and the possibilities.

Writer and Columnist