Climate change: Fight for survival
A. N. M. Nurul Haque
AS the clock steadily ticks towards the final round of negotiation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, scheduled for December 7 to 18 in Copenhagen, the slow pace of progress in the negotiation process suggests that it might not deliver anything of substance for reducing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The summit on climate change held in New York in September had taken a positive approach towards forging a commitment by the world leaders to replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 that expires in 2012. But some concrete steps are needed to work out a comprehensive climate change treaty in order to save the planet from peril.
The ice masses in the Arctic, North Sea and Himalayas have already started to melt, contributing to the rise in the sea level. Over two billion people living in small island states and low lying deltas, including Bangladesh, are likely to face a bleak future due to climate change. This is creating socio-political instabilities in many parts of the world.
Climate change has posed a mortal threat to Bangladesh because of its geographical location, low elevation from the sea, high level of population density and poverty and an overwhelming dependence on nature.
It really worries us all to know that a rise of one degree Celsius in temperature might cause as much as 15% of our land to go under water. This would trigger mass migration northwards, increasing pressure on lands and resources and loss of livelihood for about 40 million people.
Maldives and Tuvalu are the most vulnerable countries with the risk of being submerged totally due to a rise in sea level. The Maldives government recently held an undersea cabinet meeting to highlight the grave threat they face due to global warming.
The Nepal government is also planning to hold a cabinet meeting on the Himalayas to draw world attention to the climatic catastrophe awaiting them.
Melting Himalayan glaciers and other climate change impacts pose a direct threat to the food security of more than 1.6 billion people in South Asia. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Afghanistan are particularly vulnerable to decline in crop yields caused by glacier retreat, floods, draoghts, erratic rainfall and other climate change impacts.
The experts emphasised the need for taking strong mitigation and adaptation programs by the highest emitting nations, primarily the US, EU, China, Brazil and India, saying that if they failed to introduce strong mitigation measures, the most vulnerable countries would suffer catastrophic impacts over the longer term.
The cost of doing nothing to reduce the greenhouse effect has already proved to be devastating because of the alarming frequency and magnitude at which natural disasters are occurring in recent days. The Tsunami alone took a toll of 230,000 lives in 2004. Cyclone Nargis killed more than 100,000 people in Myanmar. Cyclone Sdir devastated the coastal districts of Bangladesh in 2008. These are the dangerous impacts of climate change. A unified stance of the South Asian countries in international negotiations on global climate change will surely yield better results.
To recoup the current climate change related losses, Bangladesh has sought $500 million on an urgent basis as financial assistance from the UN and developed countries. The European Union leaders have agreed to enter world climate talks, arguing that poorer countries will need €100 billion a year by 2020 to tackle global warming, but failed to set levels for Europe's contribution.
Bangladesh is poised for aggressive negotiations to seek greater international assistance than the amount estimated in the Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan to face the climatic catastrophe awaiting it. The government needs to spend $7 to $8 billion for 44 programs that have been chalked out in the action plan.
Bangladesh is bearing the brunt of climate change and the poor people are paying the highest prices. Climate change has been having a devastating impact on socio-economic development as both the frequency and the intensity of natural disasters like floods, cyclone, draught and tidal waves are on the rise.
The issue of climate change, which has become a life and death question for many countries, is still a subject of fashionable debate in the developed world. In such a situation, a consensus among the countries, worst or least affected by climate change, is needed for fruitful culmination of the negotiation process taking place over the past two years.
With its own annual carbon dioxide emissions only 172 kg per capita, compared to 21 tons in US, Bangladesh has a strong reason to feel aggrieved for suffering the consequences of climate change. To address the inevitable consequences of climate change, Bangladesh along with other vulnerable countries needs to place a strong demand in the Copenhagen conference for adequate funds and transfer of technology.
A.N.M. Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Daily Star, December 6, 2009