Is environment day just for celebration?

| Updated: June 19, 2022 20:15:24

Teachers and students at a private university in Dhaka celebrates the World Environment Day on June 5, 2022 	—AIUB Photo Teachers and students at a private university in Dhaka celebrates the World Environment Day on June 5, 2022 —AIUB Photo

We have observed the World Environment Day on June 5, as we did in previous years. While we celebrated the day, the climate is changing and the environment rapidly deteriorating. According to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (Working Group 2) published in February 2022, climate change is accelerating, and climate-related losses and damages are increasing. According to the International Fund for Relief and Development (IFRC), extreme weather events and climate disasters have killed over 410,000 people and affected the lives of 1.7 billion people around the world in the last few decades.  In 2020 alone, 30 million people were displaced due to weather related events. Economic losses due to weather and climate related extreme events have climbed from $175 billion in 1970-1979 to $1.38 trillion in 2010-2019. Low- and middle-income countries like Bangladesh have borne a large share of these losses. While observing the Environment day, question thus arises-- is it just a day to celebrate the environment, or also time to act in protecting the poor who suffered, and the Mother Earth?

Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. According to a World Bank study, over 97 per cent of its geographic area and about 98 per cent of its population are at risk of multiple hazards. Every year, the country faces different natural disasters and poor people incur huge economic losses due to climate induced disasters such as flood, cyclone, river bank erosion, sea level rise, saline water intrusion, ecosystem degradation,  drought and other climate induced health and livelihood risks. Just in the last month, flash flood damaged over 5,000 hectares of Boro crops in Sunamganj haors worth around Tk 1.0 billion. Similar situation has been reported in Sylhet haors.  Similarly, pre-monsoon floods in 2017 affected 220,000 hectares of nearly ready-to-harvest Boro rice incurring huge economic losses. According to the IPCC assessment, Bangladesh suffers huge economic and non-economic losses due to change in climate. Climate-related disasters have affected approximately 850,000 households and damaged about 250,000 hectares of cultivable land. 

In Bangladesh, every year thousands of people lose their crops, cattle, land, homestead, and livelihood assets and they are displaced from home due to floods, riverbank erosion, cyclones, and other natural disasters. Thousands of people were displaced by the super cyclones Sidr and Aila.  According to a World Bank report published in 2018, as many as 13.3 million Bangladeshis may be compelled to migrate by 2050 due to intensified climate impacts. Losing land, homestead and livelihood assets, most of them move to towns and cities and shelter in slums.

The impact of climate change is more severe in coastal areas in Bangladesh. According to the IPCC report, the freshwater river area in the southwest coastal zone is anticipated to shrink from 41 per cent to 17 per cent between 2012 and 2050. Saltwater is intruding into freshwater in the coastal belt due to lower dry season flows from rivers originating from India and rising sea levels. This is affecting coastal ecosystems, which has not only disrupted agricultural livelihoods but also contaminated drinking water resources, increased health risks, diseases, food insecurity and malnutrition in the coastal areas.

Freshwater scarcity has caused and will continue to cause water borne diseases. Growing number of scientific research indicate close association between climate-induced disasters and health and diseases. The association between heavy rainfall, floods and water borne diseases is well observed in Bangladesh and other developing countries. According to the IPCC Assessment, Bangladesh will face an increasing disease burden in climate hotspots, leading to 2.2 million additional E. coli cases by 2100.

Scientists now agree that the impacts of climate change would intensify even if emissions were reduced to keep global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels because the action on mitigation and adaptation measures have been slow and inadequate. Some climate change impacts are unavoidable because they have already been 'locked in' to the Earth's system and losses and damages may occur where adaptation limits have already been reached and adaptation is physically and technically impossible and socially unacceptable.

Despite the fact that loss and damage are on the rise in Bangladesh and other developing nations, the loss and damage have never received due attention and sufficient commitment in international climate negotiations. Developed countries, so far have taken a strong opposition against the loss and damage. Loss and damage had also been a contested issue in COP 26 in 2021. After strong pressure from developing countries, in COP 26, loss and damage were recognised as important aspects of climate negotiation. The COP 26 acknowledged, "climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage and … will pose an ever-greater social, economic and environmental threat". It also reiterated the "urgency of scaling up action and support, as appropriate, including finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, for implementing approaches to averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to these effects". Despite this recognition, no concrete step has been taken to compensate the poor people of developing countries who are least responsible for greenhouse gas emission and global warming.

So, we should recognise and account the suffering of the poor of developing countries and the responsibility of the developed countries for their historical emissions and resultant change in the climate and environment. It is necessary to take comprehensive action to curb the greenhouse gas emissions and develop clear international and national mechanisms to minimise the climate risks as well as compensate the poor people of developing countries for their suffering. The developed countries should come forward with climate finance and support in facilitating the affected poor to adapt them in a sustainable way.

Dr Golam Rasul is Professor, Department of Economics, International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT) [email protected]

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