In these times of gradual sea level rise, in this less discussed corner of the world, climate change is already here in Bangladesh. Global warming induced sea level rise and more frequent extreme weather events are already making life measurable in one of the world's most densely populated countries.
An estimated 40 million people in coastal Bangladesh, crammed into the world largest river delta has already started to suffer. With less than 1oC of global warming, the loss, and damages from frequent cyclones, floods, salinity intrusions, and droughts is mounting for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people in the Bengal delta. People are losing their lives and livelihoods.
On May 27, 2009, cyclonic storm Aila sustained only three minutes but ‘resulted in 190 fatalities and at least 7,000 injuries across the Khulna and Satkhira Districts. Across 11 of the nation's 64 districts, approximately 600,000 thatched homes, 8,800 km (5,500 mi) of roads, 1,000 km (620 mi) of embankments, and 123,000 hectares (300,000 acres) of land were damaged or destroyed.’ The damage estimated was $295.6 million (2009 USD).
The loss and damage of such a scale were for the second time in two years. Just in November 2007, At least 3,447 deaths have been reported from the cyclone Sidr, with total damages came close to $450 million.
Even without this sort of extreme weather events, Bangladesh is losing land gradually to rising sea level and increasing salinity. The only option in the densely populated country is to migrate internally. But unlike to small island countries, the number of displaced and would-be displaced people is very high. Tens of millions of people will be climate refugees in Bangladesh, with nowhere to resettle.
The irony is if one makes a long list of top greenhouse gasses emitter countries or fossil fuel companies, Bangladesh or any Bangladeshi company will not make it even close enough. So, the question Bangladeshi people are asking, why the perpetrators are not being forced to pay the damages they’ve done?
Climate experts, politicians, and civil society platforms from Bangladesh are asking, why not the fossil fuel companies are taking responsibility for this huge loss and damage? And why the GHG emitting companies are not directed by international laws to fund climate mitigation and adaptation efforts on large scale?
These questions needs be raised in the upcoming 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UNFCCC. Discussing loss and damage can’t be off-limits anymore. Particularly, agendas related to climate finance should accommodate the demand of reparation for loss and damage.
Few days before, I was talking to the leading climate change expert Dr. Saleemul Huq. He is clearly one step ahead to get the things right for the climate vulnerable communities. For the companies, it’s time to stop exploration for more fossil fuel and fund climate loss and damages, he said to me.
Dr. Huq said, ‘they are exploring billions for exploring more fossil fuels; that is absolutely unacceptable. The first thing fossil fuel companies have to do is to stop exploration. Going to look for fossil fuel is now should be considered as a criminal act. Instead of exploration, those billions of dollars should be spent for loss and damage.’
And of course, while discussing divestment to loss and damage by fossil fuel companies, taking fossil fuel out of the ground and burning them can’t be allowed. We can’t burn the fossil fuel we already have, we have to keep it in the ground to achieve set goal of limiting emission below 1.5 degree Celsius. But if we allow them to take out all the reserve and burn, that will take us to 2.5 degree Celsius, that is not acceptable.
International Center for Climate Change and Development’s Director Dr. Saleemul Huq like to see the world treating the fossil fuel companies like illegal drug mafia. ‘They are producing products which harm people and the planet, they should be stopped. And of course, they should not be allowed as COPs of UNFCCC,’ he said.
Whether excluding the fossil fuel companies from the climate negations or including the discussion of loss and damage on the agenda, the first thing needs to be done is mainstreaming accountability for climate change damages.
Along with pursuing the future COPs of the UNFCCC, related opportunities in the international legal structure should be revisited too. As the international law allows to meaningfully gather and positively shape global public opinion, it can be an effective tool to hold the fossil fuel companies accountable. The lessons from the tobacco litigations can be used initiate successful climate change litigation against the fossil fuel companies too.
Mohammad Arju: Journalist and Marine Conservationist. He can be reached at email@example.com