The world is facing a ‘quintessential global challenge’ - climate change. The 2019 Emission Gap report estimates, by the end of the century, the world would have a rise in temperature by 3.2° Celsius, which perpetuates enhanced climate risks of potentially catastrophic results. To put the climate issue at the top of agenda, governments have declared a “climate emergency.” The Bangladesh parliament has announced a “planetary emergency.” Realistically speaking, neither the world’s leaders nor the Bangladeshi government have been taken decisive actions for adapting to climate change, that is, flooding and sea level rise.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the actual meaning of ‘planetary emergency.’ This pandemic has far-reaching implications for the changing climate and starkly illustrated the urgency of climate change adaptation—the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. Concomitantly, nation-wide flooding and super cyclone Amphan are also sharp reminders of mainstreaming ‘climate change adaptation’ into development activities, including using the coronavirus stimulus package for recovering the country’s economy.
The national and international policy instruments (e.g., 7th Five Year Plan, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Paris Agreement, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) have made “climate change adaptation” a central objective for development. The ‘Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100’ set up a long-term vision, which is designed to achieve by employing “Adaptive Delta Management.” The contemporary evidence calls for incorporating adaptation into economic recovery packages, which can bring “triple dividend”: reducing pandemic risk, building climate resilience, and strengthening economic recovery. To this end, an earnest call is discerned for accelerated progress in seven areas.
First, ongoing measures across the highly climate-exposed sectors of food security, water, and infrastructure must be ‘locally-led’ climate change adaptation. This is a key tenet of understanding adaptation needs, options, planning, and implementation, as well as mapping adaptation opportunities, constraints, and limits. Importantly, locally-led adaptation illustrates voices and roles of vulnerable populations, including marginalised communities, indigenous peoples, women and girls, and youth, in shaping the recovery in every sector (garments industry) and system (coastal agriculture). As adaptation (e.g. currently providing seeds and seedlings of Aman and Aus rice) leads locally driven development that’s why local people can ensure that the best information is shared, resources are made available, and the best policies are enacted.
Second, city people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than rural. Urban areas have been becoming a hub of pollution due to unsustainable urbanisation, industrialisation, and over population. Meticulous planning and concrete actions for building urban resilience to air pollution (e.g., shutting down illegal brick kilns), medical waste (establishing dumping house in every divisional cities), river pollution (introducing Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP), etc. are urgent. It is never too late for the government to shift an equal focus on public health approach, besides medical approach. The former pays attention to disease prevention and health promotion, while the latter places emphasis on disease diagnosis, treatment, and care for individuals.
Third, climate change mostly affects water resources by limiting access to water and occurring recurrent floods. At the time of COVID-19 spreading, access to clean water has gained a new level of significance to keep our self infection free and protective. To strengthen resilience of slum dwellers and flood-affected people, increasing access to clean water and sanitation is essential. In this regard, governments require a step change in implementing a host of measures to promote investment and solutions that encompass management of ‘natural infrastructure’ like forests and wetlands, as part of a portfolio of smart solutions to growing water challenges. These infrastructures employ landscape management strategies like conservation, restoration, and sustainable management to provide clean and abundant water supply.
Fourth, a dedicated social safety net programme and/or social protection programme is critical during this pandemic period more than ever. Governments have money and ‘good’ intention to support all walks of life. But they cannot, due to lack institutional scaffoldings. Immediate initiatives are crucial. Alternatively, effective measures are needed for supporting people’s needs, jobs, infrastructure, and growth that will protect live, livelihood, and economy today and tomorrow. Substantial number of jobs can be created by investing in nature-based projects in areas such as forestry, fisheries, tourism, biodiversity, and pharmaceuticals; like President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s great initiatives (i.e., tree plantations) for recovering the “Great Depression” in the 1930s.
Fifth, food security is always a top agenda in this country. The COVID-19 pandemic and country-wide flooding have radically exacerbated four dimensions of food security: food availability, access, utilisation, and stability. Right now, people involve with informal jobs are largely food insecure. Governments must expand and improve emergency food assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people. Rapid interventions are critical in enhancing climate informed digital advisory services, improving food reserve policies, reducing agriculture and food workers’ health risks, and safeguarding migrant labourers. To these connections, governments should facilitate a collaborative endeavour; involving parties, civil societies, organisations, and people to win against the double blow for Bangladesh: COVID-19 and flooding.
Sixth, establishing and promoting ‘nature-based solutions’ emerge a pivotal solution to avoid natural disasters and pandemic. Natural ecosystems (i.e., communities of living and non-living entities and occurs freely in nature) directly and indirectly reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases, which passes from an animal or insect (e.g., virus, bacteria, fungus, and parasites) to a human. Natural solutions like restoring wetlands, forest, mangroves, and reefs can deliver massive economic and resilience benefits. These solutions substantially reduce emissions, increase carbon sink capacity, and enhance resilience within and across forestry, agriculture, and food systems. They are a long-term, cost-efficient, and scalable approach for flooding, tidal surge, drought and cyclones.
And, seventh, governments have several projects and programmes for preventing disaster, establishing early warning systems for cyclone and storm surge. COVID-19 has demonstrated that governments must strengthen investments in, undertake more projects on, and enhance access to digital technologies for building adaptive societies. Easing funding mechanisms and capacity-building initiatives are imperative to better manage risks and avoid damage to build adaptive societies. Long-, medium- and short-term measures are required to prevent disaster such as expansion of flood forecasting services, enhancing meteorological services, building flood shelters, repairing, and maintaining embankments, and strengthening local government.
Bangladesh—a highly vulnerable country to climate change—is rapidly developing towards a middle-income country, showing a consistent GDP growth and progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In this critical juncture, it is crucial to rethink about development and climate change. Focus must be given to building adaptive agriculture, infrastructure, and community; enhance (community) climate empowerment, and strengthen adaptation governance from local to national levels.
Preparing the “National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Roadmap” and its effective implementation is critical to achieving the three national goals: eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, obtaining the status of an upper-middle income country by 2030, and achieving high income country status by 2041. Political will, as well as formulating and enacting climate policy frameworks are a sine qua non of supporting the national climate change adaptation roadmap.
The writer is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka. E-mail: [email protected]