The 21st century will be characterised by climate-induced hazards as the world is heading towards a 3.2°C temperature rise by the end of the century, the 2019 Emission Gap report estimates. To put the climate issue on top of the official agenda, many governments have declared “climate emergency.” In an effort to remain ahead of the game, Bangladesh parliament has announced a “planetary emergency.” However, neither the world leaders nor the Government of Bangladesh have taken decisive actions for mitigating climate change as well as protecting the climate-vulnerable people.
One converging issue is that Covid-19 pandemic has explicitly illustrated the extreme meaning of ‘planetary emergency.’ Experts say this pandemic has far-reaching implications for changing climate and starkly demonstrated the importance of resilience—the ability for human beings to anticipate, cope and adapt to adverse situations. Concomitantly, nation-wide flooding and super cyclone ‘Amphan’ are also a sharp reminder for incorporating ‘climate resilience’ into development activities, including usage of coronavirus stimulus package for recovering economy.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 “resilience” a central objective for development. The ‘Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100’ set up a long-term vision: “Achieving Safe, Climate Resilient and Prosperous Delta.” Contemporary evidence calls for incorporating climate resilience into economic recovery packages, which can bring multiple benefits; specifically, a “triple dividend” to Bangladesh: reducing pandemic risk, building climate resilience, and strengthening economic recovery. To this end, key areas are briefly described here.
Firstly, 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 people, women and girls as well as youths in shaping recovery in every sector (garments industry) and system (coastal agriculture). As adaptation leads locally driven development that is why local people can ensure that the best information is shared, resources are made available, and the best policies are enacted.
Secondly, city people are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than rural people. Urban areas have become 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), et cetera 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.
Thirdly, climate change affects water resources by limiting access to water and recurring 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, the government requires one 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.
Fourthly, a dedicated social safety net programme and/or social protection programme is critical during this pandemic period more than ever. The government has money and good intention to support people from all walks of life. But they cannot do it due to lack of institutional scaffoldings. Immediate initiatives are crucial. Alternatively, effective measures are needed for supporting people’s needs, jobs, infrastructure, and growth that will protect life, livelihood, and economy today and tomorrow. Substantial number of jobs can be created by investing in nature-based projects in the fields 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.
Fifthly, food security is always a top agenda for this country. The Covid-19 pandemic and the country-wide flooding have radically exacerbated four dimensions of food security: food availability, access, utilisation, and stability. Right now, people who are involved in informal jobs are largely food insecure. The government 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, the government should facilitate a collaborative endeavour; involving parties, civil societies, organisations, and people to overcome the double blow for Bangladesh: Covid-19 and flooding.Sixthly, establishing and promoting ‘nature-based solutions’ as a pivotal solution to avoid natural disasters and pandemic. Natural ecosystems 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 being. Natural solutions like restoring wetlands, forests, 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 climate action.
And seventhly, the government has numerous projects and programmes for preventing disaster, establishing early warning systems for cyclone and storm surge. Covid-19 has demonstrated that the government must strengthen investments, undertake more projects and enhance access to digital technologies for building resilient societies. Easing funding mechanisms and capacity-building initiatives are imperative to better manage risks and avoid damage to build resilient 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 sustainable development goals (SDGs). In this critical juncture, it is crucial to rethink about development and climate change. Focus must be given to build resilient agriculture; infrastructure; and community; enhance (community) climate empowerment; and strengthen governance from local to national levels.
To sum up, calibrating the Covid-19 economic recovery package to the SDGs is the crux of government’s prompt action to contain Covid-19, save lives, protect people, and steer finance toward a more sustainable and inclusive economy.
The writer is a Professor, Dept. of Agricultural Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural U