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    Volume 8 Issue 98 | December 18, 2009 |

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Our Climate Problem

Nader Rahman

Photo: AFP

Climate change is a term we can no longer escape and many will say that is exactly the type of thinking that got us into the situation we are in now. No matter whose reports you read, or what leaked emails say, climate change is an issue Bangladesh can no longer afford to just talk about. The reason being we are directly in the line of fire when climate change finally raises its head and takes aim. Interestingly the analogy of being in the line of fire does precisely explain the affects of climate change on the world or even on Bangladesh. There will be no single shot that we will be able to identity as a bullet from climate change, there will be no single event that we will be able to point to and say, “that is the beginning of climate change,” in fact climate change will not affect us in a single display or action.

It will poison our environment and slowly but surely chip away at the very fabric of our existence. It is easy to tackle an issue which has concrete results, but climate change offers us nothing tangible. Talking heads go on about temperatures rising a few degrees and water levels going up a few feet, but around the world as in Bangladesh, the changes they talk of seem microscopic. The general feeling is that they are making a mountain out of a molehill and that those degrees and feet are measurements we will have to deal with in the distant future. So distant that it is easy to forget it has already started and the effects are being felt already.

To put things in perspective suicide bomb blasts in Bali in 2002 killed 202 people. It was about as large a statement as one could make and as such the rest of the world knew what Islamic militants could do and the threat became real. While on the other hand in 1984 the Bhopal gas tragedy killed over 20,000 people and to this day no one has been charged nor has the issue gained as much international attention as the bomb blasts. The Bhopal tragedy killed people as they slept, it was an invisible killer and was treated that way, the Bali bombings were loud and clear, they made the world pinpoint its attention to radical Islam and they have not got off their case since. One feels climate change is being treated like the Bhopal tragedy, it may take thousands of lives invisibly but until one can point to a singular event and unequivocally say it was caused by climate change, the rest of world, just like Bangladesh will refuse to take it seriously. This is a situation we can ill afford.

Climate change is an issue Bangladesh can no longer afford to overlook.

Bangladesh's issues with climate change are numerous and while the public at large have refused to accept it as a legitimate threat to our country it is heartening to see that the government headed by Shekih Hasina has treated it as one of the national importance. In one of those rare campaign promises turned real scenarios she has been at the forefront of climate change talks and negotiations this year. She has also made it a point to discuss the issue whenever she has had the chance. Her presence in Copenhagen only underscores how important she views the issue to be, and with a group of developing and least developed countries behind her she could prove to be a real mover and shaker at Copenhagen. But then again we must fully understand exactly what we can get out of the Copenhagen summit, before we build castles in the air.

While Bangladesh will back an international bid to reduce CO2 emissions even further than the levels agreed on at Kyoto, in all likelihood such a deal will be difficult to come up with in just a few days of the Copenhagen summit. That may have to be worked out at a future date, but before such dealings are finalised Bangladesh will probably have to back a number of developing nations that will oppose the lowering of emissions. Their argument has and will continue to be that the current global catastrophe has been created by two hundred years of a western industrial expansion who's benefits they have reaped for so long that they now hold an absolute advantage both in terms of technology and production in comparison to the developing world. If all of a sudden the West starts to push for global emissions to be pushed down in a uniform manner by countries across the board then it is quite obvious that those countries that have yet to reach their industrial peaks such as India, China and Brazil (along with a host of other developing and least developed countries) will have to curb their development in line with saving the planet.

That is and continues to be a ludicrous argument as the West reaps all the advantages of early industrial development while putting a cap on others who did not pollute the earth for 200 years and are just on their journey towards development. Bangladesh figures into this argument in a different way, from being one of the least CO2 per capita polluting nations in the world, we will have to and already are suffering from some of the worst effects of climate change. We need to band together with other highly vulnerable nations to eke out the best deal for us to deal with adaptation. The simple truth of the matter is the West polluted the world to such an extent that we are now facing the worst effects of climate change and if we are to live and adapt to the changing climate there is no reason we should have to foot the bill. As is the case in many a store, you break it, you buy it. The West broke it long ago, now they need to find their chequebook.

But money alone will not help us deal with adaptation and climate change, we in Bangladesh need to figure out how we will find the space to fit in the 20 million people who could lose their homes to climate change. We are already the most densely populated country in the world, any denser and we will be living on top of each other. But the issue of mass migration is one that cannot simple be solved with a truck load of money. It may help people replace what the material items they lost, but it will not help them relocate in a country that already uses every iota of space available. These climate refugees could and probably will be the human face of the problem the world is coming to grips with. No longer is climate change a myth, with every house and livelihood lost it becomes exactly what we both want it to be and don't want it to be, tangible.



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