Bangladesh and climate change: time to change the narrative?

Rising tides threaten the country’s future, but a resilient population is thriving despite adversity, writes Saleemul Huq

A child in Dhaka, where climate impacts are expected to further swell the city's population (UN Photo/Kibae Park)

A child in Dhaka, where climate impacts are expected to further swell the city’s population (UN Photo/Kibae Park)

By Saleemul Huq

By now Bangladesh has become known as being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

This refrain is now repeated endlessly by our leaders and representatives when talking about Bangladesh and climate change.

It is also the way the international media sees Bangladesh.

For example, a recent series of documentaries on climate change impacts around the world hosted by celebrities in the United States of America, called “Year of Living Dangerously” and shown on the cable channel ShowTime, included one on Bangladesh hosted by actor M.C. Hall that also highlighted the vulnerability of Bangladesh to the adverse impacts of climate change.

While this story is undoubtedly true, it is no longer the only story about climate change and Bangladesh.

I would argue that it is by now an out of date story and that a new narrative of Bangladesh being at the forefront of tackling the adverse impacts of climate change is indeed the more important narrative for us to propagate from now on.

In depth: Bangladesh climate news and analysis

In scientific and development discourse the vulnerability of countries, communities and systems to the adverse impacts of climate change are often used as the obverse of resilience to those adverse impacts.

In other words, countries and communities that have high vulnerability are generally deemed to also have low resilience while building up resilience is seen as reducing vulnerability.

So vulnerability and resilience are seen like a see-saw where high vulnerability equals low resilience and low vulnerability equals high resilience.

I would argue that while this may be true in many cases, Bangladesh is the exception to this rule.

In other words, Bangladesh is both highly vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change but at the same time the people are highly resilient to facing all kinds of adversity, including climatic ones. Indeed, one could argue that Bangladeshis are more resilient than even many developed countries.

Victim to leader

Thus, while Bangladesh remains highly vulnerable to the current and future impacts of climate change it has not been sitting idle waiting for catastrophe to happen.

Rather, it has invested in building its own resilience through the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) and the creation of two separate Climate Change Funds with a combined value of nearly half a billion US Dollars, and is now implementing the forty plus actions under the six pillars of the BCCSAP.

At the same time, Bangladesh has hosted the international community of practice on Community Based Adaptation (CBA) by holding the seventh international conference on CBA in Bangladesh last year.

The eighth CBA conference (CBA8 ) was held in Nepal in April this year and CBA9 will be held in Kenya in April 2015, after which CBA10 will be held in Bangladesh again in 2016.

When it comes to CBA Bangladesh is already widely acknowledged as the “Adaptation capital of the world.”

Knowledge sharing

The government, NGOs, researchers and people of Bangladesh are taking actions to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change around the country and across a range of ecosystems and vulnerability types.

In the process, all these stakeholders are going up a learning curve very rapidly and are becoming knowledgeable about how best to tackle the impacts of climate change.

They are even developing knowledge about mitigation actions, even though Bangladesh is not a major emitter of greenhouse gases.

In the process, the country is developing knowledge on how to tackle climate change that can be shared with other countries, especially other Least Developed Countries (LDC) who share many of the same problems, and even some developed countries as well.

Thus, there is great opportunity for both South-South sharing of knowledge as well as South-North sharing.

Ban Ki-moon

A good place to put forward this new narrative is the Climate Change Summit to be held in New York on September 23, where the United Nations Secretary General Ban ki Moon has invited all heads of state to come and present their actions to tackle climate change.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina could use this summit to put forward the new narrative of Bangladesh as no longer just a victim of climate change but now an emerging leader in tackling the adverse impacts of climate change, and offer to share our knowledge with the rest of the world.

It is now high time for the leaders, experts and public in Bangladesh to change the narrative of Bangladesh and climate change from depicting the country as merely a victim to one that depicts the country as learning very fast how to tackle climate change and wishing to share that knowledge with other countries around the world.

Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development ( at the Independent University, Bangladesh.

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