Green beckoning: Combating climate change

2009-07-15__point2We cannot fight climate change without forests Photo: Mohammad Islam/ Drik newsMd. Shairul Mashreque

CLIMATE change has now become a much talked about issue. Devastating cyclones like Sidr and Aila and the recurring floods that hit the country are effects of climate change. In addition, environmental degradation as a fall-out of modernisation has become a matter of utmost concern. With the modernisation of agriculture, and economic expansion in Asian countries, there has been a tremendous rise in environment degradation including greenhouse gas emissions.

An environment expert commented: “One often hears the call to ban all harmful emissions and/or to use the power of governmental regulatory enforcement to punish all lawbreakers. Unfortunately, such ‘ceases and desist’ practices, which fall under the rubric ‘command and control’ have not always worked even in developed countries.” We have also heard about international climate negotiations in several conferences like G-8, Copenhagen, Bonn Declaration, Kyoto Protocol, etc.

The G-8 leadership now recognises the growing impact of global warming. EU is trying to find ways to solve climate crisis. The EU states have for some time understood the reality of the situation. Obama expressed his commitment to a “clean energy economy” to reduce global warming. The executive secretary of UNFCCC warned: “Climate change impacts will be overwhelmingly severe for Asia. They will exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and they have the potential to throw them back into the poverty trap.”

The impact of climate change on agriculture, fisheries and bio-diversity is obviously damaging. The south-western region of Bangladesh has become prone to natural calamities. This is evidenced from two consecutive cyclones that ravaged many parts of the region. Sundarban was hard hit.

Most alarming is the rise of sea-water level due to rising temperature, which is melting the ice in the Himalayas and the North Pole. Coastal settlement patterns and infrastructures have been increasingly threatened by sea-level rise of over three feet on top of storm surges. Rising seas cause costal flooding including loss of coastal land.

Realising that natural devastation stemming from climate change cannot be reversed the government opted for mitigation of sufferings and dislocation, and enhancement of coping capacities of the coastal inhabitants. Crisis management is a two-fold mechanism — mitigation and survival. As the finance minister said: “We should aim to mitigate dislocation and build the capacity to adapt lives and livelihoods.” A plan will be prepared to combat disasters due to climate change, and medium and long term strategies to prevent disasters will be reviewed.

The government is also working to maintain ecological balance and bio-diversity in the Sundarbans. Production of environment friendly renewable energy technologies is under active consideration. There is a plan to bring 20 percent of total land under afforestation programs by 2015 to attain self-sufficiency in forest resources.

The speakers at a national seminar on “Conserving land and water in Bangladesh: Lessons learned from cyclone Aila,” held in Dhaka on June 17, spoke in favour of long term planning on sustainable basis to minimise cyclone devastation and its aftermath. The country representative of IUCN speaking on the occasion suggested a special design of embankment and planting of deep-rooted trees in the coastal belt and promoting salinity-resistant or tolerant crops.

We have heard slogans like clean air, greening the country, save rivers, protect bio-diversity thanks to the campaign for ecology friendly sustainable development all over the world. The government is making long-term plans for river recovery, checking pollution, massive afforestation and promotion of renewable energy.

It is heartening to note that action has been taken to recover the rivers. There are reports that illegal structures built along the banks of Buriganga, Turag and Sitalakhya have been knocked down. The DCs of Dhaka, Narayanganganj, Gazipur and Munshiganj have been asked by the High Court (HC) to “take measures to protect the rivers under their jurisdiction.” Some land created by encroachment on the riverbanks has been recovered; now the rivers must be demarcated.

The massive destruction of trees in a coastal area like Sitakunda is mind-boggling. This mindless destruction by influential people should not go unchallenged; otherwise there is the possibility of annihilation of the green enclosure that protects the coastal dwellings from devastation by tidal bores breaking coastal embankments. Already, a celebrated civil society like YAPSA, which has been advocating for public policy for the ship breaking industry, has risen to the occasion, protesting against the indiscriminate feeling of trees in Sitakunda.

This episode is an eye opener. It is one of the most alarming of man’s assaults on natural endowments, and wanton exploitation of nature for development. Insensitive institutional behaviour along with policy flaws and loopholes in existing laws are stumbling blocks in conservation of our natural resources. The dominant actors may be in a position to manage and manipulate things in their favour, but things should not be treated only from the legal point of view. The question is moral rather than legal.

Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque is Professor, Department of Public Administration, Chittagong University.2009-07-15__point2