Climate change as the decisive factor for increasing inequality and injustice: A human rights issue for Bangladesh

Saleh Ahmed, Utah State University

Climate change is an issue which has direct implications on increasing social, environmental, demographic, economic, and political challenges all around the world. The multiplier cascading effects of climate change contribute to further poverty and inequality, particularly among the people who are largely poor and marginalised. In the advent of advanced science and technology and the presence of modernism, a large portion of the world’s population is still denied or excluded from many basic human rights. Without any doubt, we are experiencing increasing declines in food and water security, along with increasing weather-related anomalies in different communities or regions across the world.

Bangladesh is one of the countries in the world that is most heavily exposed to these adverse climate impacts. Its geophysical location makes it vulnerable to different climatic events, such as strong cyclonic storms and tidal waves. The impacts of climate change are multiplied with its enormous population in limited space, where 40 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty and congested situations. The country is already experiencing different weather-related anomalies, such as more frequent and severe types of tropical cyclones, heavier unpredictable rainfall causing more floods, higher river flows, river bank erosions, as well as sea-level rise. By the middle of this century, the livelihoods of 70 million people in Bangladesh could be permanently affected by floods or sea-level rise. In addition, eight million people will experience droughts. Up to eight per cent of low-lying lands may go under water due to sea-level rise. For many people, changing climate is not a future phenomenon; instead it is a current event. Bangladesh is among those countries where the current generations already have, or will experience adverse climate impacts in their lifetimes.

In addition to that, the country’s limited adaptive capacity – due to its limited social, economic, environmental, and political resources – intensifies the extent of existing and/or perceived risks and vulnerabilities. Poor and marginalised citizens are the major victims of climate change as a consequence of their capacity to reduce and manage its impacts. Their socioeconomic conditions, due to their disadvantaged poverty situation, force them to be more exposed to climate impacts by living in risky and hazardous locations or by having subsistence livelihoods with limited to no adaptive capacities.

The climate impacts are not homogenous – they vary substantially based on spatial locations or socio-economic determinants of risks exposures. Currently, different parts of Bangladesh are prone to different climate vulnerabilities or impacts. Southern (coastal) Bangladesh is experiencing sea-level rise and salinisation of land and water, as well as increasing frequencies of tornados and cyclones. North and Northeast Bangladesh are experiencing the process of desertification, mostly due to lower than average water flow from upstream transboundary rivers. Southeast Bangladesh is most likely to experience lower than average precipitation. Unpredictable summer heats along with fluctuating winter temperatures all over the country are already making substantial impacts and altering almost all aspects of peoples’ livelihoods and economies. It is clearly evident that in Bangladesh, climate anomalies will have different features, patterns, and impacts based on locations and socio-economic determinants of the local people.

People who are poor, marginalised and dependent on different resource-based industries (e.g. agriculture, fisheries) are the major victims of climate impacts. In most cases, there is no relationship between sufferers and polluters that shape this climate injustice. Usually, the larger burden is on the people who are least responsible for CO2 emissions.

In this context, the countries which are responsible for the major share of CO2 emissions in the present and the past, have the moral and ethical obligation for initiating concerted efforts to address one of the major human rights issues in contemporary times: the unequal exposure to different impacts of climate change. Now is the time when we all should realise from our past experiences that poverty or human sufferings somewhere can lead to problems everywhere. Challenges related to climate change need to be addressed by increasing global cooperation, innovation, and support for our mutual benefit in the short and long-term.