Climate Change: We need scientific and sustainable solutions

‘Since my birth here I am living with floods, coping with cyclones and fighting with hunger – where should I go?’ Mr. Rokon Morol, a 35-year old fisherman, asked me this in April 2016, when I was visiting Gabura village of Shyamnagor upazila, Bangladesh. This village stands as the last human settlement in the southwest region of the country, bordering Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. I was wondering what I should reply to him, and then I asked him, Why do you not migrate to better place?- where you will get a job, see no cyclones, no floods, and have security earning your daily meal? He replied, ‘It is not the solution to me and to my family – I do not know where I should go. But I know, if I live here I can go in Sundarbans, catch fishes and sell to the market, can buy food (not maybe 3 meals day but at least once) and even if I face a problem here I can get supports from my neighbours. But who will help me at city? I do not want to go! I know many people are coming to our village and are saying in few years there will be no Gabura in the map, it will be disappeared under water. Some of our rich people have already sold their lands here and bought houses in other places, but I would like to die at my own place. You know, when I smell the mud of my home I forget all my melancholies’. This story is not an example for Bangladesh only, but also for the peoples at risk in all over the world. Almost no-one wants to leave their own place permanently for any reason, until it is obliterated.

Undoubtedly, climate change is pushing threats to many livelihoods, causing massive devastation to the environment, and therefore scientists and policy makers all over the world are advocating for adaptation to climate change. They are participating in negotiations, particularly the Conference of Parties (COP), held every year to address the challenges of the risk of climate change. Countries are negotiating for compensation: for example, countries which have been injecting much more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere are being asked to pay for the adaptive development projects and programmes needed in Less Developed Countries (LDCs), who suffer more from the impact of climate change. Almost every LDC country who has already signed the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) has their own agenda, policies, and programs to address climate change’s consequences. NAPA provides a process for LDCs to identify priority activities that respond to their urgent, and their immediate needs to adapt to climate change. To this date, 51 LDCs have prepared their NAPAs, which guide them to plan and implement the short-term and long-term measures needed to support the victims of climatic events.

Undoubtedly, climate change is pushing threats to many livelihoods

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who are forced to displace after climatic events and (climate refugees). The UNHCR reported that since 2009, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by climate disaster, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate (or weather-related events) since 2008. For them, there is still a lack of general policy. Many of them may not even meet the refugee definition when crossing the borders between countries. In response to these problems of climate refugee, the UNHCR is supporting the Platform on Disaster Displacement, which is a follow up to the Nansen Initiative on cross-border displacement. Furthermore, the UNHCR remains committed to providing technical support to parties involved in implementing the Paris Agreement (COP21).

Again: disaster induced displacement is real, and day by day the number of disaster-induced refugees is increasing, and subsequently it creates complex humanitarian, human rights and development challenges. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that between 2008 and 2015 more than 203.4 million people were displaced by disasters, and claims that the likelihood of being displaced by disasters has doubled since the 1970s. Further, there is high agreement among scientists that the effects of climate change, in combination with other factors, will cause the displacement of people due to climatic events to increase.

It is a global problem, but it needs to be solved locally. It is very simple and true that the people living in Oxford cannot experience the lives of the people living in Vanuatu, and vice versa, and even then it is practically impossible to resettle all the people of Vanuatu in a new place, or a new country. So what could be the solutions to their risky livelihoods, due to climate change, as opposed to advocating ‘migration as adaptation’? Especially when such a huge change in settlement patterns needs gigantic funds available for the poor countries at risk.

The Paris Agreement addresses many agendas involving the protection of the people at risk from climate change, and the importance of their livelihoods. These agendas are the starting points for tackling the environmentally-linked root causes of forced displacement, such as access to water, food, energy, and the need for livelihood opportunities to enable people to remain where they live.

I would like to see negotiators and climate leaders propose plans and implement programs in a way so that the people at risk can stay put

Policy makers have been talking about resettling these peoples in places which are less vulnerable to climate risks as one of the better solutions. However,  densely populated and high risks countries like Maldives (1201 person/km2), Bangladesh (1113 person/km2), and the pacific island nations do not have enough land to relocate their climate refugees–so, where will they relocate? Is there any place for them in their country safe from climate risks, where their lives would resemble those they had in their place of origin? It is just not possible to give them back their lives at a new place.

Taking all these things into consideration, I ask myself: do the COP negotiations solve the problems of the millions of people like Rokon Morol of Bangladesh, who are living at risk, and wanting to die at their birthplace? I do not have any short-cut or straight-forward answers to these questions.

Therefore, I would like to see negotiators and climate leaders propose plans and implement programs in a way so that the people at risk can stay put, no matter the cost. Policies and programs should ensure that socioeconomic and infrastructural development proceeds in a manner informed by science, so that they sustain the livelihoods of people in their homes, so that they do not need to be displaced for reasons of climate change.