COP 26 and climate justice for Bangladesh
The 26thUN Climate talk, also known as the Conference of Parties (COP), will be held in Glasgow in the United Kingdom from 1-12 November 2021. The Glasgow meeting without a doubt will be very critical. Arguably it will be very vital to keep the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on track and put our future on a pathway to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
It is equally critical to remind all concerned that COP26 is being held under the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic situation that has rocked every single country in the world, more so the poorer countries, who are already unjustifiably suffering from various natural calamities generated and/or largely influenced by climate crisis in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
We have recently witnessed rallies in cities around the world, particularly the global youth climate movement led by Greta Thunberg, demanding that global leaders take stronger actions in the face of dire warnings of dangerous temperature rises. Countries in the Global South will continue to be more profoundly impacted by climate crisis than the wealthier and industrialized countries, who are emitters of greenhouse gascausing the climate crisis in the first place.
The COP26 delegates, both inside and outside the official negotiations, must take the opportunity to address the concept of environmental and social justice from ethical and political angles for any meaningful and solid progress to be achieved in the fight for climate justice.
The climate crisis, together with the impact of the pandemic in the Global South must be fully integrated in setting the agenda for and the rights to climate justice - for instance, human rights, equity, and historical responsibilities for climate change affecting marginalized communities, low-income people and indigenous communities, who are least responsible for climate change but suffer its dire consequences.
Furthermore, research indicates many groups such as women, young/older people, racial minorities and rural/remote communities are disproportionately affected by climate change. It is essential that we connect with and highlight on these groups in the context of climate justice and rights issues.
Today, the ability to link climate crisis to real-world impacts has grown dramatically as more people face daily the consequences of a warming planet caused by human-induced climate change such as deadly floods, destructive wildfires in many countries, and crippling heatwave experienced in the past year. A recent research report published in the journal Nature Climate Change claimed that nearly 80 percent of the world's land area, where 85 percent of the world's population lives, is experiencing the effects of the climate crisis right now.
The wealthier countries and the emitters must take the crisis more seriously to save those at the receiving ends of the crisis and are at risks due to drought, floods, and rising sea level. In 2016, according to one source, extreme weather-related disasters displaced an estimated 23.5 million people globally. Climate change is thus destroying livelihoods, infrastructures, and communities' worldwide and forcing people from their homes, villages, cities and even countries.
Bangladesh is on the frontline of these impacts and extremely vulnerable to climate change due to its low elevation, high population densityand inadequate infrastructure and support systems. Nearly 28 per cent of the population of Bangladesh lives in the southern coastal districts such as Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat, where the primary driver of displacement is tidal flooding caused by sea level rise.
In recent years, more people have been displaced from homes, particularly in the coastal areas and chars, by more frequent and severe hazards such as storms, cyclones, erosions, flooding and sea level rise. Various estimates suggest that by 2050, one in every seven people in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change, and up to 18 million people may have to move due to sea level rise alone.
So, in some 30 years from now, Bangladesh alone will have close to 20 million climate refugees, forced from their homes and land by the deteriorating environmental conditions associated with climate change.
As a 'frontline' country, Bangladesh has taken remarkable steps for adaptation and already invested billions to help prevent the impending disasters. While climate refugee migration still remains largely internal within Bangladesh,trends in cross-border and international migration are emerging.
For instance, according to the International Organization of Migration, Bangladesh was the largest single origin of migrants arriving in Europe in 2017. Migration to India has been common in the past, particularly from districts bordering Bangladesh.
As a response, India fenced around its borders with Bangladesh. Is this going to work in the future? In the event of massive displacement due to sea level rise, people have to move but left with nowhere to go. Reports on cross-border or international migration are not uncommon - for instance, climate refugees from Pacific Island countries such as Tuvalu are trying to take refuge in Australia and New Zealand. The recent attempts for massive migration of displaced people from Africa and Asia to Europe are, aside war and conflicts, at least partly prompted by draught and hunger in many countries.
Climate change has affected many people and different countries unevenly, creating inequalities and injustices that will likely exacerbate in the future. The COP26 must deal with an agenda for human rights and development aimed at sharing benefits and burdens associated with climate changes.
Among others, an important issue should be transboundary migration of climate refugees, which is currently least addressed by international legal and policy regime. The current legal instruments governing statelessness and refugees are largely inapplicable and inappropriate for individuals rendered stateless by the slow onset effects of climate change.
As a result, the climate refugees remain an entirely 'unprotected' category as the world's most vulnerable people. Such legal and policy holes in global governance constitute a real threat to our collective human rights in the future.
The COP 26 should create an environment to deal with climate fairly and in a transparent manner, placing the emphasis on who bears the costs for climate adaptation and protection works in countries such as Bangladesh, and finally, promote transformative justice dealing with structural inequalities and injustices involving climate refugeesglobally.
The writeris an international development specialist and advisory professor at Hohai University, Nanjing, China.