What does the IPCC report say about climate change in Bangladesh?

(This article was originally published here)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for assessment of climate change.  In the most recent report, Bangladesh was identified as being at particular risk from climate change as it is in a low-lying coastal region with regular cyclones.Thousands of scientists and other experts contribute to the reports, and last year I had the opportunity to contribute to one chapter.  Overall, the report covers the impacts of climate change but also includes many examples of solutions.

By 2050, Bangladesh’s population at risk of sea level rise is predicted to rise to 27 million.  Under a scenario with high emissions, global mean sea levels could be almost a metre higher by the end of the century.  Climate change also poses risks for food security.  The report says under a scenario of low crop productivity, Bangladesh could experience a net increase of poverty of 15% by 2030. In terms of heat stress for rice crops, current temperatures are already approaching critical levels during susceptible stages of the rice plant during March-June.

Vulnerability to cyclones is expected to increase, but there are opportunities to adapt.  Together, Bangladesh and India have the rarest and most severe tropical storms categories in the world.  In the report, it is estimated that Bangladesh lost an estimated 5.9% of its GDP to storms from 1998 to 2009.  

Climate change impacts also pose a threat to health. Diseases like cholera and diarrhoea have been linked to high temperatures.  A study in Dhaka reported increased rates of hospital due to dengue with both high and low river levels.  Climate disasters also affect mental health, causing stress and tension.

The particular vulnerability of women to climate change was highlighted. For instance, often women do not learn to swim and so are more vulnerable to flood risks.  In coastal areas, an increase in hypertension (blood pressure) has been identified in pregnant women. This can be linked to the intrusion of salty water which could worsen in future.

The report also featured many examples from Bangladesh of coping strategies to deal with climate disasters like flooding.  A study in Korail, one of Dhaka’s largest informal settlements, showed a range of household responses to flooding, including placing barriers across door fronts and using portable cookers, as well as creepers growing on roofs to keep down temperatures.

The study also included featured examples of community-based adaptation in Bangladesh. Community-based adaptation is a bottom-up approach to adapting to climate change which involves local communities.  Measures in Bangladesh included salt-tolerant crop cultivation, crab fattening, and flood early warning systems, to name a few.

Bangladesh’s early warning system is world-renowned.  In the Chapter on Asia, the IPCC report noted that cyclone Sidr led to around 3,400 deaths in Bangladesh in 2007. This has been compared to the situation in neighbouring Myanmar in 2008 after cyclone Nargis, which despite being of similar strength to Sidr, caused over 138,000 fatalities.  The lower number of fatalities in Bangladesh compared to Myanmar can be linked to Bangladesh’s effective early warning system, as well the coastal volunteer network and reforestation of mangroves.  Therefore, there may be various lessons that other countries can learn from the experience of Bangladesh. 

Written by: Dr Helena Wright is based at Imperial College London and has been a visiting researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka.  She contributed to Chapter 14 of Working Group II of the IPCC Report.