OPINION: Loss and damage in Bangladesh from the front line of climate change
Saleemul Huq writes from COP18 on what Bangladesh has gained from efforts over the last year to understand and advance the loss and damage agenda.
When residents in the coastal district of Satkira in Bangladesh were asked a decade ago, only 2% said increased saline levels caused by sea level rise was having an adverse effect on crop yields, livelihoods and their health. Today, over 80% say they are affected. Farmers adapted by planting saline-tolerant varieties of rice. This worked well, until cyclone Aila hit the country in 2009. The salinity levels rose higher than even the new crops could handle. It is estimated that for just four villages in the district, the cyclone resulted in a loss of US$1.9 million between 2009-2011.
How do we deal with the inevitable and unavoidable losses and damages that will occur even if the best efforts at both mitigation and adaptation are achieved?
As the eighteenth Conference of Parties (COP18) of the UNFCCC gets under way in Doha, Qatar, this is one of the relatively new topics under discussion.
This emerging topic goes beyond the two traditional climate change response options, namely mitigation (reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause the problem) and adaptation (taking anticipatory measures to minimise adverse impacts).
It was first recognised at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework under which a work programme on loss and damage was established to report back at COP 18 in Doha where further decisions are expected.
In 2011 CDKN launched a major new programme to advance understanding and action on the subject.
A collaboration between a group of partners began soon after which was called the ‘Loss and Damage Initiative in Vulnerable Countries’. Gemanwatch,a German NGO, were responsible for liaising with the vulnerable countries, the United Nations University (UNU) in Bonn, were responsible for developing a sound methodology for estimating loss and damage through eight country case studies from Asia, Africa and island countries and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh were responsible for a national level exercise in Bangladesh.
I was in charge of the Bangladesh component and will share some reflections on the experience below.
Loss and damage in Bangladesh:
The Bangladesh exercise consisted of a number of elements including the commissioning of research papers from national experts on different aspects of loss and damage in Bangladesh (mainly from the past). These included physical, economic, legal, gender, financial and institutional aspects. These studies were done by leading national experts from a variety of universities and research institutes including BRAC University, North South University (NSU), Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), Chittagong University and others.
These reports, together with a series of case studies from around the world, made it clear that loss and damage is a reality today. Even where adaptation measures are taking place, 92% of respondents in Micronesia were still experiencing adverse impacts, followed by 87% in Bhutan, 72% in Kenya, 70% in Bangladesh and 66% in The Gambia
The second element of the exercise was national awareness raising through engagement with relevant stakeholders. A series of stakeholder consultation workshops have been held over the last year (with one more to follow after COP 18). These raised many important issues, such as that not all losses are quantifiable in dollars. For example in the case of Bangladesh, women have reported reproductive health problems and incidences of miscarriage. It is crucial that these non monetary costs are identified if they are to be considered by policy makers in climate negotiations
The third element of the exercise was more in depth engagement with the relevant government departments and ministries with a special focus on the Ministry of Disaster Management and its major flagship Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP).
Some early lessons:
When we first started discussions in Bangladesh, the very notion of what constitutes “loss” and what is “damage” was unclear (and also contested). It was also quite difficult to translate into Bangla where the equivalent terms have somewhat different meanings from the English terms. So we all started in a state of confusion and had to take some time to agree on what we wanted to do and how we should do it.
However, by the pre-COP18 workshop in November 2012 the different Bangladesh experts (many of whom had also taken part in some of the regional expert workshops run by the UNFCCC in Asia, Africa and Latin America) had developed a much better understanding of the issues and were able to explain it to the stakeholders clearly.
Secondly, the Government of Bangladesh, particularly the two most relevant ministries, namely Environment and Disaster Management (and CDMP) were very much up to speed and heavily engaged in the new and emerging issue.
The other stakeholders including NGOs, media and even some private sector representatives were also interested and to some extent getting involved on the topic.
The result of this was that the Government as well as stakeholders, collectively agreed to take this issue forward as a national issue (and not just linked to the UNFCCC) in Bangladesh and try to develop a “national mechanism on loss and damage”, which may provide valuable lessons for the “international mechanism on loss and damage” which is being demanded by the vulnerable developing countries at COP18 in Doha.
However, one thing is now quite clear, namely whatever the outcome in Doha, losses and damage from climate change will have to be dealt with by every country, including the rich countries, so the sooner they start to figure out how to do so the better. Bangladesh is already leading the way in this regard.
For more information visit www.loss-and –damage.net and read the national report on ‘Bangladesh leading the way on loss and damage’
The writer is Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh and also Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London.
Photo courtesy of IRRI images @flickr creative common
 Warner, Koko, van der Geest, Kees, Kreft, Sönke, Huq, Saleemul, Harmeling, Sven, Koen Kusters and Alex de Sherbinin (2012). Evidence from the frontlines of climate change: Loss and damage to communities despite coping and adaptation. Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative. Policy Report. Report No. 9. Bonn: United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS).