Bangladesh is one region of the world that’s highly vulnerable to climate change and climate extremes. It is low-lying and densely populated, with a populace largely dependent on agriculture. This article by Andrée Carter of the U.K. Collaborative on Development Sciences explains how climate-change scientists and policy-makers on opposite sides of the world are linking up. The story was originally published May 13, 2011 at Planet Earth Online and is used here with permission.
In a small village called Babupur in northwest Bangladesh, just eight kilometers (five miles) from the Indian border, local women are helping their community understand and adapt to the day-to-day effects of climate change.
Gathering in a community hut, the women use hand-drawn pictures, maps and timelines to illustrate how droughts are becoming longer and the lengths of the seasons are changing. With support from their local government and NGO ActionAid, they have installed irrigation ponds, trialed different varieties of crops and improved their village’s water supply and sanitation.
This is an example of gono gobeshona or people’s research, where local people are supported in conducting their own inquiry into the local effects of climate change and how they can adapt.
It’s one of the many community projects taking place across Bangladesh, but to date there have been few linkages with the emerging climate change research community in universities and research institutions.
Climate change realities
With two-thirds of Bangladesh less than five meters (16 feet) above sea level, Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change and is already feeling the effects of rising sea levels and drought.
While the monsoon season always brings flooding in Bangladesh, intense storms, deforestation, urbanization of the floodplain, and silting of rivers are causing more land to be inundated. Regular flooding causes widespread losses to the population of 140 million, destroying crops and livestock, spreading disease, and leaving millions homeless. With most of the population relying on agriculture for their livelihoods, this environmental damage exacerbates poverty and impedes growth. Ironically, some parts of Bangladesh are also prone to severe drought, with equally devastating consequences for poor farmers.
Bangladesh sent 300 people to the climate change talks in Copenhagen in December 2009. And the Bangladeshi government has begun to integrate climate change into its development agenda. It established the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan in 2009 and invested $100 million in a climate-change trust fund.
And across Bangladesh there is a vibrant research community of numerous universities, research institutes, and talented scientists addressing climate-change adaptation.
But despite the government’s policy commitment and the country’s scientific expertise, Bangladesh lacks a coherent research agenda for tackling climate change. Researchers aren’t necessarily talking to each other or to the government, and research isn’t being fed into climate-change policies as effectively as it could be.
As for the U.K., we have world-class climate research facilities, an active development science community, and a strong commitment, backed up by resources, to help countries like Bangladesh adapt to climate change. Our international development policies recognize that climate change is a massive obstacle to growth, and we’ve rapidly increased development assistance funding – the U.K. is a major contributor to global resilience funds. But despite this, U.K. research institutions have still had relatively little involvement with adaptation research in Bangladesh.
Our project aimed to bring the two together, to “join the dots” between the decision-makers and researchers in both countries. We wanted to find out how the U.K. could be a better partner to Bangladesh, and what we could learn from each other about how climate-change research is used by governments to mitigate and adapt.
A two-way process
I visited the country in January 2010, along with Ned Garnett, who leads climate change and water research for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Nafees Meah from the climate and energy, science, and analysis team in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). We wanted to learn more about gono gobeshona, and to find out how the U.K. might work with Bangladesh to tackle climate change.
We met with officials from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, along with NGOs and researchers from public and private universities and research institutes. There was enthusiastic support for improved collaboration with the U.K. and each other. But it was a field trip to see the impressive gono gobeshona project firsthand that made us all realize just how much we in the U.K. can learn from this process.
A small group from Bangladesh visited us in London two months later, to learn how the U.K. addresses climate change and, importantly, find out what opportunities existed for accessing funding and research partnerships.
The seven-person delegation was a mix of senior scientists, young academics, government officials (including the secretary and deputy secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forests), a representative from ActionAid, and the director of a research organization specializing in development and environment.
They spent a week in the U.K., learning about the climate-change research landscape through visits to the Met Office Hadley Centre, the Walker Institute for Climate System Research, and Oxford University among others. They also met with the Department for International Development (DFID) and DECC to discuss the process of integrating science and policy.
Just as I had learned firsthand what was happening on the ground in Bangladesh, my counterparts could now understand the work U.K. scientists were doing to tackle climate change – what systems we had in place, how our research centers operated, and what government funding was allocated to climate change and development research.
These visits were only part of the process, though. For almost a year we kept up our conversations through workshops, seminars, videoconferences, and one-on-one meetings. More than 200 people across the U.K. and Bangladesh took part, creating a new research community.
This has helped build important links between scientists in the U.K. and their peers in Bangladesh – links which mean we can continue to share ideas and perspectives and develop partnerships where previously there had been little, if any, interaction.
Now, after a year of working together, we have developed a set of concrete actions and achievements which have the support of both governments. For example, the Bangladesh Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and DECC are finalizing an agreement on energy and development, and the Bangladesh government has pledged part of its $100m climate change trust fund to research.
And now the minister for environment and forests, among others, has put his support behind a proposal for a fully-fledged “national climate-change knowledge management platform.” This would act as a one-stop shop for research coordination, both within Bangladesh and with its international partners.
By joining the dots between a rural village, researchers, and government departments in Bangladesh, and the U.K.’s research community and policy-makers, we’ve discovered how we can make a difference to developing countries’ efforts to tackle climate change.
Planet Earth online is the companion website to the award-winning magazine Planet Earth published and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).