Bangladesh’s Climate Change Challenge

October 2, 2017

In January, U.S. secretary of defense James Mattis articulated the case for viewing environmental and national security as interrelated, arguing that “the effects of a changing climate—such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others—impact our security situation.” [1] This argument has long been accepted by many scholars and governments alike and has been acknowledged as a key reason behind many national plans to combat climate change. One country that has recognized the destabilizing potential of climate change and the urgent need to increase international cooperation to address its impacts is Bangladesh.

village partially floodedBangladesh accounts for only 0.35% of global emissions yet is particularly susceptible to the risks imposed by a changing climate. [2] Ongoing domestic efforts to manage this security threat have largely focused on adaptation rather than mitigation. The primary concern for policymakers is to strengthen capacity building and limit instability in a country of approximately 157 million citizens. Most of Bangladesh sits at an elevation of just a few dozen feet above sea level, and the southern delta region, which is positioned even lower, is home to approximately 35 million people. The country also has one of the highest population densities in the world, with about 1,000 people per square kilometer (km). [3] This confluence of factors has brought adaption efforts to the forefront of policymaking agendas.

Stakeholders—ranging from development banks and NGOs to both city and national governments—are taking action to address the many challenges imposed by climate change. In 2016 the Energy, Resources and Environment Program at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies sponsored a research trip to Bangladesh to explore climate change adaptation policies. [4] This commentary discusses three prominent concerns—humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, community sustainability, and food security—and highlights several solutions proposed by stakeholders. [5]