Bangladesh Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud has said Bangladesh’s strong economic growth has provided its government with the wherewithal to combat climate change despite being one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world.

“Climate change has not spared Bangladesh, but the government has taken the lead in pushing back against its worst impacts,” he said in an article titled “A Focus on Climate Challenges in Bangladesh” published in US prestigious news magazine “Newsweek” on Thursday. 

Dr Hasan, also a former environment and forests minister, said Bangladesh has ranked seventh among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, but its contribution to global warming is negligible. “It contributes less than half of 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions”.

He mentioned that the average sea level rise along the coast of Bangladesh has been 3.8-to-5.8millimetres a year over the last 30 years, according to a recent study, and that continues. 

“In fact, without changes to global behavior, Bangladesh would see annual economic costs due to global warming equal to 2% of its Gross Domestic Product by 2050, widening to 9.4% by 2100. The people most impacted would be the poorest Bangladeshis,” the minister wrote.

To be precise, he said, a one-degree rise in average world temperature would increase sea levels by about a meter, which would flood a fifth of Bangladesh. 

If that happens, 30 million people in Bangladesh would be forced to flee their homes, Hasan said.

Citing the World Bank’s data, he said Bangladesh is likely to have more than half of South Asia’s “climate migrants” by 2050 if warming trends continue.

But, he said, the Bangladesh government is steadily improving its climate resilience, while it has added to its constitution a requirement to protect the environment and natural resources. 

“To that end, it will soon adopt a series of climate mitigation programs including the 20-year Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan and the Delta Plan 2100,” he added. 

Hasan, also the Awami League Joint General Secretary, said the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, which already is underway, is focused on adaptation and on mitigation, and an updated plan will add natural-resource management and urban development.

In the meantime, he said, Bangladesh has made astounding economic progress as its Gross Domestic Product per capita has increased eightfold since 1990. 

“It recently surpassed India in GDP per capita. And for most of the last decade, it eclipsed Pakistan’s economy, too. Bangladesh’s exports rose to a record of $52.1 billion in the fiscal year 2022,” the information minister said. 

HSBC Bank has predicted that Bangladesh would be the world’s 26th largest economy by 2030 due in large part to its average annual GDP growth of 6 per cent during the last twenty years, he said.

Dr Hasan said the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund has spent US$ 480 million on 800 research, mitigation, and adaptation projects. Over the last seven years, the government’s climate-related spending has doubled from US$ 1.44 billion to US$ 2.96 billion in fiscal 2022, he added.

He said Bangladesh is committed to developing a low-carbon economy and it has renewable energy projects underway that will produce 911.8 megawatts of electricity and combined-cycle gas-based power plants that will produce 3,208 megawatts of power. 

It has helped install 6 million solar home systems and more than 4.5 million environmentally friendly stoves, the AL joint general secretary said, adding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina canceled 10 coal-based power plants worth US$ 12 billion of foreign investment.

To guard against rising sea levels, he said, Bangladeshi islanders are planting oysters and curating oyster-encrusted reefs. 

“This reduces coastal erosion by calming ocean waves before they reach shore. To increase oxygen creation and prevent damage caused by severe weather, mangroves have been replanted in large numbers,” he said. 

He said the mangroves’ roots, trunks, and leaves obstruct the flow of water, reducing water flow speeds by 29%to 92%.

To accelerate reforestation, Hasan said, the government introduced the Social Afforestation Program, which encourages people to plant and raise trees. 

As a result, Bangladesh has tripled its forest coverage, from 7% in 2005 to 22.5% in 2021, he said.

The information minister said Bangladesh also has worked closely with scientists to increase the diversity and resilience of crops to hinder flooding. 

Floating gardens built out of paddy straw and aquatic plants create organic islands capable of producing squash, okra, and gourds while withstanding increased flood waters, he said. 

Hasan said salt-tolerant seeds allow Bangladeshi farmers to plant potatoes, carrots, grounds, red beets, cabbages, and Indian spinach in salty soil.

In addition, he said, Bangladesh has turned to nuclear power, while it started construction of its first nuclear power reactor in November 2017. “The unit is scheduled to be commissioned next year. Construction on a second reactor began in July 2018,” he added.

Noting that other countries have noticed Bangladesh’s initiatives, the AL leader mentioned that Aditya Pillai of the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research commended said, “Bangladesh has incrementally improved its capacity to adapt to climate change over the last fifteen years. Along the way, it’s developed a model that holds lessons for South Asian peers”.

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