Introduction to Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country in the world, with a population of more than 169 million,1 61 percent of which is rural.2 The majority of the country’s land area is a river delta, which is formed by the confluence of three rivers that provide access to the rest of South Asia and the world: the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna.3 Bangladesh is also home to the Sundarbans, the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.4 With a humid and warm climate shaped by monsoon circulations, Bangladesh regularly experiences heavy rainfall, cyclones, and floods.5 With over 48 percent of its population living less than 10 meters above sea level, and with the country’s major industries (textiles, farming, and ship-building) reliant on its river systems, Bangladesh is especially vulnerable to climate impacts.6 The country’s climate vulnerability is neither natural nor an accident; it is the enduring legacy of the extraction of taxes and resources under British colonization.7 Political regimes that followed the colonial period further exacerbated unequal agrarian structures, which continue to intensify the ecological vulnerabilities that Bangladeshis experience today.8

Mapping Major Climate Events and Climate-Induced Displacement

Bangladesh faces high risk of climate events, ranking as the 22nd overall country on the INFORM Index for Risk Management, 1st for high exposure to flooding, 19th for tropical cyclones and their associated hazards, and 47th for drought.9 Disasters are the primary cause of displacement in the country, particularly from June to September when monsoon season floods displace an average of a million people each year.10 Additionally, on average, tropical cyclones displace 110,000 people each year, and intense cyclone seasons typically occur every two to three years.11 Bangladeshis in certain areas of the country are disproportionately affected by disasters and face higher risk of secondary climate-induced displacement and other upheavals.11 For example, more than 15,000 people were still displaced in Khulna in February 2021 due to Cyclone Amphan, which had struck in May 2020.11 The same Southern river delta divisions of Khulna and Barisal were also affected by Cyclone Yaas in May 2021, only one year after Amphan.11 By the end of 2021, and due to such repeat events, there were at least 469,000 internally displaced people in Bangladesh.11

Mapping the Costs of the Climate Crisis

The GDP of Bangladesh is $416.26 billion12 , and an annual per capita income growth of 4.0 percent over the past three decades makes the country among one of the fastest growing economies in the world.13 Such growth has reduced the percent of the population living in poverty from 48.9 percent to 24.3 between 2000 and 2016 alone, and this poverty reduction has been accompanied by improvement in various measures of human development–including life expectancy, education access, and food and nutrition security.14 Critically, however, climate impacts undermine such gains in economic growth. Despite being one of the world’s lowest emitters, Bangladesh faces staggering costs. With projections of climate variability and extremity, one-third of agricultural GSP could be lost, which would be especially devastating to the economy because the agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU) sector employs 48 percent of the population.14 Relatedly, Bangladesh’s progress in combating hunger is threatened by the increasing frequency and severity of climate events.15 Elevated temperature will likely cause lower rice yields due to shortened growing periods.16 Because rice provides two-thirds of calories for the population, lower rice yields will augment existing disparities in the country’s food system, including the distribution of crop production and access to high-quality diets.16

Mapping Resilience and Mitigation Pathways

Bangladesh has been an international leader in best practices for adaptation and disaster risk management. In 2009, it was one of the first climate-vulnerable countries to develop a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan through which the national government instituted proactive policies and investments that strengthen resilience against climate-related disasters.17 In particular, mobilizing local participation has driven Bangladesh’s success in building coastal resilience.18 For example, Bangladesh’s public policy and financial commitments have powered the development of an innovative early-warning system, named the Cyclone Preparedness Program, capable of evacuating millions of people in 24 hours across 6,000 km of vulnerable coastline by utilizing 76,000 volunteers from remote communities (half of whom are women) trained in disaster preparation.19  In its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) updated in 2021, the country committed to conditionally reducing carbon emissions by 21.85 percent by 2030 by prioritizing reductions in natural gas production and other parts of the energy sector, which contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than the AFOLU and waste sectors, and promoting transitions to clean energy.20 Additionally, Bangladesh has the fastest growing solar home system in the world, aimed at providing 100 percent electrification of the country through renewable energy.21  To further mitigate internal climate-induced displacement–especially from communities whose livelihoods rely on rain-fed croplands–the government committed to spending 2.5 percent of GDP on delta-related interventions (both new and existing ones) by the end of the century in its Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.9 If the plan’s development pathway is enacted, its projects are projected to halve the net number of migrants leaving coastal, river system, and estuarine hotspots–including the Dhaka metropolitan area, which is likely to become one such hotspot of out-migration.16

Necessary Changes

Bangladesh already has robust legislative, institutional, and regulatory climate action frameworks that prioritize resilience. Now, it is necessary for the country and international community to focus on the implementation, efficacy, and funding of planned projects and future strategies. The International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) recommends the following changes: 1) the enhancement of the human resources capacity of mandated government agencies (e.g., by appointing experts with diverse backgrounds); 2) the development of a countrywide measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) system to streamline all climate-related data and interventions; and 3) engagement with global advocacy and negotiations for acquiring climate funding, combined with the use of national funding instruments (such as carbon and industrial taxes) as necessary.19 Internationally-backed adaptation and mitigation efforts should support the work already being done on the ground to ensure that affected workers’ voices are amplified in the process of just transition22 , and also help bolster the participation of directly impacted local communities in decision-making.23 Through this collaborative approach of capacity building for climate action, Bangladesh’s strong economic trajectory and gains in human development can also be sustained and expanded.