The blame-game over climate change

Enayetullah Khan
Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressing the high-level segments of COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco on November 15, 2016.


The Industrial Revolution is largely blamed for climate change that is almost self-evident in today’s world.  However, it is revealed that pre-industrial deforestation caused about 9 percent of today’s global warming.  Humans started this change long before the Industrial Revolution, when machines changed our ancestors’ way of life, in the beginning of the fossil fuel era. A study shows that these emissions are still present in the atmosphere.


Deforestation started as the world’s population grew. Today the world is coming to a consensus on a “polluter pays” model, that means the biggest emitters take on the biggest role to mitigate the effects of climate change.  Some people want to put the burden on China for developments that date as far back as the ninth century. Some point fingers at some other Asian countries too.


In Bangladesh we lost our best rain forests either for tea or for timber.  Our northeastern part, greater Sylhet area, is well known as the humid tropics. The best part of these humid tropics has been cleared for tea plantation.  Our southeastern part, greater Chittagong and the Chittagong Hill Tracts area, has ‘rain’ forests, which were cleared mainly for teak plantation.  These two valuable commodities were mainly used by non-natives!


Once I was told that a 12-year-old British boy, Durrel, wrote to Mahathir Muhammad, the then premier of Malaysia, requesting him not to clear the rainforests, so that he (Durrel) could enjoy greater biodiversity and wildlife once he grew up.  I understand that Mahathir reacted sharply and wrote: “The people, who asked you to write this letter – request them to pay more for our timber so that we don’t cut more trees and grow more palms!”


If we need to deal with responsibility, we have to keep per capita emissions in mind.  The ‘rich’ have to pay for their oversized contributions to global warming.  If we consider the data from 1900-2004: the US has contributed by far the lion’s share, in the form of 314,772 m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. That is well over four times the top European contributor, Germany (73,625 mt). Some other countries that may be of interest to us include the UK on 55,163mt, India 25,054mt, Brazil 9,136mt, Indonesia 6,167mt and China 89,243mt.  Bangladesh’s historical contribution stands at an almost negligible 562mt. One has to bear in mind that emissions started before this data was calculated.  UK, having spawned the Industrial Revolution, may be held chiefly responsible for the emissions in the 19th century.


As 2015 drew to a close, the international family of nations gathered in Paris, and against the odds, managed to agree a deal finally to deal with greenhouse gases emissions, through a program of mitigation and adaptation.  The finance will start to flow in 2020. The Paris deal, as it came to be known, is regarded as the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement. The following are its principal aims:


  1. Hold the increase in the global average temperature down to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;


  1. Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; and


  1. Make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the Conference of Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Marrakech, Morocco this year. There she rightly mentioned that the Paris Agreement created a solid ground for meaningful cooperation in combating climate change impacts.  She felt that this is the time to move forward and implement the decisions with action. She called upon all the countries of the world to throw in their lot, in order “to share equitably the burden to fulfill our promises of making the world a safe and better place for our future generations.”


Under the prime minister’s able leadership, Bangladesh has already taken a few initiatives by spending our own resources through the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF).  She communicated this to the world leaders during her stay at the summit, and it would have acted as a powerful message to world leaders that the country most affected by climate change can no longer wait around for their issues to play out. The time to act is now.


Enayetullah Khan is Editor-in-Chief, UNB & Dhaka Courier, and Chairman, WildTeam

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