Climate change-related impacts have wide range implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights, both direct or indirect. They often result in immature deaths, casualties, destruction of households, scarcity of fresh water and food, unemployment, displacement, and adverse effects on agriculture and biodiversity. The people who are the frequent victims of those climate change-related effects are often too marginalized and their voices are rarely heard. The reciprocal relationship between climate change and human rights has been recognized by different agencies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council. The Council reaffirms the importance of applying human rights obligations and commitments to guide global policies and measures designed to inform and strengthen international and national policy making in the area of climate change (Resolution 10/4, 25 March 2009).
A human rights-based approach is a conceptual framework primarily premised on the international human rights standards and practically directed to promoting and protecting human rights as the ultimate goal of development. This approach seeks to identify the development needs of those people whose human rights are in distress, and of those respective rights that need immediate protection. It facilitates the way to identify the right holders and respective duty bearers and requires that the rights holders are fully empowered with the capacity of decision making for them and resource management through various layers of participation, accessibility and accountability. A human rights-based approach can be used, in practical terms, to guide policies and measures of cl imate change mitigation and adaptation. Within the climate context, this approach focuses on the people most affected by climate change and in need of immediate support. This approach has overreaching normative insinuations for examining obligations, inequalities and exposures in terms of climate-related challenges, for redressing discriminatory practices and unjust distribution of resources that impede the sustainable development and for ensuring that everyone is equally boarded in development-vessel. In the common battlefield against the climate change, this approach smooths the multisectoral coordination by setting an unique goal, curbs the unjust power distributions provides a valuable lens for ensuring that climate actions do not result in human rights violations.
Due to the frequent extreme climate events, Bangladesh is being identified as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery counted 60% of the worldwide deaths caused by cyclones in the last 20 years occurred in Bangladesh. With its low-lying deltaic landmass, high population density, extreme poverty, illiteracy and poor infrastructures, Bangladesh is increasingly fighting against numerous impacts of climate change – especially increased temperature, sea-level rise, cyclones and storm surges, salinity intrusion, unusual monsoon pattern, heavy downpours, decrease in agricultural GDP, scarcity of fresh water, riverbank erosion etc. Scientific data projects gradual intensification of climate change-related challenges for the country in coming decades that will affect human life, sustenance, food security, shelter, human health, sustainability, ecosystems and biodiversity. The direct annual cost of natural disasters over the last 10 years is estimated to be between 0.5% and 1% of Bangladesh’s GDP (UNDP). The economic impacts of future climate change are expected to be larger and could even reverse the recent gains in the areas of economic growth and population control.
With its resource scarcity and technological backwardness, in many ways, Bangladesh is not well-prepared to adapt with the challenges posed by climate change. Experience of Bangladesh in preparation of climate change strategies or policies are quite recent and, Bangladesh would need to prepare for long-term adaptation strategy and it is necessary to identify all present vulnerabilities and future opportunities, adjusting priorities and investment policies in different sectors. Although still in its early years of institutional restructuring, Bangladesh, amidst a range of constraints, has made remarkable progress in climate resilient development planning over recent years. It is also one of the most proactive countries in global climate negotiations, as well as in addressing its own climate issues. But the climate change adaption strategies the country currently undertaking are not structured to address sector specific vulnerability and to accommodate the affected communities. In addition, the present strategies are reportedly designed to emphasis on infrastructure-based risk reduction projects makes us question the selection process in relation to targeting the poor. Installation of a project requires unnecessary paperwork that causes a large portion of climate resilience budget to remain undisbursed and disbursement of finance through NGOs also raises controversy around the selection of NGOs based on the personal affiliations of stakeholders. Since these adaptation projects are not prepared following national planning development guidelines, they have no opportunity to be mainstreamed into the national annual development planning of Bangladesh. Coastal areas are agreed to be one of the hotspots in terms of climatic vulnerability, it is noticeable that climate resilience funds have concentrated in coastal areas of the country, without addressing the vulnerability issues of other climate-affected regions. This indicates a dilemma in appropriate project selection and prioritization. Study respondents observed that more funding has been allocated for climate change mitigation related projects, whereas the priority for Bangladesh is adaptation to climate change. However, several barriers to adaptation were identified, noticeably access to information and resources. communities central to decision and planning processes.
Mahmudul Hasan studies LL.M. in Energy and Environmental Law at the
George Washington University Law School, Washington D.C.