The irony isn’t lost on us at green.tv that our domain is defined by one of the world’s first nations that will be wiped out by climate change. A lot of people aren’t aware that .tv is the country designation assigned to the Pacific Island nation Tuvalu. As Oxfam launches its cooperation with the TckTckTck campaign this last weekend, it releases two films on green.tv about Bangladesh (see below). We thought it appropriate to remind you about Tuvalu and places like it*, and the imperative for legal international recognition of climate refugee status.
Tuvalu sold the rights to it’s internet domain for A$30million. And with the money the government has made ready for more frequent extreme weather and erosion of it’s coast line. Tuvalu experiences more cyclones and flooding every year, but also longer periods of drought. Drought? On a tropical island? Yes, most of the ground water isn’t freshwater, and therefore, not drinkable.
As climate change erodes it’s coast line, ecological change erodes the second source of income for islanders: fishing (the first is the public sector). Like so many societies around the world traditionally dependent upon fishing for food and trade, Tuvalu’s fisherman are out of work as overfishing to feed Western demand has lead to decreased fish stocks. Climate change threatens cultures physically, but psychologically as well.
Even if physical place doesn’t survive rising sea levels, it’s important that cultures do. Tuvalu is possibly the first state to negotiate an environmental refugee agreement with a larger country. In 2001 they negotiated a refugee agreement with New Zealand where by over the next 30 years or so, New Zealand will accept so many of Tuvalu’s 10,000 citizens a year (Australia refused a similar agreement). It is important that cultural enclaves survive mass emigration pressure. The Hmong resettlement in the mid-Western United States is an example of this.
Bangladeshis have advantages when it comes to cultural survival that indigenous peoples of Pacific Island nations don’t– large expatriate communities in Western countries with significant remittance flows and per capita, more migrant workers abroad. While right now most remittances come from migrant labour in the Middle East (not expats), would those expats step up as climate change takes its toll?
Bangladesh faces similar problems to, well, everywhere else in the world when it comes to climate change: more frequent extreme weather. But it’s not just flooding from more frequent cyclones and destruction from unseasonable tornadoes, it’s also increased run-off from the Himalayas (click here for a map from AFP that shows rivers of Asia that flow from the Himalayas). Temperatures have increased 0.15 to 0.6 degrees Celsius every decade for the last 30 years. The ancient glacier is melting. In the Ecologist, Ajai Sahni, head of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management described Bangladesh’s “land mass” as “shrinking violently.”
It’s easy to forget that weather effects attributed to climate change have an estimated 30 year lag. This makes sea meter rise extra unpredictable (click here for an interactive map that shows how much coast lines will be eroded at varying levels of sea rise). As climate scientists like to point out: the “tipping point for runaway climate change” is uncertain.
It doesn’t bode well that since 2004, India has built a physical border between it and Bangladesh: double high barbed wire fencing 1,550 miles long. (Refugee flows aside, the government claims it’s to do with the arms trade and “militant activity”). Just a 1.5m rise in sea levels will wipe out 22,000 km sq. or 16% of the country’s land mass and displace 17 million people or 15% of the population. Scientists have estimated 1.5m rise in sea levels by 2100, but they don’t have accurate estimates for Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets melting– something that is accelerating.
Bangladesh is dependent upon agriculture for 21% of it’s exports. That’s a lot of people that depend upon agriculture for a living. Flooding could periodically devastate the agricultural landscape, displacing as many as 40 million of approximately 147 million people. With a monsoon that weather experts say is changing direction and increasingly heavy, crop damaging rain falls, water tables that are becoming salty, what land isn’t wiped out by sea level rise might be rendered effectively useless. There is a multiplier for emigrant trends there.
Immediately under threat are the Sundarbans mangroves, two-thirds of which are located in Bangladesh. The massive infrastructure investment in dykes needed to mitigate climate change is not likely (both from public and private financial perspectives). But more than lost jobs, lost land, and displaced people, Bangladeshis risk losing their connection to their ancestry, their way of life, something that cannot be replaced in stories told to grandchildren at bedtime.
Climate change negotiations must address equitable financing for climate change mitigation infrastructure, emergency evacuation infrastructure for low-lying countries, and and immigration agreements. It is imperative that climate refugee status is enumerated in law.
To hear about climate change in Bangladesh from a people’s perspective, watch the films below (Oxfam) on green.tv, and join the TckTckTck campaign!