SDGs and climate resilient development

Feb 26, 2017

Bangladesh has made significant development gains since independence and made greater progress more rapidly in the last decade. Per capita income has increased manyfolds while the poverty rate has been reduced significantly, from nearly 60 percent in 1990 to 31.5 percent in 2010 and approximately 24.8 in 2015. Further, Bangladesh has demonstrated high degree of achievement in vast majority of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Bangladesh has been duly recognised globally for these achievements.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate change

For Bangladesh, the next fifteen years (2015-2030 periods) of development will be dominated by the serious commitment to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has taken this seriously and has set up an innovative mechanism of allocating different SGD targets to different ministries and agencies, and distributed roles, as principal, associates and supporting, to complete the tasks.

The seventeen SDGs are all consistent with Bangladesh's sustainable development. The first eight SDGs are central to all the vision and planning exercises of Bangladesh, particularly the Seventh Five Year Plan (FYP7). These SDGs are: No Poverty (SDG 1); Zero Hunger (SDG 2); Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG 3); Quality Education (SDG 4); Gender Equality (SDG 5); Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6); Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8). SDG 13 has been for Climate Actions. The others are equally important, and achieving the first eight will enable people to harness the others more easily. But, one of the greatest threats to attain the above goals is the scourge the country faces from the increasing impacts of climate change, particularly mediated by climate induced disasters.

A set of twelve well-identified complex and reinforcing impacts of climate change on Bangladesh are as follows:

1. Sea level rise

2. Cyclone (intensity and frequency)

3. Deeper penetration of saline water

4. Erratic rainfall

5. Flood (intensity and frequency)

6. Drought

7. River bank erosion

8. Health

9. Food security

10. Water security

11. Land slide in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)

12. Migration

Global challenges and great convergence

In the last decade, the science of climate change has become more robust. Policy prominence of climate change has increased rapidly, and entering the global and national policy discourse, are included in the early stages of national planning.


In the last decades, the global economy was coming out of a recession, mainly in the advanced economies. Middle East was engaged in wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria resulting in huge human toll, misery and displacement. Europe was experiencing mass migration and also rises of ultra-right views. Brexit added to the political complexity. All these were further complicated by the rise of unconventional approaches to governance and challenges to the two party political paradigms in the politics of USA.

Despite all these negative developments, there has been a major positive development globally. The year 2015 experienced a unique convergence of three important global processes following from the Earth Summit of 1992. These include: (1) The UN summit on SDGs at the 70th UN General Assembly resulting in universal agreement on 17 SDGs; (2) the UN high-level meeting on the Sendai Framework for integration of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in sustainable development; and (3) the universal agreement on Paris Climate Conference known as COP 21 under the UNFCCC which its complement, SDG 13 on Climate Action.

There is a huge scope for building synergies among the three processes and outcomes to strengthen the national policies and strategies on development. This would increase resilience to climate change and reduce risks from natural disasters and climate change impacts. These may have long term implications on international, regional and national policies of economic growth, social development and environmental conservation. For Bangladesh, the convergence of these three processes offers an ideal opportunity of meeting the development, environment, social and climate change challenges simultaneously.

Climate change, disaster and development linkages

Despite the convergence in global thinking and achievements in adopting the Paris Agreement on climate change (CC), Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and sustainable development (SD) agenda 2030, it is strongly felt that if urgent actions are not taken to address climate change, it will undermine most of the development gains, increase poverty and inequality in different regions of the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. Climate risk reduction is becoming central to the planning processes of Bangladesh. 

This was reflected in the report of the World Economic and Social Survey, 2016 of the United Nations. The report says, 95 percent of the poor people living in the coastal areas of Bangladesh are experiencing the severe negative impacts of climate change that affect their agriculture, food security, water, sanitation, health, employment, income, houses, communication, infrastructure, habitat and livelihood. One of the top three reasons for failure in poverty alleviation globally is climate change. The report reiterates that the conditions of low-income people, who already face inequity, will worsen with impacts of climate change.


Vulnerability and exposure to climate variability and extremes are closely linked to existing inequity and poverty. Restricted and differentiated access to physical, financial and social capitals, and unequal opportunity of access to government supports and services enhance vulnerability.


A total of 6,457 extreme weather related disasters occurred during 1995-2015, which claimed more than 600,000 lives across the world, mainly in the developing countries, and affected another 4.2 billion people. The climate variability and extremes affect women, children and elderly people disproportionately. Bangladesh is facing many of the negative impacts of climate change due to its location (in between the great Himalayas in the North and turbulent Bay of Bengal in the South) and geophysical conditions. The country and the people are facing high level of social vulnerability which is associated with high population, decreasing land, wide spread poverty, some weak policy, meeting the needs of institutional integration and lack of investment in science, and technological innovation.

The country has to incur significant economic, social and development costs due to climate change impacts and natural disasters. The global average annual cost of climate disasters has increased because of climate change induced frequent and devastating floods, storms, droughts and heat waves. The economic loss and damage due to climate change has increased substantially recently due to inadequate adaptation actions, particularly in the developing world, where the climate change impacts are very high. The recent climate scenario by the UNEP suggests that tropical regions will be highly at risk of climate hazards which will not only eat-up the development gains, but will threaten the future potential of development in the South Asian region including Bangladesh. Bangladesh envisions being a middle income country by 2021 and an economically developed country by 2041. To meet these dreams we will need to address climate change impacts and adapt rapidly to the changes in climate patterns and consequent impacts on the economy, the climate vulnerable populations and ecosystems.    

Growing poverty and inequity in the climate change world

It is felt that the impacts of climate change, degradation of natural resources and the ecosystem, and structural inequity are locked in a vicious cycle. Vulnerability and exposure to climate variability and extremes are closely linked to existing inequity and poverty. Restricted and differentiated access to physical, financial and social capitals, and unequal opportunity of access to government supports and services enhance vulnerability. Uneven access to health services, education and employment (particularly of the poor, women and communities living in hard to reach areas) and perpetuation of discrimination under the existing institutional and cultural norms create social conditions for greater vulnerability. These are being again aggravated by climate change, natural disasters and other externality like market shocks in Bangladesh.

Further, the areas and habitats of the poor and marginal communities are exposed to climate hazards and they are highly sensitive to the impacts and shocks. Thus the economic activities and livelihood of the poor living in both rural and urban settings (mainly in the slums and fringe areas) are severely affected by climate change and natural disasters. To address this, the government has increased their attention towards the poor and marginal groups through social safety nets in Bangladesh. These are again influenced by power-elite politics and poor governance resulting in sub-optimal outcomes. 

Multiple shocks and displacement


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5, 2014) assessed the climate change impacts on ecosystems and livelihood of the people and showed how poverty, livelihood and inequity interact with climate change. The livelihood assets and options of the poor are directly affected by climate change induced impacts, such as floods, cyclones, salinity, water logging and droughts in Bangladesh. These are evident in coastal zone, floodplain, upland and in the hilly regions.

The groups whose livelihood depend on climate sensitive natural resources like agriculture, fisheries, poultry, and forestry are severely exposed to climate change impacts. There are many efforts of government, local government agencies, NGOs and development partners for diversification and intensification of livelihoods of the poor and marginal communities, which are being affected by climate variability and natural disasters.

Because of repeated shocks and emerging vulnerabilities, the achievements and outcomes of such initiatives are often limited. In extreme cases, some may turn into maladaptation by increasing further risks and vulnerability.

People are then forced to migrate to cities, where they live in sub-human conditions in slums and socially vulnerable areas. Their lives are dominated by the paradigm of competition over limited resources for their living. The lives and livelihoods of the slum dwellers are again affected by flood, water logging, heat stress, cold wave and many social and political shocks in Bangladesh. The need to break this vicious cycle is crucial.

Therefore, it is strongly suggested that addressing root causes of discrimination, deprivation and inequity, (which mainly lie in the society, culture and institutions) may build capacity of the poor and vulnerable community. This would enhance adaptation and build resilience of the community to address climate change in Bangladesh as well as in the developing world. This may also reduce displacement potential.

Resilient development through adaptation and mitigation

The government, people and other actors in Bangladesh are aware of the risk and vulnerability due to climate change which are affecting all the development and livelihood efforts in the country. People are coping with the adversity of climate change and taking measure for adaptation in agriculture, water, health, infrastructure, economy and their livelihood with limited resources, using their accumulated and increasing experiential knowledge. The government, NGOs and development agencies are supporting community adaptation and sectoral adaptation as well as disaster risk reduction activities. The government has prepared NAPA and BCCSAP, created climate change trust and climate change resilient funds, developed the climate change Fiscal Framework and initiated the Inclusive Budgeting and Financing for Climate Resilient Project.

Over 400 projects of varying sizes are being implemented by the government departments, development agencies and communities to address climate change in the areas of adaptation, mitigation and disaster risk reduction in different climate affected zones. These are inadequate compared to the greater risks, vulnerability and adaptation needs of the community and sectoral development. But the adaptation and disaster responses are giving the basis for resilient building and sustainable development for local communities and regeneration of ecosystems. It has to be noted that the poor and vulnerable communities are using their initiatives, indigenous knowledge and social networks to confront many of the climate change impacts.

Integration of Paris Agreement outcome and SDG 13

Paris Climate Agreement (2015) has provided a good basis for climate actions by all member states of the United Nations. The Paris Climate Conference and its universal outcome have saved the multilateral negotiation and decision process. This offers a framework, principles and a decision process. The conference has agreed on five-year pledge cycles for mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance. A new mechanism for mitigation called Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) was agreed in Paris although it was widely criticised as a non-binding treaty. Paris has also agreed to create a fund of USD 100 billion per year from 2020 for adaptation (at least 50 percent) and mitigation although it is felt inadequate compared to the huge need for adaptation. The government of Bangladesh has prepared a road map for implementation of NDC which has been already submitted in the COP 22, held in Marrakech in December 2016.

The commitments of the Paris Agreement could be achieved through immediate and urgent actions in: i) integration of adaptation in national economic, social and sectoral development policies and strategies including in the Five Year and Annual Development Plans; ii) development and implementation of long term mitigation strategy; iii) allocation of finance; and iv) monitoring and measuring the outcomes climate actions.

The SDGs formulation process has rightly included Goal 13 for taking urgent climate action, which will again influence positive outcomes for all the key goals.

Conclusions and recommendation

Let us remember that climate change is a reality. 2016 has been the warmest year in 250 thousand years. The decade 2005-2015 has been the warmest decade on record. Little changes in global temperature can initiate processes having increasing impacts on precipitation shift, changes in wind velocities resulting in extreme weather or climatic events. It is not necessarily the average value but often the extremes that have the highest impact on society and the ecosystem.

The first objective to manage climate change was to mitigate or reduce greenhouse gases rapidly. The major industrialised countries have failed to do that. Hence the impacts are high and require massive adaptation actions.

Climate change induced impacts generate extreme events resulting in huge adaptation needs. When society,

groups or individuals are incapable of adapting, the load of loss and damages increases. This is being investigated and included in the Paris Agreement.

When loss and damage is not adequately managed or addressed people and communities will be displaced, causing gradually massive migration needs. Human displacement and migration will result in social and geopolitical instability challenging the domains of peace. Hence it is in the best interest of all to mitigate rapidly and then enhance adaptation capacity and actions. Sustainable development of a nation or a society is the best response to climate change impacts. Following are the recommendations for immediate implementation in Bangladesh:

1. Localising SDGs: In order to ensure the highest level of participation and achieving the SDG objective of Leaving no one behind, it is vitally important to ensure that in developing SDG methodologies and solutions, the perceptions, experiences, innovation and creativity of local communities, local government tiers and agencies remain a most important focus. The variation in the ecosystems, local socio-economic responses and impacts of climate change must be incorporated in developing SDG solutions and strategies. Hence localising SDGs should be a central plank in achieving SDGs.

2. Integrating SDG and FYP7: Bangladesh should maximise its opportunities of integrating its Seventh Five Year Plan initiatives with SDG actions, particularly reducing disaster risks and potential climate change impacts. A process should be initiated to optimise these processes for best sustainable development outcomes.

3. Mainstreaming adaptation: Adaptation must be integrated in the development process, sectorally, regionally and by impact types and vulnerable regions or climate change hot spots and vulnerable populations.

4. Mitigation efforts: Bangladesh must address its mitigation activities which are inclusive and complementary to its own Sustainable Development Strategy and plans. Initiatives such as solar energy, improved stove, biogas plants, fertiliser efficiency, increasing efficiency in the power sector, enhancing air quality by stopping traditional brick fields and going for improved system, enhancing water use efficiency.

5. Loss and damage: Serious research efforts must be supported so that loss and damage issues can make progress in the global debate and Bangladesh can become a champion and leader in this aspect of climate change and lead the Paris Agreement Process.

6. Fund mobilisation and capacity building: It is unfortunate that in the Rio initiatives process Bangladesh has lost out in mobilising adequate and deserving international funding from both the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). We must make utmost efforts for effective mobilisation from the Green Climate Fund (GCF). For that we must mobilise appropriate government agencies, private sector, research institutes and climate change leaders with due support and collective national efforts.

7. Adaptation funds for local level: Utmost efforts must be taken to push all climate investment to the local levels through local government, NGOs, social and local communities. Significant adaptation funds – at least 50 percent – must be forwarded to the local level of investment in adaptation and must reach the most vulnerable.

8. Learning from vulnerable communities: All actors must focus to learn from vulnerable communities, affected population and ecosystems. Bangladeshi people have demonstrated many indigenous technologies and practices which reduce their risks and enhance coping strategies. The climate change planners, local scientists and NGOs must learn from these practices and incorporate the appropriate ones in the adaptation planning and the implementation process.

Contact information

Dr Atiq Rahman

The writer is Executive Director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS)

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