Experts Discuss Impacts of Climate Change on Livelihoods in Bangladesh at Pardee Center Seminar

The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future recently hosted a seminar exploring the physical impacts of climate change and the implications of natural disasters, water scarcity, and other climate-induced challenges on the lives of people in coastal regions of Bangladesh. The seminar, titled “Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, and Migration in Bangladesh,” featured Faculty Research Fellow Bruce Anderson, a professor in the BU Department of Earth & Environment; Sabbatical Scholar Pallab Mozumder, an associate professor in the Departments of Earth & Environment and Economics at Florida International University; and 2017 Graduate Summer Fellow Calynn Dowler, a PhD candidate in the BU Department of Anthropology.

Prof. Anderson set the stage with an overview of the physical climate change impacts in Bangladesh, with a particular focus on sea level rise. He explained the effect of warming on the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, noting that we can expect between a meter and a meter and a half of sea level rise by 2100 with 1.5 degrees C of warming above pre-industrial levels. This extent of sea level rise will have vast implications for Bangladesh, leading to the permanent displacement of 30 to 50 million people. He also highlighted the fact that displacement is already occurring at massive scales, with 50,000 to 200,000 people being displaced each year due to land erosion and saltwater intrusion.

Prof. Mozumder discussed some of the economic, political, and social implications of sea level rise on Bangladesh. His research explores how people are adapting to the impacts of climate change, by either shifting to different agricultural practices or by migrating to cities. He has surveyed over 2,000 households to understand the nature and extent of migration from coastal areas, finding that 60 percent of those surveyed have migrated, primarily to very poor areas of cities. Still, Prof. Mozumder found that migrants are slightly better off when compared to non-migrants. However, the major urban centers of Bangladesh are already so densely populated (e.g. 43,500 people per square kilometer in Dhaka) and offer such low standards of living, so he expects the continued influx of migrants will create the potential for major social unrest in the country.

Finally, Dowler drew on her fieldwork in the Sundarbans — the archipelago of islands extending from Bangladesh to West Bengal — which was also the focus of her research as a Pardee Center Graduate Summer Fellow. Her research is focused on two villages in the Indian Sundarbans, about 20 miles from the border of Bangladesh, which have been differentially impacted by saltwater intrusion and flooding. She characterized the “slow violence” of climate change as a form of “delayed destruction,” which is often never perceived as violence at all. She recounted several stories of the ongoing changes to villagers’ day-to-day lives due to these processes, and explained how these impacts intersect and amplify other sociocultural factors in the region, specifically inequality.

The presentations were followed by a discussion with the audience on topics including the responses of governments and policymakers to these challenges, the impacts of influxes of migrants on urban centers, the role of scientists as communicators, and more.

The full seminar can be viewed in the video above. Click here to download the PowerPoint slides.