Climate change adaptation: think of it as preparing for an alien invasion (some spaceships have already landed)

Daniel Nelson

Daniel Nelson
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

The opposition street protests that have been damaging Bangladesh’s key textile sector and threatening the forthcoming O and A-level examinations have claimed another scalp: the field trips which were to precede the annual International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA7).

In order to ensure the safety of participants the visits to projects on 19-21 April, which formed half of the seventh conference, were cancelled.

This is annoying both to the organisers and the government, because Bangladesh has adeptly positioned itself up as a focus point for conferences and meetings on climate change. Its vulnerability – particularly to sea-level rise, floods and fluctuations in rainfall – are a strength when it comes to first-hand experience of adaptation.

“I happen to be sitting in the part of the world that has the biggest advantage on knowing how to tackle climate change,” says co-organiser Saleemul Haq, who divides his time between the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, where he is a senior fellow, and the Dhaka institution he has established, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

Climate change is like an alien invasion

“The way I characterise this,” he tells me, “is to think of climate change in planetary terms: it’s like an alien invasion coming to planet Earth, which everyone on Earth is going to have to deal with sooner or later.  Some of the alien scout ships have already landed. One big one has landed in Bangladesh, and a few small ones have gone elsewhere. One was called Sandy that hit New York.

“But they’re all coming and we’re all going to have to figure out how to deal with them.  And as it happens, in Bangladesh we are figuring that out very fast: 150 million people are all extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and we are learning very fast as a nation how to organise ourselves to do that.”

In other words, this is a problem in which the poor have a comparative advantage: “We will figure out the solutions as we go along, rather than in Oxford, Harvard or Yale. They have computer models that can simulate everything but they don’t have the problem. They’ll have to come to us.”

Political unrest keeps participants away

Persistent political unrest and violence could upset that plan, because it puts off visiting academics and NGO workers who want to see for themselves how Bangladesh is dealing with the problem.

Several people withdrew from participation in CBA7 because of the security situation, but the main conference goes ahead as a planned on 22-25 April, and is due to be opened by Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of the country’s founding father and first president, who was assassinated in 1975.

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International Conference on Community-based Adaptation which takes place 22-25 April 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

One Response to Climate change adaptation: think of it as preparing for an alien invasion (some spaceships have already landed)

  1. Chris Shaw says:

    Not certain I like the analogy, positions climate change as something external to us, when in fact a product of earth bound corporate profit seeking activity.

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