By Sisir Devkota (KATHMANDU, 4 April) – The Netherlands has been surviving rising sea levels for more than two decades now. Zandmotors or “Sand Engines” have guarded coastal Dutch lands from storm surges and soil erosion that has limited human settlement around marshy lands.
The Dutch people are increasingly embracing aquatecture; a term they proudly use to describe buildings that are modelled in water. While Holland might have been successfully designing tools to resist detrimental effects of climate change; aquatecture, on the contrary has limited service. Aquatecture designs are an example of a temporary solution to a growing list of climate problems. The Dutch people have improved their tools to fight water incursion but with an honest acknowledgement of how aquatecture cannot defend them from long term effects of sea level rise.
The message is clear- climate change can lead to unpredictable consequences and probably requires a specialized technological improvement; in sync with technocratic governance systems. The politics associated with environmental governance is not so huge but holds the possibility of getting severely antagonistic. How is Bangladesh and Holland; both equally susceptible to sea level rise; coping with the burden of the world and what are the lessons for other low lying nations?
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) is a “society” of prominent lawyers working to improve environmental jurisprudence and promoting social justice. BELA is one among many examples of a “society” (helplessly not a national/international organization) which make up for Bangladesh’s effort of dealing with climate change. In a country with worsening human rights standards and democratic governance, societies like BELA debunk the contradiction of so called environmental causes in low income nations.
European Center for Nature Conservation (ECNC) and Institute for Environmental Security are institutions that are remarkably different from societies in Bangladesh. ECNC, for example is a knowledge based institution, not only recognized by the EU but also influencing Dutch and European policies. While societies in Bangladesh are vying for support and recognition, organizations in Netherlands are taking new leaps; anticipating for the future and producing knowledge based findings like “roadway air dispersion models” and “industrial noise barriers”. Lack of means in vulnerable nations is a trivial excuse but the fundamental problem with swamped nations like BAN is lengths of regulatory hitches.
Both examples of BAN and NED show that our environmental problems are binary. It is binary because–while sophisticated institutions like in Netherlands are armed with tools to advance climate solutions; designs like air dispersion models are rarely installed in regions outside Europe; in BAN for example where large populations are in direct contact with climate hazards. Similarly, legislative assistance with environmental threats in poor nations is a void attempt, largely due to incompetent governance systems. Despite having sound technocratic structures and being governed under supranational jurisdiction of the EU, decision making is sluggish and onerous. The reason being how European nations are democratically organized. Environmental epistemic communities all over the world face the brunt of such a binary problem.
Global environmental community faces the brunt in two major ways. Firstly, there is a serious absence of an honest conversation between rich and poor nations; between vulnerable (NED) and highly vulnerable states like Bangladesh. The problem with climate dialogue between nations is two fold. Not all richer nations are as vulnerable as some and exchanges of communication is never preferred with poor susceptible nations; chiefly due to reasons associated with policy implementation and availability of environmental assets. Inter agencies like BELA and ECNC do not correspond with each other, not because of will but due to the contrasting agendas they aspire to fulfill. The language of environmental collaboration does not match and has hence led to global action taking the form of fragmented development; one that does not consort with ventures elsewhere.
The second problem has resulted from the first– where inadequate dialogue has forced actors into a political backdrop where the most guilty nations not only control environmental action but also facilitate them. It is also unfortunate that climate solutions; even though has come through remarkably well- has merely become an exhibition of scientific progress. Therefore, climate change is not essentially only an international problem; but one that involves vulnerable communities, local NGO’s, poor governments, tribal populations and monumentally guilty nations like P.R of China and the United States of America.
Using BAN and NED as examples to demonstrate the nature of global action itself; exposes our problem of unsynchronised handling of environmental problems. Climate issues are transnational to the essence that a polluting nation not necessarily faces the consequence; but transfers the ramifications to a non polluting territory. While blaming and shaming is not already apparent in global meetings; the way we deal with our problems is less potent but more absurd.
The discourse of what global environmental problems consists; is not unified but shattered in such a way that there is no common ground. Examples being how air dispersion models are unheard of in rural and vulnerable areas of Bangladesh; which also raises the question of whether air dispersion models would be effective in regions with large populations. If not, environmental tools would merely be a showcase of scientific advancement, a grand prototype of what can be done, not what needs to be done.
Global action to tackle sea level rise has sadly not progressed to the extent that we could boast of how storm surges cannot claim thousands of lives or how sea water incursion would not flood agricultural lands. As per Carnegie foundation, more than $7 trillion worth of damage is caused by sea level rise all over the world. Seven trillion in addition to social costs that is consciously not included in our environmental audits.
Environmental consequences are obvious and undeniable but global attitude is still lingering with rebuffing attitudes of how climate change is natural not anthropogenic. Technocratic governance systems have merely become a model in western discourses but the hardest hit nations like BAN and low lying islands still use dykes and wall barriers to limit water incursion. An honest way to manage our problem has three stages. Climate dialogue between the rich and the poor is the first step. Reconciliation is the second step. Reconciliated climate dialogue is the third.
(Author is pursuing Masters in Democracy and Global Transformations at the University of Helsinki, Finland.)