Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Bangladesh Confronts Climate Change: Keeping Our Heads above Water

Manoj Roy, Joseph Hanlon, David Hulme

Anthem Press



Bangladesh has the highest population density of any country, and its variable climate and position on a flood-prone delta make it very vulnerable to climate change. A combination of geographical and political factors has amplified the climate-related risks, particularly in Bangladesh’s large cities.

Yet the authors of Bangladesh Confronts Climate Change urge a reframing of Bangladeshis as climate change victims. Rather, the book explains local coping capacity and the innovations driven by Bangladeshis to respond to climate threats, such as cyclone shelters and early warning systems. The authors argue that these practices are under-appreciated by those outside the country, leading to misinformation and inappropriate responses.

While pointing out that Bangladeshi individuals and groups are dealing with the climate in ways that should be recognized, the book also discusses the leadership implications of the very real threats. Bangladesh Confronts Climate Change goes into detail about rainfall and temperature conditions in the country, but also different mitigation targets and projections for consequences. This leads the authors to conclude that a global temperature rise of no more than 1.5°C is absolutely necessary for Bangladesh to remain within its coping capacity. To achieve this, climate leadership, by scientists and policymakers both within Bangladesh and in high-income countries, is crucial. As the authors write (page 15),

“For decades to come, Bangladesh will keep its head above water only if it can be part of an international coalition maintaining enough pressure on global politicians to keep their initial very limited promises, and to make further commitments to cut emissions.”

Other headline findings are that Bangladesh will retain self-sufficiency in rice production until 2050, although increased flooding and climate variability will challenge that; and that there are no “climate change migrants” in Bangladesh yet, although that looks likely to change by the middle of the century.

So the book can be read in multiple ways. It’s a history of climate change adaptation in Bangladesh, from the institutional to the individual level. It’s a summary of scientific inquiry into Bangladesh’s future climate. And it’s a polemic about the urgency and justice of change; as the authors state in several places, Bangladeshis are largely not responsible for climate change, yet are disproportionately exposed to its consequences.


Further reading:

Ahammad, Ronju (2011), “Constraints of pro-poor climate change adaptation in Chittagong city”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 23, No 2, pages 503–515, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247811414633.

Banks, Nicola, Manoj Roy and David Hulme (2011), “Neglecting the urban poor in Bangladesh: research, policy and action in the context of climate change”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 23, No 2, pages 487–502, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247811417794.

Haque, Anika Nasra, David Dodman and Md. Mohataz Hossain (2014), “Individual, communal and institutional responses to climate change by low-income households in Khulna, Bangladesh”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 26, No 1, pages 112–129, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247813518681.

Roy, Manoj, David Hulme and Ferdous Jahan (2013), “Contrasting adaptation responses by squatters and low-income tenants in Khulna, Bangladesh”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 25, No 1, pages 157–176, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247813477362.


Book note prepared by Christine Ro

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