Bangladesh Fights Air Pollution While Navigating the Shocks of Climate Change

Since joining the CCAC in 2012, Bangladesh launched a National Action Plan for Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, heightened the ambition of their Nationally Determined Contributions, and kick-started vital development efforts.

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Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dhaka, Bangladesh

In 2020, a barrage of rain triggered floods so disastrous that a quarter of Bangladesh was underwater. The country has always been uniquely vulnerable to flooding but the effects of climate change mean that these conditions are intensifying— and that the worst is yet to come. 

Bangladesh was a founding member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in 2012 and has played a foundational role in reducing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) in the region, including developing its National Action Plan for Reducing SLCPs in 2014 which in August of 2021 it leveraged to enhance the ambition of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Its NDC targets include reducing household energy sector emissions by 18.55 per cent below the business-as-usual scenario by 2030, brick kiln sector emissions by 46.54 per cent, and municipal solid waste and wastewater emissions by 7.93 per cent.

If Bangladesh’s National Action Plan is fully implemented it will prevent 16,300 premature deaths, reduce black carbon emissions by 72 per cent and methane emissions by 37 per cent by 2040.

SLCPs are the super pollutants with the greatest capacity to impact climate change in the short term. Reducing them also delivers the crucial added benefits of reducing air pollution and increasing food production. 

“Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world, with very little contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions,” said the Climate Change Division at the Bangladesh Department of Environment. “However, Bangladesh wants to actively play its part in the global collective action to reduce future emissions. Since black carbon and methane have more global warming potential than carbon, incorporation of SLCP mitigation measures will bring more significant results because their short atmospheric lifespan means their reduction will have rapid effects, helping to flatten the curve.”

Agriculture and food security in Bangladesh are already negatively affected by climate change, including by the effects of worsening drought, fluctuating temperatures and rainfall, and increased cyclones. Sea level rise is expected to further degrade the country’s agricultural production. In one recent study, 86 per cent of households said local rice production had decreased because climate change is making the soil too salty for the crop to thrive.

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SNAP Workshop, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Photo: CCAC national planning workshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“SLCP mitigation actions could result in considerable benefits for public health and food security, along with helping to keep the 1.5℃ temperature goal alive,” said Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. “These co-benefits of SLCP mitigation have created a perfect opportunity for low greenhouse gas emitting developing countries, like Bangladesh, to play their part in global greenhouse gas emission reductions. At the same time, they’re reducing air pollution, maintaining public health, and contributing to food security and ensuring climate-resilient sustainable development.”

Bangladesh’s Action Plan outlines 11 priority mitigation measures that range from introducing clean-burning biomass stoves for cooking, replacing traditional brick kilns with modern technologies, and eliminating high-emitting road transport vehicles.

Precisely calculating emissions projections and accurately recommending the most effective targeted interventions is important not only for achieving its National Action Plan but also for determining an ambitious but realistic set of NDCs and then tracking the country’s progress in achieving them.

This task is complicated anywhere but particularly in Bangladesh where technical capacity for this work is limited. The CCAC and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) helped with technical and financial support to help bridge this gap. Working with leaders in the Bangladeshi government, nonprofits, and the private sectors, the partners conducted baseline assessments of SLCP emissions, compiled existing data, policies, and regulations on SLCPs, and mapped institutional arrangements to identify relevant government stakeholders. 

The CCAC also helped Bangladesh make more targeted projections by building capacity in the Department of the Environment to carry out integrated assessments of greenhouse gases and SLCPs using state of the art modelling tools to develop quantitative analyses of the emissions reduction potential of various plans, strategies, and policies. 

Using this information, they analysed what SLCP emissions would look like by 2030 without action and which industries would be most cost-effective and impactful for intervention. Stakeholders then convened to analyse a series of proposed policies, programmes, and pilot projects and compiled the most effective ones into the National Action Plan, which was further updated and officially endorsed in 2018. Since then, the CCAC continues to support Bangladesh in turning that plan into action.

Climate change impacts are particularly devastating for a country with major development achievements in recent decades, including that Bangladesh’s poverty rate dropped from over 44 per cent in 1991 to under 14 per cent in 2016. Life expectancy and food production have both increased. 

The co-benefits of action on SLCPs, however, can help maintain these gains, by increasing crop production and improving health, heightening the case for acting on them as quickly as possible. 

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Photo: Bangladeshi rice farmers participate in a workshop on Alternate Wetting and Drying practices.

“Inclusion of agricultural SLCP mitigation measures in the NDC under the Paris Agreement could be used as a platform to help increase support for mitigation measures,” said the Climate Change Division at the Bangladesh Department of Environment. “Adaptation co-benefits like alternate wetting and drying in rice farming will not only help foster more sustainable farming practices but will also help make the agriculture sector more climate resilient.” 

Since 2014, the CCAC and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have worked with Bangladesh to reduce methane emissions from the rice sector, a water-intensive staple crop that takes up 75 per cent of Bangladesh’s agricultural land. The 'Alternate Wetting and Drying' (AWD) rice cultivation technique cuts emissions in half and reduces water use by a third.

Methane emissions also have a negative effect on agriculture more broadly. If human-driven methane emissions were cut by 45 per cent by 2030, it could prevent 26 million tonnes of staple crop losses every year. It could also prevent 255,000 deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

“Action on short-lived climate pollutants has had many benefits for sustainable development,” said Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. “All the support and initiatives of the CCAC has helped us in achieving our sustainable development goals in agriculture, transport, and food security.”

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