08/09/2016 4:19 PM IST | Updated 09/09/2016 1:16 PM IST

Cop22 Marrakech: Why Bangladesh Must Push For A Climate Target Of 1.5°C

Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to climate change hazards due to its low-level landscape, its cyclone- and tidal surge-prone topographical position, its high population density and rural poverty, and an economy based on agriculture and fisheries. By some estimates, Bangladesh figures first on the list of countries at risk, and is already reeling under effects such as inundated lands and forced migration due to climate change.

The very survival of the people in Bangladesh depends on keeping global emissions to the lowest level and global warming below 1.5°C.

With limited natural resources and heavy dependency on agriculture, the effects strain the environment and the economy. At present 8.3 million people live in cyclone high-risk areas but if global warming continues at the present rate, 21 million people will be at risk by 2050. Bangladesh is the sixth most vulnerable nation to flooding and in August, the unprecedented level of monsoon deluge affected more than 3 million people across 16 districts.

Map from Flooding Forecasting and Warning Centre, Bangladesh

The Bay of Bengal in the south is also a potential source of dire consequences. Almost 25% of the population lives in coastal areas. Salinity intrusion -- in the soil and ground water -- due to climate change is challenging agriculture patterns, livelihood and living conditions. The current saline intrusion extends 100km from the Bay of Bengal. Consumption of salty water has created health concerns in that region. A report by Earth Journalism Network last December pointed out that tube wells used for drinking water in southwest Bangladesh have been "contaminated with salty ocean water for so long that people have gotten used to the taste"; maternal health is being negatively impacted. By 2050, an additional 7.6 million people could be exposed to very high salinity compared to current levels.

There is also the case of the Sundarbans – about 75% of the mangrove forests here will be submerged if the sea level rises up by another 45cm. A paper published in 2013 concluded that effective sea-level rise in the Bangladesh Sundarbans is significantly higher than had previously been assumed.

Model-based predictions of future climate change indicate that for Bangladesh, an increase in both mean annual and seasonal temperatures in the order of 2.0-4.7 °C will occur by the end of this century. According to the WHO, under a high emissions scenario, mean annual temperature is projected to rise by about 4.8°C on average from 1990 to 2100 affecting up to 8 million people. If emissions decrease rapidly, the temperature rise is limited to about 1.4°C. About 15 million people have to move by 2050 because of climate change, causing the greatest migration (and potential refugee crisis) in human history -- this, in fact, has already started. With the high emissions scenario, over 147 million people are projected to be at risk of malaria by 2070. If emissions decrease to the lowest level rapidly, projections indicate this number could decrease to about 117 million!

About 75% of the Sundarbans mangrove forests will be submerged if the sea level rises up by another 45cm.

Thus, the very survival of the people in Bangladesh depends on keeping global emissions to the lowest level and global warming below 1.5 degrees. It's been almost a year since the Paris climate agreement, which recognized the common but differentiated responsibilities of the world's nations, depending on their respective capabilities and circumstances. Also, let's not forget that the agreement will take effect from 2020. Beyond making financial commitments, industrialized countries must facilitate technology transfers, and more generally, adaptation to a low-carbon economy. It is the greatest threat to humankind and we can't afford to dawdle. Bangladesh belongs to the low-emission tier countries, yet it faces some of the greatest threats. The US and China recently ratifying the agreement gives us hope that if we want we can bind ourselves to commit to keeping emissions at the lowest possible level. The international community, as well as delegates from developing and affected nations, must push for urgency to take immediate measures to prevent global warming passing the 1.5C threshold at COP22 in Marrakech.