How Research can Tackle the Dual Threat of Climate Change & Inequality

This year’s World Environment Day is particularly special, as it launches UN’s decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The wide-ranging site of the restoration includes forests, farmlands, cities, wetlands and oceans. Cities, as the quintessential symbol of human activities, may come as an unexpected site of ecosystem restorations, but as cities continue to grow, thinking of how cities are located within the natural landscape becomes crucial. After all, even the most pristine of natural spaces, like the ecosystems of the Amazon rainforest and Northeast US forests, were actually shaped by human activities through the presence of indigenous populations over tens of thousands of years.

At this moment in time, with dual threats of the climate crisis and growing inequality looming over us, we can no longer afford to think of our economy dissociated from the planet we inhabit, just as we can no longer ignore distributional impacts of economic growth. It is, therefore, more important than ever to work towards an economy that is for the planet and the people.

This calls for the need to actively pursue research at the intersection of environmental, socioeconomic and climate change challenges. These challenges are often presented as being mutually exclusive to the other, but in reality, are interrelated. Indeed, communities that are most vulnerable in terms of development are often also vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation. And this is not surprising given resilience to climate change is conditioned by the level of socio-economic welfare and in turn economic development is hindered by increased exposure to environmental risks.

To this end, BIGD is deepening its engagement with environment and climate change, with a particular eye on cities. BIGD has been involved with multiple research projects pertaining to urban sustainability over the years, starting with its State of Governance report focusing on sustainability in 2009 as BRAC Development Institute (BDI). Since then, the institute has continued to contribute to the theme through various studies on waste and water management as part of its annual State of the Cities reports, community-based water management and case studies of climate change impacts on cities and vulnerable communities.

This year BIGD has committed to intensify these efforts in a comprehensive and systematic way. We are applying BIGD’s expertise in conducting data-driven, evidence-based research using econometric methods to explore field experiments on low-cost policy solutions, starting with looking at impacts of environmental and climate change factors on low-income urban populations. These will include quasi-experimental methods to detect impacts of perceived climate risks on migration decisions and field experiments on adaptation interventions in climate-vulnerable communities. Experts predict Bangladesh’s urban population may overtake its rural share in the 2030s, making urban sustainability an even more pressing issue for our country. With the advent of UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, I am excited to bring BIGD’s research towards urban sustainability to the fore.

Dr Rohini Kamal is a Research Fellow leading the Environment and Climate Change cluster at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University.