DHAKA, Bangladesh - Bangladesh looks likely to be the first country to include in its constitution a provision for redressing damage resulting from climate change.
The country’s parliament is expected to approve a report by its committee for constitutional reforms that would insert an obligation for the government to act on climate change into Article 15 of the country’s constitution.
The article outlines the state’s obligation to meet the basic necessities of life. The measure could lay the groundwork for the government to impose penalties on individuals or institutions within Bangladesh who are found guilty of contributing to climate-related damages.
The 15-member committee was formed in 2010 in response to an order by the Bangladesh High Court that the constitution be restored to its original 1972 form. The court held that changes by successive military governments had destroyed much of the constitution’s “basic character.”
Hasanul Huq Inu, a member of parliament and of the constitutional reform committee, said that the revised constitution will include an amendment addressing climate change and the environment. Parliament is expected to vote on the reform during its current session.
The amendment states, “The state shall take appropriate response measures, including mitigation and adaptation, against anthropogenic-accelerated global-warming-induced climate change and sea-level rise.”
“One of the big achievements so far has been that there is complete consensus among the committee members on the issue,” Inu said.
Inu was also a member of the jury of an informal climate tribunal, organized by Oxfam and convened in November 2010 in the country’s capital, Dhaka, to assess damage due to climate change suffered by coastal fishermen.
The five-member tribunal jury, comprising scientists, lawyers and parliamentarians, heard accounts from four fishermen who had lost their families or livelihoods due to climate change.
The jury’s verdict stated that climate change in the region was irrevocable and largely due to human activities. The jury ruled that those affected should be compensated adequately by those responsible for climate change and that a legal process should be instituted globally to examine such demands in future.
Ziaul Hoque Mukta, policy and advocacy manager for Oxfam in Bangladesh, said that until now no international agreement except under the World Trade Organization has made any legal provision for compensation for environmental damage caused.
Agreements to curb climate-changing emissions under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) are voluntary, and no penalty can be imposed if they are not met, Mukta said.
“Through the climate tribunal, we want to set up a scientific and legal framework for effective action against those responsible for climate change,” said Mizanur Rahman, chair of Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission and also chair of the climate tribunal jury.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a jury member and chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change and the Environment in the Bangladesh parliament, told the climate tribunal that scientists project that up to one-third of the country may eventually submerged permanently or temporarily as sea levels rise, rendering up to 50 million people homeless.
“Those responsible for such a state of affairs must take responsibility,” Chowdhury said. “Climate refugees must be provided for.”
Experts say that the inclusion of the climate change amendment in the revised constitution will give the government a basis to mandate that courts impose penalties on individuals or institutions within Bangladesh that are found responsible for damages related to climate change.
Climate tribunal jury member Ahsanuddin Ahmed, who has contributed to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, cautioned that it would take at least a year before concrete action emerged.
Ali Sanwar is a freelance journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.