The Submerging of the Global South

Humans have always had a penchant for the apocalyptic - we have been fascinated with belief systems foretelling the end of time, we have enthusiastically written dystopian literature, and we have devoured increasingly violent, last-person-standing movies. Warnings of utter destruction have come and gone with the generations, and for many, the current 'climate change hoax' is just one more for the list.

Unfortunately for us, the climate crisis is an existential threat grounded in decades of scientific research. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their landmark report, warning that a mere 12 years remain to limit the catastrophic impact rising global temperatures will inflict on us. The facts suddenly became agonisingly clear: our planet is on fire.

In the UK, the climate justice movement often makes the mistake of discussing this as a threat that lurks in the near future, terrifyingly close but not quite here yet, ignoring the fact that for many in the Global South this catastrophe has long been a lived reality; ravaging their lives, families and homes. The climate crisis is geographically unjust in this way. The Global South, home to most of the world's deprived countries, who have done little in the way of contributing to overall greenhouse gas emissions, are also the ones to suffer first and most.

One such country is my ancestral home, Bangladesh.

Bangladeshis are no strangers to heavy rain seasons. Much of the land in this riverine South Asian nation is low-lying, making it susceptible to flooding. Over the centuries, those living near its coastal regions have adapted to this, however as sea levels continue to rise at an unprecedented rate, it has been highlighted as a particularly vulnerable region for stronger storms and cyclones. Leaving utter ruin in their wake.

Despite economic progress since its independence in 1971, Bangladesh remains a largely impoverished country, with very limited resources to tackle this challenge. Without drastic structural change or foreign aid, this looks to get worse as tens of thousands of 'climate refugees' are created and heading inland towards the already overcrowded capital city of Dhaka.

Make no mistake, the devastating environmental situation that Bangladesh is now facing is not something they brought upon themselves. Possessing one of the lowest rates of greenhouse gas emissions in the world - currently standing at around a 0.3% contribution, whilst China, the US and India alone accounted for roughly half of all global emissions in 2017 - Bangladesh is one amongst many underprivileged nations bearing the brunt of others' hyper-capitalist ways.

As someone of Bangladeshi origin, I cannot help but feel heartbroken at the thought that if certain decisions had not been made which led to my family immigrating to the UK, that would have been my closest family members and me at the frontline of this catastrophe. I do not believe I would have felt like the world cared. In the constant battle for social equality, it is vital that British South Asians shine a light on the plight of those in our ancestral homes; that we use the privileges we have gained to ensure the consideration of the Global South in climate change discussions.

We can no longer afford to sugar-coat the troubling times we live. We know there are around 100 corporations that are responsible for 70% of global pollution, including ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. The consequences of their relentless acquisition of wealth and power are being suffered by the most defenceless. Simultaneously, in recent years, we have witnessed the number of refugees fleeing war rapidly increase, the United Nations called this the 'highest levels of displacement' in recorded human history.

I suspect we are only seeing the beginnings of this mass movement as weather conditions become unbearable for many in the Global South. It has become disturbingly easy for nationalist and xenophobic forces to take advantage of this situation, tapping into society's fear of the unknown to peddle their prejudices, making what should be safe havens for those seeking refuge, instead hostile environments.

Therefore, we cannot separate the struggle for racial equality from the struggle for climate justice; true climate activism is intertwined with the dismantling of societal structures that support racial prejudice and all-encompassing corporate power. In the current climate justice movement, the voices of those who are already being impacted must not be lost in the noise. Those who have already been suffering for years deserve to be heard and placed at the forefront of this conversation.

It would be strange if you did not feel crestfallen in the face of this news, but it is essential, now more than ever, that we do not lose hope. Whilst the IPCC report highlights how recklessly we teeter towards an uninhabitable earth, it also urges us to implement the science that offers solutions to stabilising and reducing global temperatures. We must trust in our innate ability to adapt, our capacity to tap into our well of deep compassion for one another, and the human will to survive. We only have to look to the endlessly inspiring young activists across the world leading the fight for climate justice to know that essential change is within reach, but we must ensure that progress accounts for everybody, not just us.