Brutal Heat Wave Exposes Bangladesh’s Climate Vulnerabilities

The climate crisis and the El Niño phenomenon have turned 2023 into a year of record-breaking, sky-high temperatures. And nowhere has the damage been more severe than in Bangladesh, one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries.

A recent heat wave, sending temperatures to 40 C, has stifled the country, spiking demand for electricity and causing fuel shortages. But Dhaka cannot afford the coal needed to match the country's rising demand and has resorted to “load shedding” (i.e. deliberately disconnecting parts of a power grid). The government also shut down the country’s largest coal-powered plant, among others, on June 5.

Heat hammers vulnerable communities, key industries

Searing temperatures in Bangladesh, the world’s eighth most populous country, with nearly 165 million people, have led to school closures and heatstroke warnings; the health effects are particularly concerning. Much of the country lives in vulnerable conditions, including the roughly 600,000 refugees at Cox’s Bazaar, one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

The government hopes to resume power generation by the end of June, when coal shipments are due. But plummeting dollar reserves have made imported fuel more costly, and widespread power cuts have stifled some of Bangladesh’s key industries. The country’s garment industry, for example, accounts for 80 per cent of Bangladeshi exports, but has been hobbled by the power cuts.

Crises test ‘just energy transition’

Bangladesh had committed to cutting 21.8 per cent of its emissions by 2030. However, to meet current energy demands, the country is expanding coal generation.

The concept of a “just energy transition” is now being put to the test. Countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis (like Bangladesh) are struggling to meet their Paris Agreement pledges in the face of reinforcing crises, including energy accessibility, energy affordability, and natural disasters.