Living on the Edge: Climate Change and Uncertainty in the Indian Sundarbans

Working Paper

STEPS Working Paper 101
February 2018

The Sundarbans is a coastal delta and major climate hotspot located at the southern end of Bangladesh and in the state of West Bengal in India. The delta faces significant climatic and other ecological challenges (e.g. disappearing mangrove forest, islands affected by rising sea levels, erratic rainfall and cyclones). While there has been a lot of documentation on climate change impacts and their uncertainties in the Sundarbans, this has largely been from ‘above’ by experts, natural scientists and modellers. What is missing is how the local islanders view, and live with, these uncertainties and manifestations of climate change and what these mean for their daily lives and livelihoods. This working paper seeks to examine climate change and uncertainty in the context of how diverse actors, especially men and women in the Sundarbans, live with, understand and cope with climate change and uncertainty. The paper demonstrates that even though uncertainties related to climate change are increasing, local people are attuned to living and coping with them. However, climate change uncertainties and other drivers of change are now increasing which is affecting the local people’s vulnerability and ability to cope. Largely, the ‘above’ has tended to ignore local realities and as well as closing down pathways for more inclusive adaptation. Thus, a multiplicity of knowledge and approaches need to be deployed to promote adaptation in the Sundarbans that respond to the socioecological diversity of contexts and is socially just.

Related project: Uncertainty from below