By Peter Griffin 14/06/2016

A team of New Zealand filmmakers has released a documentary focussing on the estimated 30 million people in Bangladesh likely to be displaced by the end of the century as a result of sea level rise. 

The documentary was funded by the United Nations and features a short, powerful interview with our own Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme and a front runner in the contest to be the UN’s next secretary general. The film was co-directed by New Zealand-based Adrien Taylor and Welsh climate scientist Dr Daniel Price.

It features interviews with scientists, environmentalists, politicians and the people on the frontline of sea level rise, making their living farming along the coast of Bangladesh.

It is a compelling and beautifully shot film that’s available for free to view online and at a limited number of screenings around the country this month.


Here is the problem with Bangladesh – tens of millions of people live a precarious existence in low lying coastal areas along the Bay of Bengal.

Their homes and farms are regularly washed away in flood waters as it is and areas of the Ganges delta are suffering from subsidence. Climate change is predicted to lead to sea level rise of up to one metre by 2100, which will inundate those coastal areas that are at or just above current sea level – an estimated 17 per cent of Bangladesh.

That means the people won’t be able to grow reliable rice crops to feed themselves and trade with others.

Sea water inundation is bad for the soil and makes it hard to grow rice, so scientists are having to come up with genetically modified salt-resistant strains that they can plant in those areas.

As sea levels rise, people will literally see their land disappear. So they will do what other poor Bangladeshis have done for years – gather up their belongings and begin the long trip north to Dhaka, which is already creaking under the weight of 15 million people, many of whom live in filthy slums.

When they find no refuge there, they’ll spill over the borders, into India and other surrounding countries, though due to the geopolitics of the region, they’ll receive a frosty reception whichever way they go. Some may try their luck venturing further afield by sea.

They face another threat. As the climate warms, we’ll likely see more ice melt from the glaciers in the Himalayas which will feed the Ganges river system which empties out into the Bay of Bengal.  Ironically, the north of the country is also experiencing extreme droughts.

This piece summarises the various ways Bangladesh is and will be impacted by climate change.

From left: Thirty Million filmmakers Sam Walls and Michael Roberts, Mosque leader Rafee, filmmakers Dr Daniel Price and Adrien Taylor.

What can be done?

The film points out various things the UN is trying to do to adapt to the changing climate, such as planting mangrove forests to try and shore up coastal areas. They are helping people adapt their farming techniques. But it is finger in the dyke stuff. There’s no way that area of the world can be adequately defended from rising waters, swollen rivers and the extreme weather events also associated with climate change.

The only substantive thing that can be done is to limit the extent of the impact by reducing carbon emissions and therefore lessening the amount of sea level rise places like Bangladesh have to deal with.

That’s what the Paris climate agreement, brokered by the United Nations, was all about.

As Dr Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies points out in the film, what purpose does the UN serve if it fails to protect the sovereignty of those countries that may disappear in part or in full, as a result of avoidable climate change?

What is the sole purpose of the United Nations? What is the single, core objective of the UN? Its job is to protect the sovereignty of member states. Now, for one metre of sea level rise, the Maldives will go under water, so will we and 20, 30 other nation states. Where has their sovereignty gone? Who has protected their sovereignty? It defeats the whole purpose, the single purpose for why the United Nations exists.


You can view the film Thirty Million in full here.

0 Responses to “Thirty Million: Sobering look at the impact of sea level rise”

  • Rather than waffle on about models, why didn’t you report what the actual tide data records say? Could it be that it doesn’t support the narrative. NOAA doesn’t list one for anywhere in Bangladesh but Gangra is on the same river system and shows only 1.45mm a year with no sign of acceleration.
    Didn’t they also find that Bangladesh has grown?
    That sort of data makes the modelling look pretty stupid and everything else written just waffle.

    • Hi Chris

      You appear to assume (as does the graph you link to) a linear progression in sea level rise. There is a possibility that this will not be the case – that the melting of sea-ice will beget faster melting of sea ice etc etc. until a new equilibrium is reached.

      If this is the case it is quite possible that a one metre effect occurs by late this century. Of course, it could be significantly less as well, but even a 0.3 to 0.5m change would have a significant effect globally, let alone in low-lying 3rd world countries.

      I guess the linked graph does allow for this since it cuts off at around 2030.

  • The thing that disturbs me about the above article is the thorny issue of whether or not the global warming is human induced or else just a natural phenomenon. This will have implications for the implementation of carbon taxes, etc. Also, if it is a (predominantly) natural phenomenon, then reducing emissions may have little effect (if, for example, it is being driven largely by volcanic emissions). Even if it is human induced, it may largely be the result of deforestation in the tropics, so reducinf emissions may be too little too late.

  • @stephen It may be a thorny issue for many people, but it isn’t for the majority of the world’s climate scientists who have conclusively proven that humans are having an impact on the climate. They’ve now moved on to try and figure out what it will mean for us in the coming decades and what we can do to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change. However, as Ashton points out, accurately predicting sea level changes is difficult. We are basically running a big experiment and while we can look at the paleo climate record to see what happened in the past, it is still a bit unpredictable how the climate system will react this time.

  • @Peter Griffin The phrase “conclusively proven” is a big claim! But you water it down with the vague “having an impact on the climate”. Of course we are having an impact on the climate! The question is how much of an impact relative to other sources of impact (e.g. volcanic eruptions), and how much impact from emissions as opposed to from deforestation in the tropics. Government funded climate science has a “preferred outcome” relating to emissions, so that governments can make money by imposing carbon taxes. Hence the “thorniness” of the issue!

  • Ashton
    Please read again what you wrote. The melting of sea ice does not affect sea level. Didn’t you do 3rd Form science?
    The GRACE data on the Greenland Icecap has added less than 0.5mm to sea level over the ten years of data and it indicates the Antarctic icecap has increased.
    The exponential growth of sea level is a totally unproven idea and not shown on any tidal record. Go on to the BoM or NOAA sites and look at them. The predictions generally rely on the 8.5W/m2 models which has been totally discredited. If the climate models can’t hindcast, how can they predict the future?

    • I made the wild assumption that you would figure out higher sea temperatures would impact elsewhere. My bad. Also, my inaccurate language as Simon points out probably didn’t help.

      I am, to some extent, with you. The accuracy of predictions is undeniably sketchy with a huge number of variables and unknowns. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exercise caution.

  • There is no debate to be had, anthropogenic global warming is occurring. It’s time to move on. Just because you are unwilling to accept this fact does not make it so. Many metres of sea level rise are already locked in, the debate is over how fast it will occur. Sea level acceleration has occurred in the past, usually in conjunction with ice shelf melt. Much also depends upon how quickly we reduce CO2 emissions.
    Ashton probably meant ice shelves. Note however the melting of sea ice affects albedo which is a positive feedback on additional warming.

  • “anthropogenic global warming is occurring”

    Again I don’t disagree, but the question remains how much of global warming is anthropogenic, how much is natural*, and how much is due to deforestation in the tropics.

    * The prehistory of the Earth is one of ice ages followed by interglacials, long before man started pumping out emissions.

    • Some variables have a direct human causation. Some have indirect. Some may well be found to have human causation at some point in the future – this is a young and evolving science so we should expect changes in position as it matures.

      I do however accept the trend – the data over time shows a warming which will, in many positive and negative ways, impact us all. The only real question is extent.

      I’m intrigued that seem to separate deforestation from both natural and human causes. I’m making a wild guess here, but I suspect the forest is not cutting itself down.

  • Yes, obviously I count deforestation as anthropogenic, but it is importantly different to emissions. For a start, governments are so keen to impose emissions taxes, but don’t seem capable of stopping deforestation. Furthermore, if deforestation is a big factor, then reducing emissions might be too little too late.