Silver Lining in the Dark Clouds


Saleemul Huq

Climate change is not simply a long-term environmental problem for which we need not bother in the short term, but a major developmental problem. It has the potential to completely destroy all our development efforts over the last few decades within a few years. But, if we can move with foresight and skill we may be able to discover the silver lining in the dark clouds of climate change on the horizon, writes Saleemul Huq


WHILE it is true that in the long term global warming and sea level rise will have a devastating impact on Bangladesh, it might be possible to use this fact to our advantage in the short and medium term. This needs to be done at several levels. First, it is necessary to recognise the climate change impacts and that dealing with them are not a special type of environmental problem only but is something that is fundamentally tied to the country's sustainable development. Therefore, the issue needs to be dealt with as a problem of national importance to our overall development and not just as an "environmental" problem.

At the most basic level Bangladesh is likely to be impacted by climate change by a number of factors including droughts, floods, cyclones and long-term sea level rise. In the short term this means that we are likely to be hit by more and more natural disasters in the coming years. The first and most effective measures would be to improve our disaster preparedness. Thus dealing with (or adapting to) climate change in the long term can bring immediate benefits in the short term to protect people and property from adverse natural calamities.

In the longer term we need to incorporate the need for accounting for climate change into our development strategies and plans and incorporate the issue of adaptation to climate change onto our development plans. A preliminary study along these lines has recently been undertaken with support from the World Bank. It has identified several areas of long-term planning which incorporate adaptation to climate change including coastal zone management, water sector planning and agriculture sector planning. This study is a pioneering attempt to assess the long-term strategic value of adaptation to climate change and how to incorporate it into the national planning exercises.

At the level of international negotiations the opportunity for Bangladesh to make an impact is great but will require consistent and hard work from both the government and non-government sectors. The rationale to take up an independent negotiating stance in the case of the Climate Convention is that Bangladesh is going to be one of the (if not the most) highly impacted countries to climate change. Hence we have a moral right to have our voice heard in the international fora. Secondly, whereas in most international negotiations our practice of following the G77 lead may make sense, in the climate change negotiations it does not, since there is not a common position. Within G77 there are the oil exporting countries (such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) who are opposed to any emissions reductions at all, there are also large countries who depend on coal reserves (such as India and China) who want to protect there right to burn their coal reserves, while still others have mixed positions and negotiating strategies. In terms of negotiating positions Bangladesh's interests would lie most closely with the AOSIS countries who are faced with literal extinction if global warming continues and sea levels rise as predicted. It would, therefore, make sense for Bangladesh to develop its own position regarding the international negotiations and to seek to influence others, first within the G77, and then outside about the justification of our position. Our moral position is so strong that Bangladesh would be accorded due deference if we could articulate our positions clearly and skilfully.

One important negotiating point that has arisen recently, after the Kyoto Protocol allowed the concept of Carbon trading, is the issue of how to allocate or distribute the quota of each country to emit GHGs? In a totally equal world it would be logical to expect each individual human being to have an equal share of the global atmosphere (or in other words a per capita allocation of the right to emit GHGs into the atmosphere). However, given the inequity of the world and the huge emissions from the developed countries it is highly unlikely that they will give up their existing shares of GHG emissions. However, a compromise formula could include a combination of per capita allocations with existing shares which would go some way towards allowing a more equitable distribution. This has been expounded by the Global Commons Institute in the UK under the title of "Contraction and Convergence" in which the countries of the world as a whole agree to reach a global maximum of GHG emissions by a certain date in the future (say 2050) and all countries have to make their efforts to reach that target of emissions. This will enable countries which do not emit at their full quota of GHG emissions (such as Bangladesh) to sell their quota to other countries who are unable to meet their targets on their own (primarily the developed countries). This is potentially a very lucrative trading arrangement for Bangladesh which could put into the shadow the levels of development assistance we receive at present. However, it should be noted that this is still a minority view and will need a great deal of advocacy and international lobbying before it will have any realistic chance of success. Nevertheless the rewards for Bangladesh would be so great that it may be worth pursuing even if the chances may seem to be slim initially.

Finally, the issue of adaptation, which has been mentioned before, is now beginning to get a lot more attention and will have increasing funding support in future. This will come not only through the CDM as mentioned above but also through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which has so far funded only mitigation projects under climate change. They have recently allowed two projects on adaptation, both for small island states (one in the Caribbean and the other in the Pacific). If Bangladesh learns to play its cards right, it, too, can raise funds from the GEF for work in adaptation.

In order for Bangladesh to take advantage of the opportunities from the international negotiations on climate change it must do a number of things. Firstly, it must recognise the issue to be of prime importance to the country in the medium and long term and prepare for it accordingly. In the short term it needs to recognise the opportunities it opens up and use its own resources to maximum benefit to take advantage of those opportunities.

The following are some specific steps that can be taken immediately:

Adaptation measures in-country: Bangladesh needs to follow up on the excellent work done already on raising the issue of climate change and involving the whole country in the planning exercise for dealing with the impacts and consequences of climate change. The recent conference on environment organised by expatriate and Bangladeshi environmental groups in Dhaka in January rightly pointed out that climate change was one of the most serious environmental problems looming on the country's horizon. This fact needs to be used to involve people in thinking about dealing with this situation. This will not only help Bangladesh cope with any adverse impacts of climate change in future but will also show Bangladesh as an example to the rest of the world in how to deal with these issues.

Negotiations: Bangladesh needs to take a much more serious and strategic view of the global negotiations on climate change and use its known expertise and talents to maximum effect. A number of steps can be taken to make this more effective, including appointment of a senior chief negotiator to head a team of governmental and non-governmental experts who will attend all the relevant meetings and carry out a pro-active lobbying and advocacy campaign. The chief negotiator should preferably be a veteran diplomat (perhaps a senior serving diplomat or recently retired one) who has the necessary negotiating skills and knowledge of international negotiations (which are largely diplomatic and not technical). He should be backed up by the requisite technical people from the environment ministry as well as other relevant ministries and agencies. Bangladeshi experts in IPCC should also be co-opted into the team.

Research: In order to be taken seriously in any international negotiations it is absolutely essential to do one's homework before hand and be prepared with the requisite analysis and information. Without such back up we are reduced to holding our hand out to be offered whatever the others wish to give us. We have to move beyond the "begging bowl strategy" to one which is cogently argued on both moral and practical grounds and which we have done the necessary analysis to prove. In order to do this it may be necessary to commission experts both within Bangladesh and abroad to do specific work for us.

Financing: Any such action will, of course, require financing. Ideally the government of Bangladesh should be convinced of their need and thus fund this strategy from its own resources (it will not cost more than a few crore taka over the next few years). However, even if the government cannot pay from its own resources it should be possible to obtain some seed funding from selected development partners who are sympathetic to our cause on this issue (e.g. UK or USA).

The issue of climate change is not simply a long-term environmental problem for which we need not bother in the short term, but rather a major developmental problem facing the country which has the potential to completely destroy all our development efforts over the last few decades within a few years. Hence it is something that has to be taken seriously for our own long term development needs.

It is also possible for Bangladesh to play a much more significant and pioneering role on this issue internationally if we are able to harness our considerable human resources on this issue and develop a viable and focused strategy for the international negotiations. Such a strategy has the potential to bring substantial funding to Bangladesh within a matter of only a few years. Thus, if we can move with foresight and skill we may be able to discover the silver lining hiding in the dark clouds of climate change looming on the horizon.

The writer, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), is currently an Academic Visitor at the Huxley School of Environment at Imperial College, London


  Source: The Daily Star, 21 April 2000
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