DUBAI, Dec 11 (IPS) – Wealthier nations must deliver the finances so developing countries can adapt—the time for excuses is over, says Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Bangladesh’s Special Envoy for Climate Change in the Prime Minister’s Office.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with IPS, Chowdhury said climate change was at the forefront of Bangladesh’s focus, as one in seven people faces displacement due to climate impacts. With this in mind, the country was focused on building resilience and ensuring resources were directed toward the most marginalized.
“The biggest challenge we will have is the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas because it means flooding in the short term and sea level rise in the long term. We will lose about one-third of our agriculture GDP between now and 2050, and we can lose up to 9 percent of our GDP by 2100,” Chowdhury said.
“For us, it is not just one sector of our economy; it is an existential challenge for Bangladesh.”
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
IPS: In terms of climate change and the government’s actions, where is Bangladesh?
Chowdhury: Bangladesh is giving most importance to the Global Stocktake because it has two dimensions—one is looking back and the other is looking forward. We all know how bad things are when we look back because we know we are nowhere near where we are supposed to be.
But what do we do with that knowledge? How do we move forward across the board in terms of mitigation, adaptation, funding, loss and damage, and, of course, the global goals? And one of the points we are stressing is the continual interconnectedness between mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.
The more effective our mitigation in terms of keeping temperatures in check, the more manageable the adaptation becomes, and the more manageable the adaptation becomes, the lesser the burden that we pass on the loss and damage. And it is meaningless to talk about adaptation without the context of mitigation. Because of the rise in temperature to 1.5°C (the threshold to which world leaders pledged to try to limit global warming), there will be a certain level of adaptation that you can do, but if the temperatures are close to 3°C, as it is now said the temperature is likely to rise to, then all adaptation will become loss and damage because there are limits to adaptation and there are limits to resilience.
IPS: What are your views on the ongoing COP 28?
Chowdhury: We got off to a great start. The fact that the Loss and Damage Fund was agreed upon on the first day. In terms of context, we only had this in the agenda last year and it was approved and within a year, the funds have started coming in. That was a huge positive. We know that funds are nowhere near what the needs are. But it is a good start and we are hoping that the same spirit will be seen in other challenges such as mitigation, adaptation, funding, etc.
Also, I believe the presidency has tried to be very inclusive. But at the end of the day, it depends on global solidarity. If members of the conference come together, then we will have the deal we need. Let me say that this COP is a hugely important COP because we don’t have the luxury of tradeoffs. We have to deliver across the board, and mitigation (to keep to the Paris Agreements) of 1.5°C is an absolute must, and if we go beyond that, I think we have lost the game. To what extent we can mitigate will then determine what our adaptation requirements are. The better we manage adaptation, the lesser the burden will be on loss and damage. It is a litmus test. Bangladesh being at ground zero for climate change impact, this is a hugely important event for us.
IPS: Bangladesh is often termed a ‘victim of climate change’ across the globe. Why is that?
Chowdhury: One in seven people in Bangladesh will face displacement because of climate change, and that adds up to about 13–14 million people. We have a huge food security problem because we are losing agricultural land due to sea level rise. The biggest challenge we will have is the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, which means flooding in the short term and sea level rise in the long term. We will lose about one-third of our agriculture GDP between now and 2050, and we can lose up to 9 percent of our GDP by 2100. For us, it is not just one sector of our economy; it is an existential challenge for Bangladesh.
IPS: What do you believe is the responsibility of wealthier nations towards Bangladesh?
Chowdhury: Climate justice is all about wealthier nations. They must deliver the finance so that we can adapt; they must rein in the emissions. They need to act as per science and not have any excuses. It is now or never because the window of action is closing very fast. If we don’t get it right in COP 28, whatever we do in subsequent COPs may well be too little, too late. We have to reduce emissions by 43 percent by 2030. We must reduce emissions by 60 percent by 2035, then we can get to net zero. With that, you also must have tripled the amount of renewable energy and doubled your energy efficiency. So, it has to be a package of responses. It is for the wealthier nations to mitigate, to provide funds for loss and damage as well as for adaptation.
IPS: How responsive do you find these developed nations to the climate crisis?
Chowdhury: Responses must be taken at two levels: one is making pledges, and the other is delivering on pledges. There is no point saying we will do this and then, as in the past, not do it. Pledges are the first step, and therefore everybody has to realize that this is the question of global solidarity. It is not the question of Bangladesh and the developed world. What is happening in Bangladesh today will also happen in those countries that we call developed. Greenland will become greener again because the ice is going to melt. They will also face sea level rise. So it is not the question of “if,” it is the question of when.
IPS: Bangladesh has advanced warning systems for the climate. Please tell us about it.
Chowdhury: We have what we refer to as an ‘early warning system’ If you look at the cyclone that hit Bangladesh in the early 1970s, up to a million people died because of it. But now, when the cyclone hits Bangladesh, the number of deaths is in single digits. The reason for that is that through an early warning system, we can evacuate people to cyclone shelters. That has saved lives, and Bangladesh is a model for that.
Our honorable Prime Minister has this program where we are building cyclone shelters all around the coast of Bangladesh so that people can be evacuated there. We cannot stop a storm or a hurricane from coming, but we can prepare ourselves so that the loss of lives is minimal, and that is what Bangladesh has achieved. Also, the early warning system is very basic, and it is community-based.
IPS: What is Bangladesh doing about the agrarian crisis?
Chowdhury: Bangladesh has a huge success story in terms of food production. From a deficit nation, we are now a surplus nation, but climate change threatens that. This is something we look at in terms of food security, so all of the advances and progress that we have made over the years are now at risk because climate change is impacting this sector.
IPS: What is the role of NGOs in terms of tackling climate change and offering support to governments?
Chowdhury: NGOs need to have partnerships with governments where they can take those ideas and scale them up. That is the reason that NGOs need to have a very close relationship with the government. The whole issue is not how much money I have spent; it is what impact I have generated through spending that money.
But the message at the end of the day is that whatever money is spent must be spent on those who are most marginalized. So how do we get funds for the people who are most in need? I think that must be an overriding issue. This is a learning process, and we are all on the learning curve. When we go back to Bangladesh, we need to have a brainstorming session with NGOs and CSOs and find out what is working, how we can make their job easier, and how we can make the collaboration a win-win between various ministries, government departments, and NGOs.
IPS UN Bureau Report
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