Immediate Tasks for Bangladesh

Climate change experts take part in a roundtable on Post Copenhagen: Immediate Task for Bangladesh, organised by The Daily Star. Photo: Star

Bangladesh has to enhance its capacity to absorb inflow of climate change funds to implement projects for adaptation and mitigation with transparency and accountability, speakers said at a roundtable.

Noted climate change experts from government and non-government sectors emphasised the need for capacity building for international negotiations with an eye to the up coming interim meetings before COP 16 to be held in Mexico.

At the roundtable organised by The Daily Star in its conference room on January 2 on 'Post-Copenhagen Immediate Task for Bangladesh', the speakers insisted on a review of the Copenhagen Accord by the government, to find out its loopholes and weaknesses, and to work accordingly.

Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP
Identifying the topic as very timely, Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, the chair of all party group of parliamentarians on climate change, thanked The Daily Star for taking the initiative for the discussion.

He emphasised on thorough analysis of the Copenhagen Accord, and on adopting a national position on it.

We should find out the weaknesses and strengths of the accord, he said.

Citing a report published in the UK, Saber Hossain said, according to the mitigation target mentioned in the accord, the world temperature will rise more than 3 degrees by the end of the century.

So we should do a sensitivity analysis regarding what will be the difference of the impacts on Bangladesh if the temperature rises by 2 degrees and if it rises by 3 degrees, he added.

If the temperature rises that much, Saber said, it will have a huge impact on countries like Bangladesh.

We may have to look for 15 to 20 billion dollars, if the temperature rises that much, he said.

The government has already allocated money for social safety net for climate change victims, but did not bring that out at the Copenhagen summit. Photo: Shafiqul Alam

He also emphasised on formulating Bangladesh's position on the accord in relation to its position in different international and regional coalitions including the grouping of G-77 and China.

So the government needs to analyse the accord and realise whether Bangladesh should accept it, he said.

He also emphasised on increasing the capacity of the government for implementing different projects, and the monitoring capacity of the parliamentarians as well, since ultimately it is the parliamentarians who will monitor government actions.

If we don't do that, we will not progress much, he said.
He raised a question about what will happen to the people already affected by climate change, if Bangladesh does not get fund from the international community.

So we should take preparations for that as well, he said.

Dr Mihir Kanti Majumder
Secretary to the Ministry of Environment and Forest Mihir Kanti Majumder said the government already developed a climate change strategic and action plan with six thematic areas to work on, keeping adaptation as its main target.

The secretary said the post Copenhagen situation is crucial, and the government already initiated a discussion with the participants who had negotiated there.

About a future action plan, the secretary said the government already initiated a discussion on that too.

We have held discussions in the ministry to review the outcome of the Copenhagen summit. And hope to arrange another meeting within 15 days to finalise the action plan, he said.

We expect that a series of informal talks will be held before Cop 16. In Copenhagen we projected Bangladesh as the most vulnerable country in the world, and the world leaders accepted it, he added.

About the climate change fund of the government, the secretary said the government formed a fund of Tk 700 crore.

We will be able to use 462 crore this year, because a portion will be kept for the future. And for that we invited project proposals, already we have received hundreds of them, and also allocated 52 crore taka to government projects last week, he announced.

The secretary said the government is emphasising on adaptation while also paying attention to mitigation. Already the government started an afforestation programme on coastal embankments built by the Water Development Board.

We think by the end of February we will be able to utilise most of the fund, he said.

The government will soon enact the Climate Change Trust Fund Act, which will give a clear guideline for using the fund, he said.

The environment ministry will soon set up a climate change unit, and climate change cells would be opened in 12 others ministries within 15 days, he added.

Micro level government planning is going on involving different ministries, and Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) is assessing the cost of adaptation, said the secretary.

Dr Asaduzzaman
Dr Asaduzzaman, research director of BIDS, emphasised on capacity building for project implementation and for quick approval for project proposals.

Criticising the present project approval process, he said the present procedure is extremely cumbersome, lengthy, and wasteful.

We must simplify the process, he added.
He said the government should implement MRV (measurable, reportable and verifiable) method of spending money on different projects.

He also said the government now has a little fund absorbing capacity. The Ministry of Environment and Forest absorbs no more than 15 to 20 million dollars a year.

But in future the government might have to spend much more, he said.
If the government gets the adequate fund and builds the capacity to spend it fruitfully, then Bangladesh alone will need at least 5 billion dollars for adaptation, and another 5 billion for mitigation in the next five years, said the development expert.

Now Bangladesh needs to show the world that we can do it, he said adding that the government should prioritise projects on the basis of needs on the ground.

He said different ministries needs to sensitise themselves regarding climate change. He suggested strengthening of ministries so they may adopt climate resilient and climate friendly development projects.

Dr Ainun Nishat
Dr Ainun Nishat, senior adviser on climate change for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asia, said funding might also come as incentives for prevention of deforestation and for eco-friendly forest management under the UN programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD Plus), adopted under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

He said the Ministry of Environment and Forest should use as a ready reference to its afforestation plan, its own document that has already been prepared.

The Bangladesh government should immediately start the process of implementing the Copenhagen Accord, he said.

He reminded the roundtable that in the Copenhagen Accord a global climate change fund of 10 billion US dollars per year has been committed for the next three years, which will be increased to 100 billion dollars in 2020.

He urged the Bangladesh government to follow the low carbon pathway.

Definitely Bangladesh will prepare for adaptation, but at the same time the country should also think about power generation from wind and solar energy using advanced technology that has been offered for developing countries in the accord, he said.

Bangladesh should also use discretion in utilising the available climate funds for adaptation, mitigation, and cleaner technology programmes, he said.

We must be prepared to utilise the available climate funds, but the funds will not come unless we have the capacity to utilise it, he cautioned.

The smaller groups of the least developed countries (LDCs), small island countries, and the African countries are becoming very vocal in climate negotiations within the grouping of G-77 and China, he noted.

Bangladesh, as one of the countries that are most vulnerable to the climate change impacts, should pursue an appropriate political coalition to protect its national interest in international negotiations, he said.

Bangladesh is vulnerable to sea level rise, repeated cyclones, deeper penetration of saline water, erratic rainfall, flood, drought, riverbank erosion and many more. Photo: Shafiqul Alam


Dr Atiq Rahman
Dr Atiq Rahman is the executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and one of the lead authors of the fourth report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

He said climate change is no more an environmental issue only; rather it is central to development.

So it cannot be and should not be a matter of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. It should go beyond that, he added.

It has to be integrated into the government's development activities entailing all ministries, but the challenge is how to integrate all that, he said.

The political power of a country is crucial for effective climate change negotiations, he said adding that the grouping of G-77 and China is not exclusive for climate negotiations alone, rather it can also be equally effective for global negotiations on issues like security and disarmament.

Bangladesh has to strengthen its position within the grouping, he said. We have to assert our capacities within the system.

Accountability and transparency are the key words not only in utilisation of the funds, but also for ensuring inflow of future funds, he noted adding, on the other hand, developed countries must commit to adequacy and sustainability of climate funds.

He also suggested appointing climate ambassadors to negotiate on behalf of the government.

My suggestion is to deploy three climate ambassadors. If governments change or whatever, the climate ambassadors can negotiate on behalf of the country, he said.

He also said the government should quickly take initiatives for capacity building of its own officials and non-government officials working in the field of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

He suggested increasing the capacities of local government officials and parliamentarians as well.

He also recommended training groups of specialists on climate change adaptation and mitigation, technology transfer, and related research work.

Dr Rezaul Karim
Dr Rezaul Karim quipped, What is the difference between failure and success of a UN resolution or a document unless it is a UN Security Council resolution

He went on, If you remember Marrakech Accord that was a COP 7 decision, and was a decision for capacity building and technology transfer, that was eight years ago, and we are still discussing capacity building and technology transfer at COP 15.

But he said he is not too much disappointed with the outcome of COP 15, because it gave a lot of things to work with and a lot of things to ponder upon.

The Copenhagen Accord has many things, but it left out the mitigation aspect, he noted.

But it still gives some parameters, although does not give the peaking time, it does not give a target. What should be the target as a whole by all the countries and what should be the target to be achieved by the Annex 1 countries Those are the things that are not there. So are those things going to be achieved by COP 16 This is the tough part of the negotiations, he said.

The hard nut issue will still be mitigation at COP 16, he added saying, Because if you see the points of these big four countries. I don't see how much they would like to agree to an emission cut. They are still talking about increasing their GDP growth, but not emission cut in direct terms.

There is a limit to adaptation, after a certain point we just cannot adapt, he said.

Bangladesh needs to do some housekeeping, he said adding that housekeeping means assessing where the country stands, what is its situation, and what can be done.

Bangladesh faces the risk of losing 17 percent of its landmass and displacement of 20 million people as a consequence of climate change. Photo: SK. Enamul Haq

The environment ministry is not the only responsible ministry for dealing with the climate change issue, the ministry of power and energy also has something to do on the issue, he said.

The talk about technology transfer needs to move from general to specific, he suggested adding, We need to say what is needed for Bangladesh for technology transfer. But having participated in the debate on technology transfer at COP 15 this is known that technology transfer cannot flow by itself. It has to flow through some means. What are those means Those are investment flows.

Both private and public sectors can create that investment flow for technology transfer, he said.

We have to do some work on technology needs assessment. What are our needs Bangladesh hasn't done anything yet. There are many other countries who have done their needs assessment, said Dr Rezaul.

He said the field of renewable energy is a new field with a lot of potential, adding, We have to take our right place in that renewable energy area. Why don't we find out how much potential we have in wind energy in the country

He went on to say, for that the government needs to carry out wind mapping. Energy efficiency, energy conservation, clean energy, this are the areas the government has to work on for technology transfer, he added.

Dr Ahsan Uddin Ahmed
Dr Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, executive director of the Centre for Global Change (CGC), said Bangladesh should have detailed micro and macro planning for climate smart development.

He also urged the government to ensure MRV (measurable, reportable and verifiable) implementation of different local level projects.

He said the Copenhagen Accord is not legally binding, and there will be more negotiations on the document in the coming months before COP 16.

Being one of the most vulnerable countries, Bangladesh probably can take the lead role in those negotiations, he suggested.

He also emphasised on strengthening 'local capacity', adding, We must embrace climate smart development.

Dr Ahsan pointed out that the government already has a climate change strategy and action plan prepared, and it also incorporated the climate change issue in its sixth five-year development plan.

Now the government should plan the details, he said.
He also pointed out that the government has yet to let the world know what it actually has done on the issue.

The government already allocated money for social safety net for climate change victims, but it did not bring that out at Cop 15, he pointed out again.

In the last decade Bangladesh's main source for power generation was gas, he said, But we have not brought that up as well.

Along with increasing the capacity within and outside the government, he emphasised on opening courses on climate change in public universities.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (Bela), said, Bangladesh has to take a lead role in climate negations for the protection of its territorial integrity.

There is no alternative to mitigation measures by major carbon emitters for protecting territorial integrity of vulnerable countries, she asserted.

At the same time, Bangladesh must learn to say no to any unacceptable provision in the climate accord, she said adding, the country faces the risk of losing 17 percent of its landmass and displacement of 20 million people as a consequence of the climate change impacts including rise of the sea level.

The climate change is going to change the map of our country. So it is scary for us. It is a question of survival for us, Rizwana warned the roundtable.

At the national level, the government must monitor by who, when, and how the adaptive and mitigating actions are being carried out, she said.

The government's adaptation and mitigation measures must be right based, and the vulnerable communities must be made aware that it is there right to be safe, she added.

Climate change threatens to change the map of Bangladesh. It is a question of survival. Photo: Anisur Rahman

The government should also declare the high risk areas 'critically vulnerable' to make the communities aware of the impending danger, she suggested.

She criticised the Copenhagen Accord saying, there is not a single word in the document about the displaced people.

Ziaul Haque Mukta
Ziaul Haque Mukta, coordinator of the Centre for Sustainable Rural Livelihood, strongly opposed signing on to the Copenhagen Accord, saying the accord has no multilateral basis, and there is no mention of mitigation target for developed countries.

It will be suicidal for Bangladesh to accept it by January 31, he said.

He said there had been a lot of weaknesses in the Bangladesh government's strategic and action plan for climate change, and the government reviewed it.

He was critical of Bangladesh's assessment of the funding it needs to tackle the impacts, and said the assessment was not done on the basis of a comprehensive groundwork.

He also suggested that the government should prepare a strategy for coming negotiations.

Members of the Bangladesh delegation are mostly interested in going to the plenary session, as there is scope for delivering speeches there. But our representation at the meetings of contact groups and informal groups is also very vital, he said adding that the texts of the negotiations are prepared in the meetings of those groups.

He said the government should inform non-government organisations about its formal position regarding the climate change issue in the post Copenhagen situation, so the NGOs also can raise their voices, rendering strength to the government's position during international negotiations.

Bangladesh needs to arrive at a position considering the realities of the geopolitical factors, he said, adding that it should continue its negotiations in the international arena being in G-77, although China and India in the grouping pay more attention to their own interests, and not to the interests of the vulnerable countries like Bangladesh.

Technical analysis for the negotiations and our demands must be stronger, he said.

Dr Sharmind Neelormi
Dr Sharmind Neelormi of Jahangirnagar University said for the first time in the UNFCCC process NGOs which work on women's issues are being invited and given official status of observers.

Thirty three percent of the registered participants at Cop 15 were female, she pointed out adding, but there was no mention of the gender issue in the accord.

One thing I observed at Cop 15 is that population control is coming up as a major issue in relation to the climate change. I didn't observe it in earlier COPs. I could sense that there is a huge pressure from the North to water down the causes of climate change by giving emphasis on population control, she noted.

I am clearly stating that since Bangladesh is a densely populated country, a majority of our population is getting affected by the climate change. But our population is not causing the climate change, she asserted.

So if they impose population control on us, we should be very careful, because it will affect the lives of our women's reproductive health, women are the stakeholders in population control, she said.

So at the negotiations we should be very careful on that. And there are lots of disputes especially among the indigenous communities on REDD Plus and market based solution.

Expressing concerns about REDD Plus, she said, We have lots of disputes about REDD Plus in the hill tracts and in the southern belt of the country where forests are situated. Whether or not we are accepting REDD Plus, what we think about the market based solution, which fund we will accept, we should form policies on those very carefully.

The Ministry for Women's and Children's Affairs must get better allocations in this area. There should be a monitoring cell to track how women are being benefited by the adaptation and mitigation projects, she said.

Mahfuz Anam, the editor and publisher of The Daily Star, who moderated the session, invited suggestions from the panel on what kind of a role the media might play to help the government battle climate change.

The panel suggested that the media should build up its capacity to discuss the issue, and it could tell the tales of the affected people as well.