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     Volume 8 Issue 58 | February 20, 2009 |

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Beyond Kyoto

Nader Rahman
2009 could and many hope, should be a landmark year in dealing with climate change.

Climate change is officially fashionable; superstars, singers, actors and those pesky politicians around the world have all finally taken the doomsday warnings to heart, at least that's the impression they give. But while it gives them screen time, precious little is actually done. This year, pardon the pun, they will either sink or swim. Not since the Kyoto Protocol was first signed in 1992 has there been a year as important as this, as the Conference of Parties (COP) meeting in Copenhagen will try and thrash out a new deal that could drastically change the very way we live. If those celebrities around the world really want to do something they should make their way down to Denmark and reduce their carbon footprints, something which could prove quite tricky as they step off their gas guzzling private jets.

All cynicism aside, 2009 could and many hope, should be a landmark year in dealing with climate change. The COP15 meeting in Denmark will by no means be easy, but then again nothing is. This year Bangladesh cannot afford to sit back and simply sign a treaty in Denmark. This year Bangladesh must make its voice heard and help shape a deal which will effect tens of millions of its citizens. With that in mind Bangladesh made its first real foray into COP15 with the seminar recently held in Dhaka titled, “The road to Copenhagen--Seen from Bangladesh.” The Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaar attended the conference and in a way it was a coup to have her onboard for such an important seminar. While she is sure to be one of the key policy makers at COP15, for her to come to Bangladesh and see and hear first hand of our ordeal was just what was required.

She said, “I have learnt that in Bangladesh up to 40 percent of the investment in development and infrastructure is likely to be affected by climate change." A fact which not even most educated Bangladeshis cannot claim to know. Her presence not only provided moral support for a government that is desperate to help millions of its citizens deal with climate change, but also personalised the issue of climate change and its effects. When people are crammed into rooms trying to thrash out a deal, I doubt they actually even know who they are fighting for. They have an agenda, but can they really personalise it? The answer is probably no, but now Connie Hedegaar can. When she speaks at the conference she will not merely by towing the line of climate change, but she will be towing the line of the 30 million people who stand to be affected by climate change in Bangladesh. If ever the world needed a guilt trip as to how bad climate change can be, then all one needs to do is travel to Bangladesh.

Increased climatic variability adds to our farmers woes with longer drier droughts.

The melting Himalayan glaciers dump their water into Bangladesh providing us with harsher longer floods. Increased climatic variability adds to our farmers woes with longer drier droughts. Then comes the rise in sea level, this could eat up 175 of our land mass displacing 30 million people before this century is over. It is easy to see climate change as someone else's problem, one which our grandchildren will have to deal with, but that is half the truth. It may take close to a 100 years to displace 100 million people, but it is happening already. Already the summers seem hotter, the winters milder and the monsoons rainier. If this continues then Bangladesh and dozens of other countries and billions of other people could potentially look back at 2009 and wonder why nothing more substantial was done.

If the necessary yet drastic measures are taken in Copenhagen then our way of life could change overnight. If we really are to cut down on pollutants and reduce emissions then everything from how we heat our homes to what car we drive will change. Economies will be remodelled around green technology and will mark the single greatest change in the global economy since the industrial revolution. But for all of these dreams to be turned into a reality not only for Bangladesh but the rest of the world, this year at COP15 it is our duty to make our voice heard. It is time to look beyond Kyoto, our future lies in Copenhagen.

Chris Austin

Chris Austin the country representative of the Department for International Development (DFID) in Bangladesh, talk's climate change and Copenhagen.

How will the global financial crisis affect climate change funding?
In terms of funding internationally for development, the UK government has been very clear. Douglas Alexander said this in a conference recently. Our funding for Bangladesh is confirmed we had a senior visitor from DFID out here three weeks ago who confirmed to the minister of finance, foreign affairs and planning that the UK aid here will rise as planned for the next three years and we hope that it will continue to rise beyond that. I can't speak for other countries but it is very clear to us that climate change is integral to all economic and social development and countries like Bangladesh will be affected so they need to adapt. So investing in adaptation is the same as investing in economic and social development.

Is aid from climate change going to divert money away from other development projects?
No, there won't be any diversion of resources as such, but the 75 million pounds that we have committed over the next five years is in addition to our portfolio of about 1 billion pounds for projects that are typically taking five years to implement. And there is a rolling basis that out of the 1 billion pounds maybe one third of it has already been spent and another two thirds will be over the next two, three, four, five years and we will continue to add to that portfolio. Climate change is an integral part of development so investing in better seeds, improving embankments and sea defences, getting the designs of schools, shelters and clinics right, all of those things are part of economic and social development anyway. So for us part of the rationale for increasing our bi-lateral aid to Bangladesh is that we need to help it deal more with climate change.

What could the government do to build its technical and negotiation skills so that a better deal for all could be ensured?

Well there's two parts to that, there is an assumption that Bangladesh needs to build its technical and negotiation skills. But prior to that people must understand that Bangladesh has an important role in the negotiation. They have a voice that will be listened to, and they already have expertise in the Ministry of Foreign affairs and the Ministry of Environment but we are talking about a small number of people. I think the first thing Bangladesh could do, would be to make best use of its current expertise. Basically planning and using the resources to the best of its abilities. Thinking ahead like “there is a meeting in Copenhagen in December, what pre meetings should we attend. Who are the influential countries that we get on well with? Can they make the same arguments together?” A practical thing that we are keen to help with is that Bangladesh have a progress report on climate change strategy before Copenhagen. As for negotiation skills there is something that could be done by providing tailored guidance and support and training for the staff that will be working on these things. Identifying your key teams in different ministries and bringing them together, that would be a good way forward.

What do you see as the best case scenario for Bangladesh at the Copenhagen meeting? What would Bangladesh be happy with at the end of the meeting?
I think a big agreement on reducing emissions in countries that are big emitters. The numbers are at least a 30% reduction by 2050, possibly bigger than that. But getting all of the big players to agree on reducing emissions. That will change the way economies grow and how people live. The second thing that would be really good for Bangladesh would be an agreement on the next step of additional global resources to help countries that have got sound plans like Bangladesh to adapt. There is no alternative for Bangladesh except adaptation, but it also needs to adapt its growth model. So that its economy can grow and that it can achieve middle income status without becoming a big emitter.

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