What can Bangladesh do to combat climate change?
I lend my voice of support to Prof. Shairul Mashreque's call for combating climate change (CCC) published recently in The Daily Star (“Green beckoning”, July 15, 2009). Unfortunately, the process of CCC is not as easy as it might appear. And, while the global community now recognises the importance and the urgency of CCC, we need to realize that even if we diligently implement all the protocols and embrace all the best practices available to control emission of greenhouse gases, the results on the earth's temperature will not be significant for at least two or three more decades. I might also add that in spite of the agreements reached at the recently concluded G-8 meeting in Italy, and the actions taken by the USA prior to that, a reduction of global warming by 1 or 2 degrees will remain an elusive goal.
Two major obstacles
What is the reason for such pessimistic views about the prospects of CCC? Very briefly, my cautious approach emanates from the two major dilemmas (“tensions”) we are facing. The first relates to the divergent interests of the developed and developing countries. The developed countries are pushing for a time-bound reduction in carbon emissions that is applicable to all countries. The developing countries, including two of the largest polluters India and China, on the other hand, are not too eager to take on a larger burden to curtail carbon emissions. And, I do not fault them since they have a strong case: it is universally acknowledged that the developing countries were not responsible for the existing level of carbon in the earth's environment. In per capita terms, these two countries are not even in the list of top 10 emitters of Greenhouse Gas (GHG). The seriousness of the rift in the two camps can be fathomed from the personal intervention of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who at the Non-Aligned Movement conference appealed to India to pursue a low carbon growth, and repeated the call during her trip to India.
The second dilemma relates to the cost of carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction, and the higher cost of cleaner technology. It is now well established that most clean technologies are more costly than their traditional counterpart. Electric power costs more to produce when cleaner fuel or abatement technology is used. Cleaner cars cost more and so do cleaner electronic goods. And here comes the paradox: while consumers prefer cleaner technology, they do not want to pay more for it. Various consumer surveys in developing countries as well as developed countries reveal a preference for clean technology, whether in durable or consumer goods. However, the preference for goods produced with cleaner technology dropped drastically when the respondents were shown the price of these “clean” products.
Cost and benefits
The development and adoption of greener technology is expensive. “Who will pay for it?” is the trillion-dollar question. This issue is at the heart of the tug of war played out by the various countries. Let us take the case of automobiles. Toyota makes both internal combustion and hybrid cars. The latter uses less fuel and emits less CO2 per gallon of fuel used. However, hybrid cars cost more, which the owner can recoup in 3 to 5 years depending on miles driven and the cost of fuel. This, following an approach originally elucidated by Prof. Amartya Sen, spells out the cost and benefit of cleaner technology in a time horizon. It also brings to the fore the key issue in the current debate: Will the EU or G8 countries be willing to provide financial incentives to hybrid users in developing countries?
Possible leadership role
While the G8 countries and the developing countries try to sort out the conflicting issues and to strike a balance in sharing the burden of CCC, Bangladesh can in the interim play a key role at various international forums. Bangladesh, which is expected to bear the brunt of the effects of global warming, can play a major role in the international debate on CCC. We can and should speak out at the UN summit, Copenhagen summit and other global forums, but our views will be heard and respected if we lead the way in reducing our own carbon footprint by adopting innovating approaches to CCC.
* What can Bangladesh do to show its commitment to CCC? In addition to the ones that BAPA, BEN and other environmental organizations have proposed, there are a number of other steps we can take individually and collectively, including:
* A comprehensive energy policy review, covering support for solar and other renewable energy;
* A full assessment of our emissions and cost of adoption of cleaner technology (example of how to generate electricity);
* Involvement of the business community and active participation of the community in the 3C Initiative;
* Enhanced national awareness of the impact of deforestation, open burning in agricultural fields and landfills, and agricultural soil management practices;
* National debate on the importance and adoption of a roadmap to low-emitting society.
Dr. Abdullah Shibli lives and works in Boston, USA. He is managing partner of NAS Enterprises, LLC, an international consulting firm.