Environmental diplomacy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 19, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 19, 2009

Environmental diplomacy

ON February 3, the Danish minister of climate and energy visited Bangladesh. Her visit was important because Denmark will host the UN Conference on Climate Change in December to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Bangladesh is one of the top listed vulnerable countries that will be seriously affected by climate change. The minister, Ms.Connie Hedegaard, said: "Bangladesh is truly a very important party in the coming negotiations. I feel convinced that Bangladesh is well on its way to Copenhagen."
On January 12, Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni rightly termed climate change a major issue as Bangladesh was going to be the worst victim of its adverse impacts.
On bad days, airborne pollution lies like a thick veil over Bangladesh's cities and blocks out the sunlight. It is estimated that only 1% of the country's 40 million city dwellers breathe air that would be considered safe. In addition, large areas of the coastline are so polluted that they no longer sustain marine life.
In Bangladesh, increased temperature will add more problems for the country. While a torrent of melt-water from the Himalayan glaciers flow to the rivers, causing soil erosion, coastal zones, including the Sunderbans mangrove forests, are being threatened by rising sea-levels.
Furthermore, saline water will creep into agricultural lands from the coastal belt, leading to reduction of crops, and rising temperature may bring new infectious and bacterial diseases in the country.
A report of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) of 2007 presents a bleak picture of Bangladesh by 2030. The report said an additional 6-8% of Bangladesh will be permanently under water and flood-prone areas will increase (from 25% to 40% by 2050.)
Bangladesh's rivers are snow-fed during winter, and if there is no snow in the Himalayas our major 56 rivers will die during the winter months. Around 100 rivers are already dead for various environmental reasons.
The global warming threat was felt in 2007, when the country was affected by a series of devastating weather events. Two unusually severe floods and category five Cyclone Sidr occurred in the country, killing 3,300 people and leaving about two million people homeless in the coastal zones.
The two-week UN meeting in December 2008 at Poznan (Poland) was the halfway mark in the negotiations on an ambitious and effective international climate change deal to be clinched in Copenhagen in 2009. The parties have less than a year to agree on strengthened action on mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology
It is reported that Bangladesh presented the following proposals at the Poznan conference:
-Separate climate change funding must be provided to developing countries apart from the existing official development assistance of 0.7% target of gross national product.
-Current arrangement of responsibility-based mechanism must be revised to make contributions of industrialised countries (polluters) mandatory.
-To develop a mechanism with the help of UNIPCC to create an index on the vulnerability of people to climate change.
-Setting up a long-term global goal on the basis of undertakings of industrialised countries on emission cuts, technology transfer, finance and capacity building.
-Creation of an effective environment for climate change adaptation, nationally, regionally and internationally with the support of appropriate institutions.
-Establish the Head office of International Adaptation Centre in Dhaka.
Bangladesh has to vigorously pursue the above proposals in the coming international conferences, and needs to make out a sound case for assistance and support to help adapt to the adverse effects of global warming in such a way that reduction of poverty is addressed without degrading environment.
Bangladesh needs to align itself with countries which are also facing similar problems due to global warming, so that their voices are heard loud and clear at all preparatory meetings leading to the UN conference in Copenhagen in December this year.
This gives us cause for urgent and critical planning of strategies for negotiations at the international or regional meetings through creative environmental diplomacy.
It is good to note that the government has approved a policy in principle for formation of a trust on climate change. The government earlier had set up a secretariat on climate change under the environment and forest ministry to monitor the activities for combating climate change and deal with the climate change fund.
The government may consider appointing a permanent envoy on environment for sake of continuity to attend to the series of international meetings on environment this year, leading to the next UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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