The Least Developed Countries (LDC) group constitutes 47 countries, mostly in Africa and some in Asia (including Bangladesh), officially recognised by the United Nations (UN). Countries belonging to the group are entitled to duty-free access to developed country markets for their goods and are recognised under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the most vulnerable countries to climate change. At the same time, they are also eligible to receive Official Development Assistance (ODA) from developed countries bilaterally as grants.
Most of the LDCs have an ambition to graduate out of LDC status over time and doing so involves an official process of formally applying to the UN which will then carry out a review. If the UN feels the application for graduation is valid, then they will give the go-ahead and announce a two- or three-year period to monitor progress before the country is allowed to officially graduate.
Bangladesh applied for graduation last year and has been given the green light to proceed. This means that we will be reviewed in 2021 and if all goes well, we will be given the go-ahead for another three years, at the end of which we will graduate in 2024. It is hoped that as we have stepped on an escalator that will take us to middle-income developing country status by 2024, we do not falter along the way.
This gives us a few years to prepare ourselves for graduation from the LDC group.
The LDC group in the UNFCCC is currently chaired by Bhutan which recently held a strategy meeting in Bhutan followed by a meeting in the UK to prepare for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September this year.
The first point to emphasise is that the LDC group has very successfully changed its narrative on climate change from being victims to becoming leaders. This is through three major LDC-led initiatives: one on mitigation, one on adaptation and resilience, and the third on capacity building. This package of three major LDC-led actions will be the main message to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit.
As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is one of the leaders of the LDC countries invited to the Climate Summit, she will be expected to raise this position of the LDC group and not just of Bangladesh alone.
The second important point for Bangladesh when it comes to graduation is that we will lose our access to grants from developed countries and become dependent on loans from the international financial markets. While this is to be welcomed, it is nevertheless going to be a big challenge for which we have to prepare ourselves very quickly.
One of the opportunities in this regard is that even if Bangladesh graduates from LDC status, we will still remain one of the most climate-vulnerable countries so we will continue to get access to global climate change finance. However, the rules and mechanisms for accessing such climate change finance from global sources are not easy, and we have had very limited success so far, so getting better at it is a high priority.
I often give the analogy of playing football versus playing cricket when it comes to comparing ODA and climate change finance. Both games are played by teams of 11 players and involve a ball, but cricket is a far more complicated game than football; so assuming that we will automatically be good at cricket because we are good at football is obviously wrong. However, that does not mean that we cannot become good cricket players over time (as the Bangladesh cricket team has demonstrated) but it needs practice and learning.
The third and final point relates to the question: what should our future relationship with the LDC group be after we graduate? Do we simply say goodbye to the other countries and go our own way or should we seek to retain our relationship with the countries still in the LDC group?
There are a number of other LDCs that are also expected to graduate out of LDC status by 2030 and thus it’s an issue for all the LDCs under the UNFCCC going forward.
At the recent LDC group meeting, the idea of renaming the LDC group under the UNFCCC as the Group of 47 (G47) came up (as these countries would all still be vulnerable to adverse climate change impacts). Thus even if a country graduates from official LDC status, it would remain a part of the G47.
Bangladesh should give serious consideration to this issue and extend a hand of friendship so that South-South knowledge-sharing with other LDCs can be a reality going forward. Tackling climate change can become one of the priority topics on which we can offer our support to others.
Dr Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.