As we enter the new year of 2020, we are in fact making a very significant transition when it comes to the issue of climate change.
The first transition is a semantic one, but nevertheless a very significant one, namely that in 2019 we acknowledged that the climate change problem has become the climate change “emergency”. This means that we need to prioritise it like we have never done before.
In scientific terms it means that the adverse impacts, and associated loss and damage, from climatic events such as floods, droughts, cyclones and wildfires can now be clearly attributed to the fact that human induced climate change has raised global temperature by over one degree centigrade from pre-industrial times and that abnormally severe events have now become the “new normal”.
At the same time a new constituency of activists have arrived on the global scene with the potential to make a significant difference, namely the school strikers led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. The scientific community had been warning global policymakers for several decades about the potential dangers of human induced climate change and the need to take action. And then the adversely affected vulnerable developing countries like Bangladesh and Tuvalu had added their voices in the last decade and the global leaders were able to agree on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in December 2015. However, since the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by Trump and the election of leaders like Bolsanaro in Brazil and Scott Morrison in Australia, these leaders have decided to block any further action to tackle the climate change emergency.
This fact became abundantly clear at the recently concluded COP25 held in Madrid, Spain (but under the presidency of Chile) where despite adding two extra days (and nights!) to the negotiations, they failed to reach an agreement on several critical issues.
Thus if the UNFCCC is to retain any sense of credibility, the United Kingdom who will be hosting COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2020 need to think out of the box to change the format of the event as business as usual has been demonstrated to be unfit for the purpose.
At the same time, the actuality of the climate change impact around the world brings a new dimension to the task of tackling the climate emergency that all countries will have to deal with locally, nationally, as well as globally.
At the global level, we now need to develop coalitions of the willing amongst governments of countries, both developing as well as developed, who want to take action to tackle climate change. Here Bangladesh has an important opportunity to play a leadership role, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be taking over the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) from President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands in mid-2020 and will be chair for the following two years.
At the bilateral level Bangladesh can join forces with the UK, as it has already done during the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York last September as part of the adaptation and resilience track. The two countries can develop their cooperation further in the run up to COP26 in November.
At the national level in Bangladesh, the UK can also provide support, as it has been doing for some time to Bangladesh’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan which will be revised and launched in 2020 taking it to 2030. One element of such a bilateral strategy between the UK and Bangladesh could be the development of an action research programme to tackle climate change and development related issues which would benefit other Least Developed Countries (LDCs), as well through South-South Cooperation.
At the same time, Bangladesh can play a leading role as the global champion of Community Based Adaptation (CBA) and supporting locally led adaptation around the world. This would build on the launch of the locally led adaptation Action Track of the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) to be launched at the Gobeshona conference on climate change research into action on January 20.
The government of the Netherlands has offered to help Bangladesh set up a South Asian Regional Centre for Adaptation in Dhaka from 2020, which could become a means of sharing our experience and knowledge with our neighbouring countries in the region as well.
Bangladesh is pioneering the application of the concepts of whole-of-government as well as whole-of-society involvement not only in tackling climate change, but also for all 17 of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where we aim to achieve those goals by 2030.
Thus the year 2020 can indeed become the start of a new era for Bangladesh, as well as for the world, where we change the narrative from being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, to becoming one of the most resilient countries, by offering to share our knowledge and experience with other countries both through South-South as well as South-North cooperation. This could indeed become a new foreign policy strategy for Bangladesh going into the new decade.
Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University, Bangladesh.