Paying for a crime not committed | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 05, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:07 AM, November 05, 2016

Paying for a crime not committed

On the eve of concluding his two day trip to Bangladesh earlier this month, the World Bank (WB) President Jim Yong Kim pledged to grant Bangladesh a total loan of USD 3 billion. Out of the total amount, USD 2 billion was committed for climate-related projects. At a press conference held to announce its loan commitment, the WB President said, “Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and we must do all we can to support the [Bangladesh] government”.

In reaction to the pledge, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) advised the government not to accept the loan. TIB Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman said that it would be unwise to take the loan bearing interest and that the country, being one of the worst affected in the world, should rather seek compensation from the WB.

First, in considering the validity of his comments, it is important to remember that much of the responsibility for increased greenhouse gas emissions till date lie with developed countries even according to their own representatives. Bangladesh, according to data, emitted only 190 million metric tons (MtCO2e) in 2012, while it was estimated that the United States, between 1990 and 2011, was responsible for 16 percent of all greenhouse gas emission worldwide.

China (15 percent) and the European Union (12 percent) were the next biggest emitters, followed by Russia (6 percent), Brazil (5 percent), Indonesia and India (both 4 percent). Given its almost non-existent carbon footprint in comparison with other countries, is it fair that Bangladesh, despite being one of the worst affected countries of a problem largely created by the more industrialised countries, will now have to borrow money bearing interest from the WB to deal with that problem? How is it that the WB expects some of the poorest people in the world to pay for a problem created by some of the richest?

Under these circumstances, the TIB's advice to the Bangladesh government is totally justified. Bangladesh has the moral high ground to seek compensation rather than borrow money on which it would have to make hefty interest payments. The more developed countries also have a responsibility, if they are truly looking to deal with the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from a moral standpoint, to stick to their pledge of providing compensation to the worst affected countries for their large carbon footprints over the years.

Bangladesh, however, faces criticism when it comes to funding climate change programmes. Lack of accountability and transparency leading to funds being misused have been major allegations by foreign donors. 

According to reports that came out in April this year, Bangladesh was on the verge of losing USD 50 million of climate funds “because of tension between the World Bank and donors, and lack of government commitment”. Because the fund had not been successful in its intent or purpose, according to an evaluation by UK Aid — a major donor — donors had decided to pull the plug on the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) set up six years ago using funds from foreign donors. According to reports, “the resilience fund will be officially closed out by December 2016 although its functions may be allowed to continue till June the next year”. The remaining money amounting to almost USD 50 million will then be returned to its original donors.

Moreover, because of the alleged misuse of funds by the Bangladeshi government, Bangladesh had earlier been denied access to the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund and Special Climate Change Fund. As a result, the government had to take USD 40 million from the Green Climate Fund through a German international bank, paying service charges. The United Kingdom had also stopped the disbursement of a large portion of a USD 190 million grant it had pledged earlier which, according to TIB was because of the Bangladesh government's “overspending of the money” on ineffective climate adaptation projects and perceived “corruption in the implementation process”.

The TIB itself, despite advocating for greater compensation to Bangladesh from foreign donors, had released a study on climate fund governance that revealed “political influence, nepotism and corruption in the selection of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to carry out work on the ground” (Watchdog finds malpractice in Bangladesh climate finance, Transparency International Bangladesh). The report then goes on to detail significant corruption in the fund allocation and implementation processes.

Another justified criticism has been the failure of the government to involve people belonging to the affected areas in the climate-related projects. When dishing out such criticism, however, it is important to consider that the developed countries too had failed to transfer some of the technological aids it had pledged. Without considering Bangladesh's capabilities to deal with such issues, it is unfair for developed countries to criticise its performance till date, particularly when they themselves have failed to deliver on their pledges and commitments.

Still, the government needs to minimise the corruption and mismanagement that is taking place in Bangladesh in regards to dealing with climate funds so that developed countries and international organisations can no longer use such excuses to deny Bangladesh of its rightful compensation, as they have previously done. With the 22nd session of Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to be held in Morocco on November 7-18, 2016, the government should immediately seek to redress these issues.

If the government can successfully address its own issues, it can, and should make a strong case at the conference to the rest of the world for greater compensations from developed countries and other international donors, rather than loans to deal with issues for which, Bangladesh, in all honesty, is least responsible, if at all. With that in mind, the government should indeed, as advised by TIB, reject the WB's loan offer and, instead, start working on a comprehensive strategy to appeal to the international stakeholders to provide Bangladesh with funds and technologies that it needs to deal with climate-related issues. It is the government's moral obligation not to fail in that regard, as it is the international stakeholders' (especially the countries that are most responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions over the years) to help the government and the people of Bangladesh to fight the consequences of climate change. 


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