Let’s not pay lip service to climate change
In the last couple of months, we have been listening to discussions on how to build on the outcomes of the COP26—the 26th Conference of the Parties for climate change held in Glasgow, UK last year. These discussions are often accompanied by another flow of conversations: how to get prepared for COP27, scheduled to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt this November.
These conversations put me in a dilemma. As a conservationist, I am quite excited to see repeated mentions of nature and biodiversity conservation as a means of climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Glasgow Climate Pact, the core document out of COP26. But, as a person who has seen repeated failures of the COPs in making major, meaningful decisions, or the failure of major actors to comply with major decisions between the COPs, I feel frustrated.
As a Bangladeshi, I am proud of seeing Bangladesh creating examples of climate actions over the last 12 years—be it formulating the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) or funding it with the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), or leading the least developed countries (LDC) bloc at the COPs. In recent years, our proud moments included preparing climate budgets, formulating Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, our second-term presidency of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) representing 1.2 billion people, and drafting the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, for example. But being proud doesn't mean anything when our fellow country people have to spend USD 2 billion every year to adapt to the dire impacts of climate change.
I see the forthcoming COP27 as the opportunity for Bangladesh to prioritise climate action in three interconnected areas. First, we need to harness our leadership beyond the current CVF presidency, which formally ends in June this year. At COP26, we showed the world a new development philosophy—moving from "resilience" to "prosperity"—through the Mujib Plan. Can't we now collaborate with the CVF countries, and provide them with technical, intellectual, and philosophical support to move towards prosperity as well? Can't we now show how we can speed up funding for the Mujib Plan's implementation and create yet another outstanding example, as we did back in 2010 by implementing the BCCSAP with BCCTF?
Second, as we are now preparing our national budget for FY2022–23, I urge the government to establish a Biodiversity Conservation Fund. The provision for this fund already exists in Article 36 of Bangladesh Biodiversity Act, 2017. This new national funding mechanism will be yet another milestone of Bangladesh's leadership in implementing the COP26 decision. Why? Because, at COP26, nature-based solutions (NbS) have been appreciated as one of the effective ways to take ambitious, long-term actions against climate change. The Biodiversity Conservation Fund, therefore, can help us tackle two crises simultaneously: climate crisis and biodiversity loss. The parliament also acknowledged this by unanimously adopting a motion in November 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world.
Third, while thinking of climate change, I am not forgetting our post-pandemic challenges. Our poverty level doubled within the first nine months of the pandemic. We are now expecting to push our poverty level down to the pre-Covid level by June 2022. NbS can help our economic recovery after a crisis or a disaster—we saw that after many natural calamities, or getting prepared for the next one. The mangrove plantations established since 2014, for example, to protect Gabura, Satkhira tell us that story. Globally, IUCN, ILO, the University of Oxford, and others are also advocating for nature-based solutions' economic recovery aspects. I would urge the government to incorporate "economic recovery potentials" of NbS in their post-disaster rebuilding initiatives, as well as post-pandemic recovery efforts.
Covid has delayed our graduation out of the LDC status by a couple of years. We should use this additional time to change our mindset as well as our climate action culture. It is indeed fascinating to see that Bangladesh is spending 4.16 percent of its annual budget or 0.73 percent of its GDP in 2021–2022 to tackle climate change, despite passing through a pandemic. But how long should we be receiving external funds just to prepare a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) or update the old BCCSAP? We can't have the luxury anymore of preparing a plan in a celebratory manner and then just leave it unfunded.
We need to move forward from being called the "adaptation capital," "adaptation teacher" or "adaptation leader" of the world. We must be more vocal globally and unprecedentedly aggressive to fund our prosperity and other development plans. What is stopping us from starting it before COP27?
Dr Haseeb Md Irfanullah is an independent consultant working on environment, climate change, and research systems. His Twitter handle is @hmirfanullah