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COP26 and Bangladesh: Hope kept alive

  • Dr. Atiur Rahman
  • 18 November, 2021 12:00 AM
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COP26 and Bangladesh: Hope kept alive

Finally, COP26 ended with an agreement of keeping the hope of achieving 1.5-degree Celsius alive. One must appreciate the British Government for cutting a deal on climate, however, compromised this may look like. Certainly, it was better than a failure as was the case in Madrid (COP25). I think Glasgow was far more engaging in terms of multi-stakeholder participation despite many shortcomings in terms of not touching the bars of expectations.

I was present in a couple of COPS including those in Rio and Doha as a member of the national delegation. I know how difficult it was in reaching a consensus in the face of the struggles for keeping or removing the ‘comas’ and ‘semi-comas’ in the drafts of the agreement. So, I was not surprised to see the deadline staggered by another 24 hours, as if marathon negotiations of two weeks were not enough. This was not at all an easy job for Mr. Alok Sharma who led the conference as the President designate.

I met him in person when he visited Dhaka as a part of his groundwork for the Glasgow conference. I found him in a listening mood, and this was so vital for leading the climate conference to its desired destination. Patience was the best capital for him to be able to conclude the conference defying the contradictions among so many diverse stakeholders.

At one stage, it seemed the conference was going to fail. But the emotional appeal of Mr. Sharma helped soften the delegates to agree to a consensus draft at the last minute. The negotiations were mostly centered around thorny issues like fossil fuel subsidy, carbon emissions limit, and financing demand of the developing countries to meet the climate change challenges.

Mr. Sharma was right when he said that delegates had full blown opportunities of detailed discussions on each of the above issues. Subsequently, according to him, a ‘balanced package’ could be worked out at the end. Indeed, it was a very ‘challenging conference’ and certainly a ‘compromise’, as rightly articulated by the UN Secretary General. He thought despite many gains the contradictions in the collective political will of the parties remained. He reminded the delegates about his initial call to work more for achieving the goal of 1.5 degree Celsius by committing further reduction of carbon emissions and said it was still on. He said again that our fragile planet was hanging on a piece of thread and all stakeholders had a job to do to save it. Mind it, the climate stakeholders are diverse including the rich developed industrial countries, the countries that produce and consume fossil fuels, the consumers including the youths who are more passionate about a greener world and, of course the small island countries whose survival is at stake in the face of sea-level rise if the temperature rises. So, to balance the demands of all these stakeholders in a single draft was indeed a very challenging job. Yet, the UK Presidency and other global leaders could keep the hope alive and made a passionate call to all to come back to COP27 to be held in Egypt with more ambitious commitments for cutting carbon emissions. This was itself a move forward. Maybe, the agreement could not be made binding. However, this appeal will surely put a lot of moral pressure on the countries to report their ambitions to the global audience every year where, I hope, the participation of the younger generations will be even more intensive. Already Glasgow saw a lot of outbursts of frustrations of the youths, thanks to Greta for making a huge global mobilization of them including the school children. Let this moral pressure continue to grow to keep the global leadership on their toes for higher ambitions for meeting climate challenges.

The last-minute interventions by China and India on the phrase ‘phase out’ to ‘phase down’ watered down the draft agreement and made it very weak at its core. Mr. Sharma probably had to swallow this just to save the agreement from obvious failure. However, he was also challenged by many delegates including the Mexicans for making the agreement ‘not inclusive and transparent’. He apologised for this and appealed to all to move on despite what had happened. However, many others thought that this was a good beginning as the words ‘fossil fuels’, the villain of the piece, made a formal entry into the COP agreement document for the first time. This will surely open the door for the future delegates to ask for more ambitious reporting from all countries on reduction of fossil fuel use which is at the root of the climate crisis. Another gain from the conference was the proactive role of the US to work for the climate. It may be noted here that the US under President Trump left the Paris Climate Agreement and questioned the very scientific and moral basis of the global consensus that was reached in Paris to fight the climate crisis together. The US chief of the delegates in Paris was Mr. John Kerry. He came back to Glasgow in the same capacity to lead his country for saving the planet from climate challenges. According to him, that the whole world could come together to save the future generations was itself a step forward. He further said that probably this was not the best agreement. But certainly, this was a good agreement. Initially, there were a lot of discussions on the issue of ‘Loss and Damage’ in the conference. However, there could not be an agreement on it due to reluctance of the US and EU as they feared developed countries might be made liable for the climate crisis if they agreed to it. They had great reservations about how this will be calculated, who will do the same in the changed context. However, the delegates from the developed countries including Mr. Kerry discussed at length on the need for addressing the loss and damage issues. If the developed countries were afraid of moving into uncharted waters, the developing countries may think of proposing a solidarity fund for human induced damages due to climate changes. The developed world which is also now facing erratic climate events regularly may show interest in this funding arrangement if the wordings are done differently. I am sure there will be a compromise on this issue as well soon. In the meantime, the world must take more seriously the fate of climate victims like Maldives and other island countries which are hanging in the balance. Good thing is that the adaptation fund was doubled and many countries including Brazil came out voluntarily to stop net loss of forestry by 2030. The UK deserves to be appreciated for conducting such a huge climate conference defying so many challenges. In addition, the country has been coming forward with additional funds for both mitigation and adaptation. It has already committed additional funds to Bangladesh for promoting electric vehicles, building capacity of IDCOL for developing charging stations for these climate-friendly cars and as well as institutional building by further strengthening SHREDA, the focal institution for improving regulatory framework for producing and consuming more renewable energy. Their forthcoming support for the regional Adaptation Centre will also be seen as a positive move by Dhaka. I hope other developed countries will also come forward similarly to do more to address the climate crisis in vulnerable countries in the coming days.

One must recognise the proactive role of the Bangladesh delegation led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the recently concluded climate conference. The delegation included ministers, parliamentarians, government officials, climate experts and national think tanks. The NGO participation and private green entrepreneurs was also visible. Ultimately, this broader participation will remain the main strength of a nation in addressing the climate challenges. And, Bangladesh has been at the forefront of this inclusive process. This was also clear from the remarks of our premier who set the tone of the conference on behalf of not only Bangladesh but also the countries belonging to the Climate Vulnerable Forum. She also presented a well-planned charter of demands to the global community for addressing the climate risks faced by the climate victim countries including their most vulnerable segments of population such as women. Furthermore, she mentioned the steps that her government had so far taken and what she expected from the global community on climate change mitigation and adaptation. She asked for the quick distribution of the funds that were promised in Paris. She talked straight on climate issues in her charismatic style. Most global leaders acknowledged her passionate call for doing more for the climate. The British Prime Minister said on the opening day of the conference that the world was already in peril. Hence there was no time to spare. US President Biden's words also delineated a clear urgency for tackling the climate crisis. No doubt, expectations were raised high by the global leaders, but the subsequent negotiations could not fully match the same. However, delegates from the developing countries mostly supported the proposals put on the table by the Bangladesh premier. She primarily made the following proposals:

1.            The countries that are playing the biggest role in carbon emissions need to formulate and implement a specific ambitious plan in the form of National Determined Contribution (NDC).

2.            To reduce the damage caused by climate change, the developed countries must set up a pledged fund of USD 1 billion annually and allocate half of it for adaptation and mitigation.

3.            Developed countries need to extend a helping hand to the most vulnerable countries by providing clean and green technology at affordable prices while considering the development needs of CVF countries.

4.            The issue of financial and materialistic losses must be addressed, including sharing of global responsibilities for migrants displaced by rising sea levels, rising salinity, river erosion, floods, and droughts.

In addition, she also disclosed in the World Conference that Bangladesh adds less than 0.47 percent to global emissions. Even so, the country is one of the most climate vulnerable countries. Nevertheless, Bangladesh has decided to give up a portion of its much-needed foreign investment in the interest of climate development. It has decided to cancel 10 coal-fired power plant projects worth USD 12 billion of foreign investment. At a time when the country is undergoing rapid industrialization, it is quite challenging to stop conventional fuel production. Besides, in the new NDC, Bangladesh has promised to provide 40 percent from renewable sources by 2041. It is to be noted that Bangladesh has extensive experience of production and distribution of solar energy. She also informed that Bangladesh had established 'Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund’ in 2009. Over the past seven years, Bangladesh has doubled its climate-related expenditure (now 8%) in the national budget. She also let the world know that Bangladesh had developed a National Adaptation Plan. Moreover, by implementing the ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan’, Bangladesh has been moving away from climate risk towards a sustainable climate prosperity. At the same time, the Premier informed the world that the 1.1 million Rohingyas forcibly displaced from Myanmar were putting tremendous stress on the environment and budget of Bangladesh. She also proposed a ‘Climate Emergency Pact’ consisting of Bangladesh and other CVF countries. Additionally, the Bangladesh government has been considering raising a sum of USD 75 billion under the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan. The money will be mobilized through public debt including green bonds, private investment, government guarantees and international partnerships. About half of the green projects will be implemented under the ‘renewable energy’ sector. The rest will be invested on projects under the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP 2100) and local adaptation programs.

In addition, the central bank of Bangladesh has been a pioneer in innovating green finance under the broader umbrella of sustainable finance. A Sustainable Finance Policy of Bangladesh Bank is already in place. It has a rich experience of supporting sustainable finance for both SMEs and larger entrepreneurs with innovative refinance and green transformation funding programs. Given necessary coordination and fiscal incentives Bangladesh Bank will be able to play a strategic role in addressing the climate change challenges by transforming the real economy to become greener and cleaner. I hope the future climate conferences should try to bring in more central banks into global discussions on climate finance in the light of the lessons learned from Bangladesh. Not only the central bank, but I also believe that the capital market regulator of Bangladesh, the NBR, SHREDA and various departments and ministries of the government will continue to work together to create numerous more innovative and sustainable financing schemes in the near future to live up to the climate change challenges. Bangladesh is blessed with a green Premier who has been very explicit in making this world “cleaner, greener and safer’ through united global actions. The green aspirations as demonstrated during COP26 deliberations and all other activities around it have sent the world a clear message that we must dream more and do more for the sustainability of our dear planet. Bangladesh will surely play its part in this green journey.

 

The writer is Bangabandhu Chair Professor at Dhaka University and former Governor of Bangladesh Bank.