2016: A new beginning for the world and Bangladesh

(Originally published here)

The year 2015 that has just ended has been a landmark year for both the development as well as climate change discourse at the global level as three major agreements were reached under the United Nations. The first was the Sendai agreement on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) that was achieved in March 2015 in Sendai, Japan, the second was the agreement of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York in September 2015, and finally, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (CC) achieved in Paris in December 2015.

All three of these global agreements have fifteen year time horizons from 2016 to 2030 to implement the agreements and goals that we agreed upon. Hence, starting in 2016, all the countries of the world, both collectively as well as individually, will need to find ways to implement these major agreements from 2015. I will give below some thoughts on why I believe this is a major new opportunity for the whole world in general, and Bangladesh, in particular.

Along with the 17 SDGs on various development, environmental and governance related issues, and the DRR, I would argue that the climate change goals are in fact two distinct goals, one for adaptation and another for mitigation, and so if we add these two, we get a grand total of 20 goals across SDGs, DRR and CC.
The origins of these 20 tracks were quite separate with different constituencies being involved and different negotiating tracks being used to reach the global agreements. However, when it comes to implementing them, there is so much overlap between them as well as the opportunities for synergies that we need to think of ways to avoid overlaps and attain synergies. My own metaphor is to think of them as either parallel tracks (the current default situation) or as twenty independent strands that need to be woven into a rope that connects them with each other at various points. The collective strength of the rope is many times stronger than the individual strength of each strand.
To pursue this metaphor further, I would say that there are at least five points of intersections between these twenty strands of the rope, namely at the global, regional, national, local, and most importantly, individual levels. Let me elaborate on how this works on each level.

At the global level, the sum of the three global agreements and 20 global goals is to tie all 200 hundred nation states and seven billion people on the planet together as never before. Just to pick one example, the climate change mitigation goal depends entirely on all countries doing their fair share of greenhouse gas emission reductions. No country can do it alone.
The three global agreements also tie together both the developed as well as developing countries, bounding them to take actions in their own countries, unlike the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which only required the rich countries to provide funding to the developing ones.
There are also a number of connections that can be made at the multi-country level, the most important of which is for each country to work together with its neighbours. Thus, it is critical for Bangladesh to work with the other countries in South Asian region, particularly the countries that control the rivers that flow into Bangladesh. Each country can only do so much on its own, and needs to cooperate with its neighbours to achieve the goals that require actions across ecosystems, such as river basins in our case, that span several countries.

Every single country, both rich as well as poor must now figure out for itself, how to best link the 20 strands to make a national level rope that suits the circumstances of the country. In the case of Bangladesh, this is already taking place, as the government is distributing responsibilities for each of the 20 issues to particular ministries within the government and ensuring that they are linked across the ministries. The Planning Commission is likely to play a key role in ensuring that the synergies between the strands are achieved.

Another important actor in enabling all twenty strands to be effectively linked is the Parliament, through both the enactment of legislation, if and when needed, but more importantly through its oversight function of the different ministries.

It is also important that this process of formulation, planning and even implementation not be confined within the government alone, but include all other major stakeholder groups, such as the private sector, civil society, education sector, research sector and media, who have important roles to play. Linking stakeholder groups is an important part of building synergies and linking the different strands together at the national level.

At the local level, most communities are already engaged in linking all twenty issues in their daily lives, as they do not separate environmental issues from their routine lifestyle. However, it is important for the communities to be empowered and enabled to act as agents of change, and not just recipients of assistance from above. Hence, community level actions to link all twenty strands of the global agreements will play an important role.

Finally, it comes to each of us as individuals to realise the opportunity and responsibilities placed upon us both as citizens of Bangladesh as well as global citizens. I would argue that average Bangladeshi citizens, with our enormous diaspora and our increasing links through the internet, are already amongst the most globally connected. Therefore, this can become a major asset for the country as it moves forward.

The outside world and Bangladesh has the opportunity to work with each other at local, national, regional, global and individual levels to embark on a new way of thought, so that when we look back in 2030, we can say that 2016 was the beginning of a better world.

Written by: Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director, ICCCAD