Bangladesh’s climate diplomacy needs to take a whole-of-society approach

Photo: Collected

One can argue that the issue of tackling climate change in Bangladesh has already achieved a whole-of-government approach, and is also rapidly moving towards a whole-of-society approach. However, our international diplomacy on tackling climate change also needs to develop both approaches.

What do these two terms mean, and how are they being rolled out? The whole-of-government approach means that not only ministries and departments, but also other branches such as local government, parliament, and even security and military apparatus, along with the judiciary, need to be involved. The whole-of-society approach means the additional inclusion of the private sector, media, academia, civil society and professional groups such as lawyers, doctors, planners and others.

Bangladesh has made great strides in involving all ministries and branches of government in tackling climate change at home. The fact that the Eighth Five Year Plan, the Perspective Plan to 2041 and the Delta Plan to 2100 have all included tackling climate change as major strategies is an example of this. At the same time, the Ministry of Finance has, for the last few years, included a climate change budget allocation for different ministries. In this year’s climate change budget, over 20 ministries have been given a significant allocation of funds, which totals nearly eight percent of the national budget and is bigger than any other country in the world.

However, when it comes to climate diplomacy at the international level we are still, to a large extent, relying on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), which leads the annual Negotiations at the Conference of Parties (COPs) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) every year. While the MoEFCC and the Department of Environment (DoE) have a number of very competent negotiators, relying on the COP is no longer enough.

Since the achievement of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015 at COP21, the need for climate diplomacy has become a daily necessity for all sectors of government. This need becomes more urgent as Bangladesh, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is now the leader of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) countries.

The first thing that is needed, and indeed has been achieved, is for the PM herself to take this issue of climate diplomacy seriously and instruct her politicians and bureaucracy that everyone will have a role to play. This top-down focus is also necessary from the key ministers and in other branches of government. The good news is that this has already started, but we have no time to lose, and we need to reflect on where we can improve our performance to become more effective.

We need to understand and take into account that the COP, which only takes place once a year, is no longer the only place where climate diplomacy occurs. Indeed, every diplomat in Bangladesh embassies across the world now needs to make tackling climate change a core issue of bilateral discussion with host governments. In developed countries, our advocacy will be to encourage them to fulfill their pledges made in the Paris Agreement, and in developing countries, our focus would be on exploring South-South collaboration on tackling climate change, where Bangladesh can share its knowledge on locally led adaptation (LLA) to climate change, particularly for the most vulnerable developing countries.

This would mean that all our diplomats need to learn and know about climate change. An important step in this direction has been made by the Foreign Service Academy, where a climate diplomacy course has been included in the training of all new diplomats since the last three years. The International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), based at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), has had the privilege of assisting the Academy in delivering that course each year.

Another key ministry that must become involved in climate diplomacy is the Ministry of Finance, which needs to understand climate finance and learn how to access climate funds, both from global public as well as private sources. This is of particular importance, as Bangladesh hopes to develop out of being a Least Developed Country (LDC) within a few years and this will stop our access to grant-based international funding, so we need to enhance our ability to access global climate finance going forward. This is not only important in accessing the USD 100 billion of annual climate finance that the developed countries have promised the developing world, but in accessing the trillions of dollars of green finance that is now available globally (but we have not been able to access yet).

The ministries overseeing local governance are also of utmost importance, particularly the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), who are spearheading Bangladesh’s efforts to become a world leader in LLA. This global expertise in LLA is a knowledge export—one that we need to make more of. Unlike other traditional forms of exports such as garments, LLA knowledge is not a commodity that has to be sent abroad, but rather a source of knowledge that is best shared by inviting representatives from other countries to come to Bangladesh and observe and learn from our experiences of LLA. At ICCCAD, over the last few years, we have hosted nearly a thousand such international visitors, mainly from LDCs in Africa and Asia, to learn about LLA in Bangladesh. With more concerted efforts, this export of knowledge could be scaled up immensely.

Going beyond key ministries, parliamentarians also have a significant role to play. They have already made a major resolution on a Planetary Emergency, which has attracted a lot of attention from parliamentarians in many other countries. Also, the armed forces are already studying the security dimensions of climate change and having to discuss this issue when talking to their counterparts in other countries. The local government of Bangladesh can play a key role in sharing our experiential knowledge of LLA as well.

In terms of non-government stakeholders, the key one is the private sector, which can play a role in accessing global climate finance and building businesses to tackle climate change, both mitigation as well as adaptation. The good news is that the private sector has been very successful in providing solar home systems to millions of households in Bangladesh and we are already exporting that expertise to other countries as well. The new opportunity that we have yet to explore is to export knowledge of adaptation to climate change, which is a more difficult business proposition.

The other major stakeholders are academia, where the successful platform of more than 50 universities and research institutions have already come under the umbrella of the Gobeshona initiative, which has become a model for LDCs through the LDC Universities Consortium on Climate Change (LUCCC). The NGOs in Bangladesh are already famous globally for their knowledge of development as well as tackling climate change. BRAC, the biggest NGO in the world, along with many other NGOs, is very active on sharing knowledge of tackling climate change globally.

At the same time, the Bangladesh chapter of the Climate Action Network (CAN), which is one of the biggest global civil society networks on climate change, is very effective. Through these different platforms, the civil society of Bangladesh has been playing a very constructive role in global advocacy to tackle climate change for many years. The latest development in this category is the efforts of the school children and youth in Bangladesh, who are a very important part of the global Fridays for Future movement led by Greta Thunberg of Sweden.

Climate change diplomacy now needs to follow a whole-of-society approach in which Bangladesh becomes more effective in our collective global advocacy, and we are able to turn tackling climate change into a positive brand for the country, which could even lead to income from exporting our knowledge on LLA.

The initiatives taken by the PM when she became the chair of the CVF have played a crucial role, including supporting member countries to start developing Climate Prosperity Plans that will change their narratives from vulnerability to resilience and ultimately, to prosperity. She also declared that Bangladesh would prepare the first such plan, named the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan (MCPP), which is due to be released for public consultation very soon. This pioneering plan has the potential to become a vehicle for Bangladesh’s climate diplomacy for the next decade.

Originally this article was published on May 5, 2021 at Daily Star. The author Prof. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).