Climate Change: Turning Bangladesh into the learning capital of the world

Photo Source: Daily Star

The adverse impacts of human induced climate change are already occurring around the world, including in Bangladesh. It is incumbent on all countries to gear up their ability to be better prepared for the impacts before they occur through enhancing adaptive capacity, and to also be prepared to deal with the loss and damage after the impacts occur.

There are certain aspects of enhancing adaptive capacity that are most relevant for vulnerable developing countries such as Bangladesh, where finances and technology are major constraints.

The first thing to focus on is the social assets that exist in each country and the development of a National Adaptation Plan (NAP), which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has mandated all countries to do.

In the case of Bangladesh, we have already taken our own national efforts to prepare the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) over a decade ago, followed by setting up a Climate Change Trust Fund to support hundreds of activities by government ministries and agencies over the last ten years. We have thus gone up a very steep learning curve, as adaptation to climate change is a learning-by-doing process. This learning is now being distilled into the revised BCCSAP, which will take us to 2030. The government is also embarking on its official UNFCCC and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported NAP, so there will be ample opportunity for Bangladesh to build on its prior experience and prepare a path breaking NAP that other vulnerable developing countries can learn from.

One of the key lessons that we have learned over the last decade is that we need to make an initial investment in enhancing the understanding of climate change impacts in all sectors of society. After that, we need to ramp up investment in enhancing the capacity of each group of stakeholders on what their specific roles and actions need to be, as there is no one size fits all approach for everyone.

In Bangladesh, we have made significant progress in enhancing the understanding of the entire population on the impacts of climate change, and we are rapidly making progress on learning what needs to be done by different institutions and groups. In this scenario, there are a few key institutions and groups that have evolved and become better equipped to tackle climate change impacts going forward.

The first sector is obviously the government, which includes the main ministries such as Environment, Agriculture, Water, Disaster Management, Education, as well as Planning and Finance. It also includes local governments in both rural and urban sectors, as well as the legislature. The important transition that all these ministries and stakeholders have been able to make is to understand how they need to tackle climate change and incorporate it into their usual practices. This is illustrated by the fact that the Ministry of Finance has for the last three years prepared a climate change budget in each national budget. This year, it allocated nearly eight percent of the national budget to tackling climate change in 25 ministries.

Another example is the way that climate change will now be integrated or mainstreamed into all the ministries in the Eighth Five Year Plan now under preparation. Similarly, the National Parliament has adopted a resolution to declare a planetary emergency, which is the first parliament in the world to do so.

These are good illustrations of how the different branches of national and local government have learned, and then put into practice their learnings, on how to tackle climate change.

A similar learning-by-doing curve has also been achieved in the non-governmental sector, with many NGOs, big and small, having received funds from the Climate Change Trust Fund as well as other sources. They have gained a great deal of experience in supporting local communities in different climate vulnerable zones around the country. As a result, Bangladesh has become a globally recognised leader on community based adaptation.

A major aspect of building national capacity to tackle climate change is to ensure that there is the ability to capture the experiential learning and use it to revise and improve actions through a national network or platform of researchers and universities in each country, rather than depending on fly-in and fly-out international consultants to do workshops. In Bangladesh, the Gobeshona initiative has brought together over 50 universities and research institutions, who have their own monthly meetings to share knowledge and a major annual national conference every January, where we take stock of where we are and make decisions on next steps. This is a national learning exercise. In fact, the Gobeshona conference has now become an international event for all vulnerable developing countries to come and learn from Bangladesh.

The final, and indeed most important, stakeholders are the ordinary citizens of the country, who all need to understand the problems and also know what to do to tackle them. This involves having an effective media strategy where the journalists working in television, radio and newspapers, in Bangla as well as English, are all able to understand the issues and communicate them in an effective manner. The media in Bangladesh has indeed risen to this challenge in a very significant way.

A good example of this is the fact that Bangladesh has perhaps the most effective cyclone warning and evacuation system in the world, where nearly three million people living in the coastal zones in Bangladesh know how to track the cyclone and take shelter when needed.

Going forward on this excellent foundation of awareness of the climate change problem and knowledge of solutions, we need to focus next on two aspects. The first is to invest heavily in the understanding of climate change and what to do about it in all our educational institutions, starting with universities and then into colleges, high schools and even primary schools. This does not require a major new financial investment, but rather an investment in enhancing the teaching abilities of our teachers. This investment will give us major dividends and make the country more resilient by turning the next generation into climate change leaders.

The second opportunity is for Bangladesh to reach out to other vulnerable developing countries, such as the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), as well as to countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), in order to share our experiences in a South-South modality. Indeed, we can also share our experiences in a South-North modality with developed countries as well.

Over the next decade, through our coordinated efforts, Bangladesh can emerge as the learning capital of the world on how to tackle climate change and make the country more resilient.

Originally this article was published on July 15, 2020 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).