Vulnerable countries take the lead in commitments

During the first half of the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco, in November, the result of the US presidential elections fell on us like a bombshell, first because it was so unexpected, and more so because of Mr. Trump’s previous statements questioning the existence of human induced climate change and his threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

It took a few days for the delegates in Marrakech to recover from the shock and rally around to ensure that even if the US decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, or even from the UNFCCC itself, the remaining 194 countries would carry on with their commitments to tackle climate change because it was the right thing to do.

In the end, even the US negotiators, including Secretary of State John Kerry, who had negotiated the Paris Agreement at COP21 in Paris just a year ago, also stated that as President Obama was still in the White House and the US had ratified the Paris Agreement, the US would join the other 194 countries in actions to implement the agreement.

However, the biggest breakthrough occurred on the last day of COP22 when the 48 countries of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), under the leadership of Ethiopia, declared that they were committed to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and in many cases by 2030 or even before.

This commitment to take action by the most vulnerable developing countries was the main final outcome of the COP and was covered by the world media as a demonstration of commitment to actions under the leadership of the most vulnerable countries.

This commitment also marks a key turning point for the CVF countries, as they have now moved away from their original aim of highlighting their own vulnerability and advocating for actions by others to keep the long term temperature goal to 1.5 degrees, to now showing the way to global leadership to actually achieve that goal.

As a founding member, as well as previous chair of the CVF, Bangladesh is also now committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. This will not be a trivial task for us, but can certainly be achieved with the right policies and investments.

Bangladesh already has one of the world’s fastest growing solar home systems with over five million units sold, supplying lighting to nearly 20 million poor people. This is an excellent basis to expand into bigger systems for other purposes.

However, there is also a contradiction in the country’s policy with regard to investing in coal-powered electricity plants, which would force us to depend on fossil fuels for decades to come.

Hence, if Bangladesh is to fulfil its pledge to become 100 percent renewable by 2050, the policy on coal-powered electricity generation will need to be revisited.

Another aspect of the CVF is the addition of the V20 finance ministers group, who have also been meeting and developing plans for more South-South cooperation amongst the CVF and other developing countries, as well as South-North cooperation with developed countries. Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands have been paired to develop such South-South as well as South-North partnerships on behalf of the V20 group. As the Marshall Islands will become the next chair of the CVF after the term of Ethiopia expires in two years, it is a great opportunity for Bangladesh to join the Islands in taking these partnerships forward.

Thus the CVF, which started as a small group of vulnerable developing countries in 2009 under the leadership of the Maldives, has now come of age and has grown to 48 countries, becoming a global leader in tackling climate change and implementing the Paris Agreement. As a key member of the CVF, Bangladesh can also continue to show leadership within the group.

Originally this article was published on Wednesday November 30, 2016 at Daily Star. The author Dr. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).