‘Bangladesh is a nano-emitter globally but the emissions have serious impacts on the local level’

Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Interview with Prof Mizan R Khan

To preface this issue of Climate Tribune — which looks at some aspects of the role of the private sector in climate change — we interviewed one of the leading experts in climate change policy in the country Professor Mizan R Khan.

Deputy Director with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Professor Khan coordinates the LDC Universities’ Consortium on Climate Change (LUCCC), an official program of the LDC governments. He also represents ICCCAD at the ACT2025 platform, which is a consortium that convenes key stakeholders to discuss, identify and guide ambitious outcomes at UN climate negotiations.

Here is an edited excerpt of the interview

What are the important issues in relation to private sector industries and climate change? Can you give us an overview?

In Bangladesh now private sector contributes most of our GDP, with the public sector as an economic agent becoming an insignificant player. Since the last 50 years of our independence, private sector is maturing in its profile as the main engine of growth. The role of service and manufacturing sectors is increasing gradually, and that of agriculture is going down as share of GDP.

However, still the private sector is treading the polluting path of development, contributing most of our pollution load. Look at Dhaka city or its surrounding environs! What is the quality of water in the surrounding river waters including Buriganga? It’s pitch black and stinky. Even in rural areas poultry farming and indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers are wrecking havoc on the fresh water rivers and canals. Actually, rapid economic growth for the last three decades and also poverty are imposing twin pressures on the environment in Bangladesh.

In terms of addressing climate change, private sector is not yet coming forward to make their own investments and assets more resilient against the impacts of climate change. There are few issues that stand in their way to go cleaner and low carbon pathways. Technology, capacity and above all, awareness and motivation are main factors behind the current state of pollution and emissions.

What kind of data is available regarding environmental pollution caused by the private sector? 

Here we have a serious gap — in data generation, for which we need appropriate technologies to measure different types of pollution — both in-house and external, that the private sector agents generate. Here the Department of Environment and the NGOs can play a big role.

Bangladesh isn’t a big industrial country. So is there any meaningful contribution to climate change by Bangladesh industries? 

Bangladesh as a low-income country is just taking off in its industrialization process, where role of the manufacturing sector is not yet big — about 20% of our GDP. Overall, Bangladesh emits still less than half a ton of carbon dioxide per capita, against say, 20 tons in the US, or more in Australia. So, in that sense, Bangladesh is a nano-emitter from global perspective.

But this level of emissions has serious impacts at local level — in terms of air pollution, causing so many respiratory diseases. Dhaka city is ranked as one of the least livable cities in the world, where all types of pollution are creating a havoc for the civic life of the citizens.

How much do current government policies/legislations align with international standards/best practices in pollution and mitigation? 

In terms of government policies, acts, plans and strategies, Bangladesh is a pioneer in developing countries. During the last decades Bangladesh has developed a good policy-legal framework, compared to many other developing countries. For example, We have the new National Environment Policy, the issue of environmental protection has been included in our Constitution under amendment 18Ka back in 2009 by the Awami League government.

Also the Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009 has been updated, which is in its final stage of fine-tuning. The government has adopted a very long term Delta Plan 2100, along with Vision 2041 and others. Bangladesh is regarded now as a global leader of adaptation and resilience and in disaster management, which has been acquired through our experiential learning over ages and this has been matched by some appropriate policy-institutional frameworks to handle climate and natural disasters.

[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]In terms of addressing climate change, private sector is not yet coming forward to make their own investments and assets more resilient against the impacts of climate change[/quotes]

But the main lacuna in environment management lies in the practice — in enforcement of government plans, rules and regulations, which is very weak. There is a lack of transparency and accountability both on the part of the public and private sector regulators and economic agents. On the other hand, the citizens of civil society groups do not have direct access for seeking redress of pollution through legal actions.

The space that is there is very cumbersome and time-consuming, which discourages citizen groups to seek remedy. So, Bangladesh is still treading through the lowest rung of the pollution curve. Experience showed in the past that when a country reached the level of $5,000/6,000 per capita, the pollution curve starts bending down. But we have now only $2,000 per capita income. So, we don’t know how much we have to tolerate pollution.  This is a great challenge to our health and environmental quality, which is likely to compromise our long term economic growth.

Do we know what causes largest pollution from the private sector? 

As there is no exact measurement of contribution to pollution load by different sectors, it is hard to say exactly which sectors contribute how much. But with common sense, we can say the power sector, cement manufacturing, building and construction sector are among the highest polluters of greenhouse gases and other pollution, such as solid and air pollution. Also the agriculture sector — rice production, livestock sector and chemical-fertilizer based cropping and poultry sector are great polluters.

What are the most urgent steps private sector companies should take in order to address pollution and climate change? 

There are a number of steps that the private sector can take to do a hop-step jumping in bending the pollution curve.

First, there are many win-win options to control pollution and take a cleaner path. For example, promoting energy efficiency, energy conservation and promotion of clean energy should be given a boost. Things in this regard are improving, but at a very slow pace.

Second, our private sector still looks at investment for cleanup or environmental protection as an expenditure, not as investment. This is not right, However, there are positive examples also. For example, quite a number of garment manufacturing industries are the cleanest in the world, perhaps the highest number in the developing countries. This is needed to survive in the competitive world, where green consumerism is on the rise, particularly in buyer countries.

Third, the government is providing quite a number of incentives to the private sector to promote clean and green growth. Bangladesh Bank also has elaborate package of incentives, originally initiated by the former Governor Dr Atiur Rahman. But the response from the banks, financial institutions and other private sector actors were not and still are not encouraging. The reasons behind this lethargy needs to be looked into.

We cannot forget that if we want to survive as a competitor in this world, we have to go clean and green. Internationally, there are good opportunities for funding as soft loans. The GCF, for example, has a private sector facility, which supports the developing countries’ private sector agents, particularly for mitigation projects, but from Bangladesh, not many proposals have been submitted yet by the private sector, except by IDCOL.

Finally, there is a need for capacity building of the private sector, in terms of raising awareness, training and other modes of enhancing capabilities of private sector agents. In this regard, our universities like the IUB can initiate semester-long certificate course to young and mid-level managers of private companies. There is no alternative to improving learning, ie software and hardware in terms of new and clean technologies. They may cost a little more, but the dividends will be better than holding on to old and dirty technologies.

Originally this interview was published on 22 August, 2021 at Dhaka Tribune.

About The Author

Saqib Sarker is journalist at Dhaka Tribune.