How is Bangladesh writing the history of adaptation?

Our nation’s role as a vanguard against the climate crisis is indisputable

Syed Zakir Hossain

After the publication of the third assessment report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001, the world came to realize that adverse impacts of human- induced climate change would become inevitable and unavoidable and hence all countries had to prepare for those adverse impacts through adaptation. A corollary of that finding was that while all countries, both rich as well as poor, would eventually be adversely impacted, the first to suffer would be poor people in poor countries.

This led to an analysis of which countries would be most vulnerable to such impacts of climate change and in almost all the many global rankings Bangladesh would be either the most vulnerable or at least amongst the top three most vulnerable countries.

Thus the scientists and leaders of Bangladesh were made aware of its extreme vulnerability to climate change over two decades ago and since then the country has invested in preparing itself to deal with those impacts.

This process has gone through several very important phases that have broadened the understanding of what needs to be done and by whom. These lessons are not only applicable to Bangladesh, but for all countries both poor and rich.

The first lesson that was learned was that the country must invest in developing its own national scientific capacity to study the issue and provide evidence-based guidance to decision makers on what needs to be done. Bangladesh was well endowed with climate change experts who formed a major platform called Gobeshona which brought together over 50 universities and research institutions who were doing research on different aspects of tackling climate change. These universities have also been investing in building capacity of their students on how to adapt to climate change.

The second important lesson was that the country could not wait for the rest of the world to provide the necessary funds to carry out the adaptation needed. Hence the government of Bangladesh pioneered the creation of a Climate Change Trust Fund over 10 years ago and it has funded hundreds of adaptation projects around the country, both by government ministries, agencies as well as by civil society organizations.

This has then evolved into incorporating climate change into the national budget. The national budget of 2021-2022 has 8% allocated to tackle climate change across twenty five ministries and also through NGOs. At the same time the country is also trying to access global funds but is not waiting for that funding before acting.

The third lesson was to realize that tackling climate change could not be done effectively by the government alone but needed a whole-of-society approach where every sector in the country needed to know what it had to do and was enabled to take necessary actions. The most important sector was the most vulnerable communities in the different climate vulnerable parts of the country. This has resulted in Bangladesh being acknowledged as a global leader in locally-led adaptation (LLA). Thus Bangladesh is now providing technical assistance to other countries on LLA.

The fourth, and perhaps most important, lesson has been that adaptation to climate change while certainly being specific to every unique location. Nevertheless, there is an enormous amount of global significance in shared learning across scale and time. Thus Bangladesh is going to be sharing its experiential knowledge of adaptation with the rest of the world through the recently set up Global Hub on LLA at the Dhaka office of the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA).

Going forward, Bangladesh is also going to invest in preparing for the losses and damages from human-induced climate change, which has already become a reality that all countries in the world will have to face, whether they are prepared or not.

Let me conclude by describing how Bangladesh has evolved its conception and practice to deal with adaptation to climate change. In the initial years, the emphasis was on examining the extent of our vulnerability to climate change impacts. Still, we moved from examining the problem to tackling the issues and finding solutions. This changed the paradigm from a focus on vulnerability to becoming resilient.

The country is now going up the learning curve to becoming more climate-resilient. It is now on the threshold of another paradigm shift from resilience, which is about risk management, to prosperity through the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan (MCPP), which aims to enable Bangladesh to do incremental adaptation and transformational adaptation.

The countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) have already agreed to follow our example and produce their own Climate Prosperity Plan with technical assistance from Bangladesh.

Thus, as every country in the world moves to adapt itself to the adverse impacts of climate change, Bangladesh will undoubtedly be a global leader in helping others adapt effectively and thus make the whole world better adapted.

Originally this article was published on April 21, 2022 at Dhaka Tribune

Prof Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).