Climate change impacts are not taking time off because of Covid-19 crisis: Dr Saleemul Huq

Climate change and disaster risks are increasingly affecting the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) across the world. Bangladesh, a lower- middle-income country which graduated from the LDC status in 2015, is no exception. In this backdrop, the Department of Environment, Ministry of Environment and Forests is executing the Formulation and Advancement of the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Process funded by the Green Climate Fund having UNDP Bangladesh as the implementing Partner. In an interview, the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) Dr Saleemul Huq talked about various aspects of Bangladesh’s NAP formulation process


How does Bangladesh’s NAP differ from its NAPA process, and in your opinion, how can adaptation tracking mechanisms support medium to long term adaptation planning? ​

There are several differences between the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) and the National Adaptation Plan (NAP). The first one is the timing. The NAPAs were done probably 10 to 15 years ago or possibly even longer, while the NAPs are being done concurrently at the moment.

So there is at least a 15-year gap between the two and much has evolved in the meanwhile. The second big difference is that NAPAs were done only for the least developed countries. Whereas, NAPs are for all countries. And the third big difference is that NAPAs were intended to do quick exercises to identify some high priority, immediate and urgent adaptation actions and to then have those funded from the adaptation fund and the LDC fund. NAP is meant to be a much longer-term, more programmatic, development-oriented exercise that mainstreams adaptation into national development and does not just generate a few small adaptation projects, which is what the NAPA did.

As institutional and technical capacity is critically important at the national level, what measures should be taken at the institutional level to successfully plan and implement NAP? 

In my view, it is the most fundamental aspect of doing the NAP. In every country, the NAP is meant to develop a long-term adaptation to climate change perspective in national development planning, national policies, sectoral strategies, agriculture, water, disaster management, local level preparation in every locality of the country.

This requires capacity building of different stakeholders within and outside the government and also across the country. Capacity building is the number one imperative in doing a successful NAP. The capacity of many different sectors needs to be built over time and continuously and not just one-off and that to me is the most important part of the NAP.

Every ministry of the government must have a climate change adaptation element in its national plan, not a separate project. It must incorporate climate change adaptation in its development planning. Ministries and the agencies under it have to do incorporate climate change in their development planning. Then it also has to go outside the government.

This is a big challenge and it is going to take a long time. We need to start the process and identify who needs to do what, who can do what and who can build capacity and how we can enable them to continue to build capacity. Capacity-building should never be seen as a one-off and we cannot build capacity by just doing one training or one workshop or one study tour. We have to incorporate the capacity building into training.

Every engineer, agriculturalist, and civil servants should get training. All of them have training institutions and they have to have an adaptation to climate change included in their training curriculum. We can start it now and that to me is the priority for the NAP if we want to make it effective.

Recovering from Covid-19 provides an opportunity to build back better. What are the main areas of investments that could help LDCs NAPs planning be more resilient to future global crisis/pandemics? 

One of the things that we need to take into account as we march forward particularly in the Covid-19 recovery phase is that building resilience to public health emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic. There will be others in future. We have to build similar resilience to prepare for the adaptation to the climate change crisis which has already hit us. It will continue hitting us in future.

As you know, we got hit by the super cyclone Amphan a few days ago, which is almost certainly attributable to human-induced climate change. So climate change impacts are not taking time off because we have Covid-19 crisis. We have climate change and Covid-19 at the same time and therefore, our recovery plan has to take both the emergencies into account.

In this context, the national adaptation plan of Bangladesh also needs to take into account the synergy with the recovery plan, particularly concerning the most vulnerable communities who are going to be badly hit and are indeed affected by both Covid-19 and climate change crisis. Everything is coming together and therefore, has to be dealt together and not in separate silos.

How can we closely align Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)s and NAP, particularly for Bangladesh and other LDCs?

NDCs are nationally determined contributions that every country has agreed to produce as per the Paris agreement which focuses on strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is the number one priority of the NDC. However, when we agreed to do the NDCs, it allowed an option to include adaptation. It was not mandatory, but a vast majority, I think two-thirds or more of the NDCs by countries, included adaptation. They felt that adaptation is very important.

Bangladesh also included adaptation and in fact, most LDCs have also include adaptation in the NDCs. In my view, adaptation should be part of the NDC where it isn’t already.

As countries develop their national determinant contributions, which has to focus on greenhouse gas emission, they should also focus on adaptation. We should want to do that and emphasise the adaptation part. The national adaptation plan is an opportunity to integrate adaptation into the NDC as well and that should be a priority for the NAP.

How can we address the transboundary issue (e.g. transboundary water) in NAP formulation process?

I think this is extremely important for a lower riparian delta country like Bangladesh, where more than 90% of the river flows come from outside our borders. We must have transboundary arrangements with our upper riparian neighbours, the good news is we have several arrangements on water sharing rivers, particularly the most important one the Ganges.

We need to do that for all the other rivers. There are dozens of such rivers between Indian Bangladesh. But we also need to go beyond India and reach the headwaters – Nepal, Bhutan, China and Tibet, all of which come from the high Himalayas.

We need to have a regional water-sharing arrangement between all the countries which is not going to be easy. There is a lot of political differences between the countries right now. Nevertheless, we must try.

On a much more amenable time and geographical scale, we should also be talking to the state of West Bengal in India regarding our shared common global heritage of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, the world’s largest mangrove forest and a Unesco World Heritage. One-third of it is in West Bengal and the rest two-thirds of it is in Bangladesh. That is a common heritage between the countries and on behalf of the whole world, we are responsible to conserve it and ensure that we don’t destroy it.

The Sundarbans has protected us from the cyclone Amphan that first hit India’s West Bengal and Odisha and then turned to Bangladesh. A lot of the damages that could have happened to people in Bangladesh did not happen because the forest protected us. The forest has always protected us.

We’ve got a lot of damages. The forest has been very badly damaged. We need to assess that. Going forward, I feel that a large-scale multi-country regional approach should be pursued. It is going to be very difficult but we can consider a two-country or even a one-country Bangladesh with the state of West Bengal in India, which is something manageable. We can do it as we speak the same language and share the same border.

We should be able to join forces to look after the Sundarbans and to me, that should be a high priority in the national adaptation plan particularly taking into account of a new and emerging issue – nature-based solutions.

The coronavirus has shown us the importance of healthy, connected and resilient societies. How can we sustain collective long-term climate action during the Covid-19 and post-Covid crisis? 

One of the things that we have to acknowledge is that climate change is probably one of the biggest emergencies that the world is going to face. Vulnerable countries like Bangladesh and other least developed countries are going to face even more drastic impacts. It is already happening and will increase in the coming decades.

We have an example of the super cyclone Amphan that hit us just a few days ago.  It became a super cyclone because the sea surface temperature was elevated much higher than normal. Generally, it would have been a normal cyclone, but it became a super cyclone because of climate change. And the intensity of super cyclones like Amphan will increase because of climate change.

That is a new factor that we have to take into account. At the same time, we are also dealing with the crisis of the Covid-19. The measures that we had to do for social distancing was practically impossible in the cyclone shelters where millions of people had to take refuge during this unsung crisis. So we need to do better in dealing with multiple crises. One crisis happening does not mean another crisis is not going to happen. We are generally not good in dealing with multiple crises at the same time, hence we have to increase our ability on this.

What kind of information needs to be included in reporting on progress and effectiveness of the NAP process in national communications?

This is a very good question and I think also one of the most critical questions for the NAP. I would recommend very strongly to those who are involved in the process is to leave behind a monitoring system.

The NAP is not an adaptation implementation plan. It is just an assessment of what needs to be done and how to do it.

Bangladesh has already invested close to one billion dollars through various channels including own funding, and from the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF) and other international funding on implementation of adaptation.

Although we have invested, we do not have a good way of measuring its effectiveness. We spent a lot of money and did a lot of things but we are not quite sure how effective they have been.

So we need to improve our ability to monitor the effectiveness of adaptation actions. Capacity building as I mentioned, is one action. But many other actions need to be done as well. NAP should help us in developing a monitoring system. NAP needs to leave behind effective monitoring of the adaptation system within the country with all the relevant stakeholders inside and outside the government so that we can continue to monitor what adaptation we are doing. More importantly, how effective that adaptation is.

Is there any other issue that you would like to add as we conclude?

I wish all the people involved in the NAP good luck. Bangladesh has unfortunately started its NAP quite late. Many other countries have already started the journey of preparing their national adaptation plans. Bangladesh should immediately learn from those national adaptation plans. Products and experiences are coming out, we should learn from them and not repeat their mistakes.

On the other hand, in the case of Bangladesh, we have a long history of being very proactive. I have mentioned already that we have Climate Change Trust Fund, we have our Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. It is 10 years old and being revised now for the next 10 years. We should be looking into it and build NAP on these. NAP is not just one thing in isolation, it has to integrate many other things that are taking place to be effective.

I hope that all the people who are involved in this will understand this responsibility of building NAP on what we have and does not be become a standalone activity with a separate standalone report, which I am always afraid of.


Originally this interview was published on 18 June, 2020 at THE BUSINESS STANDARD .