The case for mitigation

(This article was originially published on The Daily Star here)

In my previous column I had argued that while adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change should be the priority of Bangladesh when it comes to shorter term action domestically, mitigation mattered much more in the longer term at the global level as a 4 degree Centigrade global temperature rise (which is where we are headed) will be beyond our ability to adapt.  I will elaborate below further on what the main elements of such a mitigation focused strategy should be at both international  as well as domestic levels.

International level:
At the global level the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are entering an extremely critical period over the next year leading up to the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) which is going to be held in December 2015 in Paris, France where it is hoped that a new protocol will be agreed to replace the Kyoto Protocol and take the world on a safe trajectory from heading to 4 degrees (where we are now headed) to going down to well below 2 degrees.

The first step in that negotiation process will happen in Lima, Peru next month at COP20 where it is expected that countries will make pledges of how much mitigation they will be willing to do and also how much money they are willing to contribute to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which will be the vehicle for funding both mitigation as well as adaptation in developing countries.  Bangladesh has always had a very strong technical as well as political negotiating team and has played an important role as part of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group to which it belongs. The LDC Group has, over the years played an important role on the issue of adaptation but also now needs to step up its negotiating game as we enter the final round towards Paris.

The recent joint declaration by President Obama of the United States of America and President Xi of China at their summit in Beijing of both countries taking significant actions to reduce their respective emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) over time is an extremely powerful political move as it ties together the two biggest polluters towards collective mitigation actions. This negates the failure of the last attempt to reach a global agreement a few years ago at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark where these two polluting countries failed to reach agreement and them blamed each other for the failure. However, the pledges that the US and China made about the scale of mitigation they would undertake still falls far short of what is needed to bring temperatures below 2 degrees. So the trick will be to use the momentum generated by their pledges to raise the level of ambition of all countries to mitigate even more in order to bend the curve of emissions from 4 to 2 degrees by the end of the century.

Domestic Actions:
At the domestic level, while it is true that Bangladesh being highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, should focus mainly on adaptation. It is also true that our emissions of GHGs are not very high and hence taking mitigation actions would not make much difference globally.  Nevertheless, I would argue that even at the domestic level it makes sense for us to consider mitigation (as well as adaptation). The first reason is that a ton of GHG emitted into the atmosphere will have the same effect in increasing global warming whether it is emitted from America, China or Bangladesh. Hence, if we can avoid emitting even one ton of GHG we should do so.

The second reason is that it actually makes sense for Bangladesh to develop a climate resilient and low Carbon development pathway which will make the country much more resilient in the longer term. Finally, it is actually possible to deliver clean, non-polluting energy to the masses of people in the country through innovations in both technology and public private partnerships. Indeed the recent passing of the three million households mark for Solar Home Systems (SHS) in Bangladesh shows that it is happening already and can be scaled up considerably. Bangladesh can invest in clean energy such as solar, wind and hydro and meet its future energy needs while reducing its dependence on polluting fossil fuels such a coal, petroleum and natural gas. Doing so will not only be better for the environment (both our own and the planet’s) but will also save a lot of money required to import fossil fuels.

To conclude, by taking a low carbon clean development pathway towards the phasing out of fossil fuels and becoming Carbon Neutral (as countries such as Costa Rica, Maldives, Ethiopia and others have pledged to do), Bangladesh will retain the moral high ground when advocating that other countries should do the same.  We can then say that even though we are a highly vulnerable country and our emissions of GHGs are low, we are able and willing to take mitigation actions not because we are being forced to do so, but because it is the right thing to do. And if we can do it, every country can do it.

Written by: Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director, ICCCAD, November 2014