Bangladesh’s role in tackling climate change

(Originally published here)

In the last week of April, nearly two hundred international participants from over forty countries, along with a hundred participants from Bangladesh, attended the 10th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA10) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) in Dhaka. The four-day conference was preceded by three days of field visits by the international participants to see community-based adaptation projects in action in the country.

This annual conference, which brings together hundreds of practitioners, researchers, governments, UN agencies and donors, is organised each year by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS). Last year, the conference was held in Kenya, and the year before in Nepal. This year, it was held in Bangladesh with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as the local organiser, with the support of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF).

The theme for this year’s conference was “Enhancing Resilience of Urban Communities” and there were a number of representatives from poor urban communities from many cities in Asia and Africa.

Some of the main outcomes of the conference are shared below.

Urbanisation and climate change

Over half of the world’s population live in urban centres of varying sizes, from mega cities like Dhaka to small towns; the fastest growing urban centres are in Asia and Africa. At the same time, cities and towns are responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions which lead to climate change, causing certain parts of the cities and towns to be especially vulnerable to its adverse impacts. These impacts of climate change are likely to be suffered by the poorest citizens living in informal settlements, which are usually located in the most vulnerable areas. Interestingly, there are about a billion people living in informal settlements around the world.

Hence, the twin phenomena of urbanisation and tackling climate change in order to build more resilient cities and towns in the future should have a common strategy of involving the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in both planning the future as well as managing the present.

Financing future urban infrastructure

In the coming decades, investments will be made in urban infrastructure to the tune of trillions of dollars in both Asia and Africa. This will come from governments, development banks like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank, as well as the private sector. The vast majority is yet to be invested, which provides a great opportunity to ensure that these investments result in resilient cities and do not enhance vulnerability to climate change. One of the requisites of building a resilient city or town is to involve the poorer citizens in both planning as well as managing them. 

Supporting the communities of the urban poor

In over 300 cities and towns in Asia, and over 600 urban settlements worldwide, there are now established communities of the poor, who are self-organised and have savings which are co-managed with local governments, living in informal settlements. They are also federated across countries, including Bangladesh, as well as across regions, such as the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) as well as globally, such as the Slum and Shack Dwellers International (SDI), which can take to scale the development of services and resilient infrastructure for the urban poor, along with local governments.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is supposed to channel up to $100 billion a year from 2020 to developing countries to help them tackle climate change, would be well advised to look for ways of supporting these communities that are already self-organised through intermediaries such as SDIs that can manage tens of millions of dollars, and pass them on to communities who only need tens of thousands, while also providing fiduciary and monitoring standards.

Sharing Adaptation Technologies

Finally, one of the most important elements of the annual CBA conferences is the sharing of experiences on tackling climate change, which is being practiced by hundreds of communities worldwide. In the case of the most recent conference, international participants were able to visit and see in action different adaptation technologies – ranging from rooftop gardens, improving community drainage and sanitation, engaging children in disaster preparedness and many more – being practiced by urban communities in Bangladesh.

Research institutions, NGOs and government agencies in Bangladesh have already identified almost a hundred different adaptation technologies to tackle climate change problems such as salinity intrusion in coastal areas, floods in the flood-prone areas and droughts in the northwest districts of the country.

These technologies could be shared with the rest of the world through both South-South as well as South-North exchanges of knowledge by inviting the international community to visit us and learn how to adapt to climate change. Thus, the Bangladesh government may wish to consider establishing a Adaptation Technology Centre as a public-private-partnership project, where the adaptation knowledge of the people of the country will be exported, not by sending out experts abroad, but rather by inviting and hosting people from other countries to learn from actions already being taken by farmers, fishermen, the private sector, government, NGOs and others in Bangladesh.

Written by: Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director, ICCCAD