Digital Bangladesh – Right to information and climate finance

(Originally published here)

As Bangladesh and the world enters post-2015 era with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Sendai Action Plan on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) – all meant to be achieved by 2030 – it is time to think out of the traditional ‘development box’ and do some innovative thinking and planning going forward. This is especially relevant for Bangladesh, as we aim to graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2021.

I will put forward below some ideas on how the nexus of the vision for a Digital Bangladesh together with the citizens’ Right to Information (RTI) can combine with climate finance to help Bangladesh make the transition from LDC to middle income status in less than a decade.

First of all, there is need for a change in our own mindset. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as “poor and vulnerable” (and hence dependent on the charity and help of others) but rather as masters or our own destiny (where we seek, as well as offer, solidarity and assistance to and from others). This has particular manifestation in weaning ourselves off of Official Development Assistance (ODA) or aid from rich countries to LDCs, to looking to access the growing pot of global climate change finance that will start at $100 billion a year from 2020 onwards, and will grow larger every year after that.

We need to then look at using the opportunities presented by digital technology to link every citizen in Bangladesh, with a focus on the younger generation, not with a view to solely connect with the global information world but to also enhance the availability of online information at national level to inform and capacitate the citizens of the country to make better decisions on both development as well as tackling climate change impacts.

This will be a concrete way to fulfil the dream of Digital Bangladesh.

Next we need to focus on the citizens’ Right to Information (RTI) Act to enable them to play a pro-active role in both their own as well as the nation’s development. The government of Bangladesh has made laudable policies for empowering citizens through RTI but actual implementation in practice still lags behind the promise. As will be explained further in the article, we need to understand how the application of both digital technology with RTI in the specific case of accessing and utilising climate change finance from the global to the national and local level over the coming half a decade can combine to enable Bangladesh to transform itself from an LDC to middle income status.

In the Paris Agreement on Climate Change agreed by signatories last December, the rich countries promised to provide $100 billion a year, with the amount increasing each year after that, to the poorer countries to tackle climate change. This funding would be channelled mainly through the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which has already started to allocate funding to developing countries. Thus, while ODA is likely to decline (or at best stay at the same level), climate finance will grow over time. Also, if Bangladesh graduates from being an LDC, it will no longer be able to access grant based ODA anymore. However, it will still remain a vulnerable developing country, and hence, be eligible for climate finance. Hence, it would make sense for Bangladesh to turn from ODA to climate change finance over the coming years.

One of the major conditions for accessing global climate finance is not simply to assert our vulnerability to climate change, but rather demonstrate that we have robust systems in place in the country, to provide transparency in how the climate funds are flowing and also have means of accountability, including independent monitoring and evaluation.

Unfortunately, so far, our performance on both transparency as well as accountability has not been very good. Fortunately, there is still time to improve this before the major climate change funds begin to flow.

The use of digital technology now allows all countries, even developing countries like Bangladesh, to take advantage of the latest digital technology to make information available in real time to everyone through the internet. Thus, for example, the government could immediately upload on the internet information on every project it approves, the moment the decision is made. This has become standard practice at the board meetings of the GCF, for example. The Economic Resources Division (ERD), which is the National Designated Authority (NDA) for the GCF in Bangladesh, could start the ball rolling by adopting this good practice, and others (including other government ministries, NGOs and donors) could then follow it.

Ensuring transparency of flows of climate finance is only part, albeit a very important part, of the need to ensure accountability. To complete the other parts of the puzzle, both governmental agencies, such as the Independent Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) and the Parliamentary Standing Committees, as well as the media and NGOs and even citizens need to play a role. This is where the RTI policies of the government, that already exist, need to be better implemented. By doing so, the citizens of the country can hold the government to account.

Bangladesh has already established itself as a pioneer on various aspects of tackling climate change, including Community Based Adaptation (CBA), climate finance at national level and mainstreaming climate change into planning and development. It now has an opportunity to lead the world in combining climate finance transparency and accountability using RTI while also contributing toward the goal of Digital Bangladesh.

Written by: Saleemul Huq, Director, ICCCAD