Taking a ‘whole of society’ approach to tackling climate change

Photo: Collected

The scale of the global climate change emergency that is emerging in 2020 has already made it clear that nothing short of a “whole of society” approach is needed if we are going to be able to tackle it effectively over the coming decade, which is the crucial time window we have left.

While this whole of society approach is needed globally, it is also needed in each and every country as well. How can we do this for Bangladesh?

The first thing to note about thinking of involving the whole of society is that it puts the burden of thinking, planning and taking action on each and every conscious citizen of the country. It is an empowering notion that enables each of us to become an active player in the struggle against the global emergency.

It also means that we can no longer blame others, such as the government or authorities, for their inaction if we ourselves are also inactive.

The good news in Bangladesh is that from the Prime Minister to her ministers and bureaucracy, as well as legislature and judiciary and even the security forces—all the organs of the government are fully aware of the climate emergency and are well on their way to working out what each of them have to do about it. Thus tackling climate change is now embedded into a “whole of government” approach in Bangladesh.

A good example of this is that the finance minister has allocated over eight percent of the national budget across over 20 ministries to help them tackle climate change in their regular annual activities. At the same time, the upcoming eighth Five Year Plan will enable climate change actions to be embedded across all major sectors, rather than being a standalone issue for the Ministry of Environment to handle alone.

We now need to move from a whole of government to a whole of society approach, where all the non-governmental sectors need to come on board as well. There are a few main groups that need to be brought on board, many of whom have also started taking actions on their own already.

The first sector is the significant NGO and broader civil society sector in Bangladesh, which includes ones like BRAC (now the biggest NGO in the world) to thousands of smaller NGOs as well as community based organisations. The good news here is that many of these NGOs in Bangladesh have pioneered the concept of Community Based Adaptation (CBA) and are in fact exporting their experience and knowledge to other developing countries as well. Of course, much still remains to be done but a good start has been made.

The second important stakeholder group are the media, which provides information to the citizens to enhance their knowledge, both about the problems as well about the solutions related to climate change. Many major media houses in Bangladesh have been covering the climate issue for a number of years and as a result, the people of this country have a high level of awareness when it comes to climate change.

This was made clear to me when I attended the Climate Summit in Paris, France in 2015 where the famous Paris Agreement was finalised. During the two weeks of the summit, we were a few thousand delegates and observers meeting every day in a former airport on the outskirts of Paris, while the citizens of Paris went about their daily life oblivious to what was happening inside the conference venue. On the other hand, there were correspondents from several private television channels from Bangladesh as well as from newspapers, who had gone to the conference at their own expense and were sending despatches on the ups and downs of the negotiations on a daily basis to their viewers and readers back in Bangladesh. The general public in Bangladesh were keeping abreast of the climate negotiations more than the people of Paris where they were taking place!

The other major sector that has to now be brought on board in a much more significant manner is the private sector, from which we need to generate both investments as well as solutions to tackle climate change in practice. Here also we already have some excellent examples, particularly in the solar home systems arena where more than five million households have purchased solar home systems from private companies, who have generated a significant number of green jobs as a result. There is plenty of scope to scale this up several fold over the coming years.

The other arena where there is a lot of unexplored scope is in addressing adaptation, where companies working in agriculture as well as insurance can play a role. All such investments need to be scaled up by the banks and investment sector, who have to add to their knowledge and understanding of the opportunities for profit making and job creation in tackling climate change.

The final sector is education, which includes universities, colleges and schools, where our younger generation needs to be educated and empowered to become future Climate Champions. Again, there are a number of excellent Initiatives that can be scaled up here. One is the Gobeshona Initiative, where over 50 universities and research institutions have come together to share knowledge on climate change research. They hold a major annual conference each January to disseminate their research findings to decision makers. Another initiative is the Bangladesh Youth Adaptation Network (BYAN), which is a part of the global Youth Adaptation Network and will be taking the messages from Bangladesh to the Youth Climate Summit to be held in Milan, Italy in September 2021.

Of course, the most important emphasis has to be on all the citizens of the country, including farmers, fishers, labourers and others. Each and every citizen must be able to understand the problem of climate change, as well as know what to do about it from their own perspective. The obvious opportunity here is to link the protection of natural land and water resources of the country while developing agriculture and fisheries in a Nature Based Solutions (NBS) approach that prevents and indeed reverses the ongoing destruction of our natural ecosystems.

Finally, there is an excellent opportunity for Bangladesh to link the climate change issue to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as to the eighth Five Year Plan, the 2041 Perspective Plan and the 2100 Delta Plan.

If done effectively, Bangladesh has the opportunity to show the world how to successfully mainstream tackling climate change into development through a genuine whole of society approach.

Originally this article was published on October 21, 2020 at Daily Star. The author Prof. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Email: saleemul.huq@icccad.org