Turning the climate change problem into opportunity

Courtesy: WHO

As this month of December is both the end of the calendar year as well as the month when we commemorate the 47th year of Bangladesh’s existence as an independent country, I am going to write this column with a look into the future over where Bangladesh can go over next few decades. These thoughts may sound visionary or perhaps even unrealistic, but they are not impossible and well within the realm of the achievable.

The first opportunity I will focus on is the ability to adapt to the projected, as well as, real adverse impacts of anthropogenic climate change over the coming decades. As the world heads towards a global temperature rise of over 2 Degrees Centigrade (which will also require heroic global efforts at mitigation of greenhouse gases) the adverse impacts will be felt in every country of the world.

As Bangladesh is already well ahead of most other countries in developing adaption plans, actions, research and knowledge we can, in fact, harness that knowledge and export it to other developing countries (and even to developed countries). In order to do so we need to develop a climate change adaptation corps that would provide knowledge and technical assistance to other countries. The way to do this most effectively is to invite people from other countries to come to Bangladesh to learn from our farmers, fisher folk, communities, scientists and policymakers.

Bangladesh has already had experience of teaching the world about microfinance through the pioneering Grameen Bank and others over the last few decades. We now have the basis for teaching the world how to adapt to climate change.

The second area to focus on is investing in our youth and children with high quality education, training and knowledge not just enabling them to get jobs but make them into entrepreneurs and problem solvers. Again, we have already reaped the benefits of investing in educating girls over the last decades so that they have become highly productive workers in the garments sector and even more importantly, to exercise their right to family planning.

The next phase of our investment in youth again needs to emphasise investments in educating and training more girls than boys (as this will give us better social returns on our investment). An important aspect of this investment in enhancing our human resources as the excellent raw material that we have in the hundreds of thousands of university students studying in over a hundred public and private universities all over the country. We need to invest in making them entrepreneurs and problem solvers and not just white collar job seekers. These young people are second to none in their levels of intelligence and enthusiasm and we can enable them to not only help solve Bangladesh’s problems but global problems like climate change.

The third issue I will focus on is related to both the above in focusing on the opportunity of leapfrogging our knowledge and use of technology, in particular web based technology. The Prime Minister has already prioritised this idea in wanting to bring about digital Bangladesh and it needs to start with empowering our children through these new opportunities. As any parent with a child having a smart phone is aware, children absorb how to use them so quickly that it becomes second nature to them (something that adults find harder to do).

The fourth and final area where we can and should aim to make a transformational change is in the investments made by the national and foreign private sectors. These need to be channelled into clean and green industries and services rather than in ones that destroy and pollute the environment. While government policies and regulations have a major role to play here, I feel that the onus is more on the more honest, progressive and farsighted members of the private sector themselves to take the lead and to crowd out the polluting and corrupt members of the business community.

The above four areas of targeted  future investment needs to be prioritised policy-wise in order for Bangladesh to leapfrog and transform itself into becoming climate resilient with a healthy growth based on green and clean technologies as well as with the smartest and most productive human resources. This is achievable within a generation if everyone plays their part.

Originally this article was published on  December 20, 2017  at Daily Star. The author Dr. 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.net