An impoverished Bangladesh forges ahead

Saleemul Huq; Klimafinanzierung
Saleemul Huq is the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (iied) in London.
Political article
This cash-strapped country, already being severely impacted by climate change, does not plan to wait for overdue climate payments from the North. Interview with Saleemul Huq, Climate and Development Researcher.

From the very onset Bangladesh was confronted with the challenge of protecting its people and country from climate change. In 2009 a comprehensive Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (CCSAP) laid out six strategic planks for the most urgent climate adaptation measures and for reducing the country's own carbon emissions.

To implement the Action Plan, the government had to set up its own state fund given the lack of international funding. The people of Bangladesh have therefore been funding urgent climate protection measures themselves for years now – for example raising the height of the dike around Dhaka built in the 1970s – to the tune of US$100 million per year.

Meanwhile, industrialized countries are still playing for time. Under the Paris climate accord they ought to be contributing at least US$100 billion per annum in climate funding towards global costs.

Alliance Sud: How is it that Bangladesh – one of the world's poorest countries – has been funding its own climate adaptation measures since 2009 from its own government budget?

Saleemul Huq: There were no major climate funding instruments available at the time. We already knew that we needed international funding, but that we would not be waiting for it.

Given the advancing climate change, neither did Bangladesh have the time for that…

Exactly. Our thinking was that we would press ahead while continuing to call for support. Bangladesh's own funds were paid into the «Climate Change Trust Fund». In addition, there were subsequent bilateral contributions from donor countries like Denmark, the United Kingdom, the USA, Australia or the EU into the Climate Change Resilience Fund. Financing to date therefore comprises some US$700 million in our own fund, plus another roughly US$300 million in the donor fund. But both funds were financing the same measures under the Action Plan. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is now ready at last and Bangladesh's two leading institutions are accredited; we have submitted an initial application.

In Bonn, Bangladesh launched the Bangla Desh Climate Finance Transparency Mechanism, which combines government and donor funding. Why?

Civil society has now become involved in the monitoring of activities. This makes for greater transparency and better use of the climate funds being spent. But the idea is not greater accountability to donor countries, but to our own people – we call this «downward accountability».

Can this model be replicated in other countries?

I certainly hope so! All 48 countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (Bangladesh is a founding member) have decided to change over completely to renewables – with no ifs and buts, in other words not just «if you give us money or technology». That is our promise, our aspiration! And we want others to emulate us.

Here the most vulnerable countries are taking moral leadership and are serious about the transition. We intend to take this path, as it is the only way forward!

How do you see the connection between development and climate protection?

For years developing countries have fought for new, additional funding for climate protection and adaptation, over and above the pledged official development assistance (ODA). In my view, we have lost that battle. Each donor country has its own interpretation of climate financing, and mixes its funds.

Does that mean that you no longer distinguish between development and climate funding?

In this regard my view is perhaps more radical than others. We were indeed promised 0.7% (of GNI of the rich countries for development funding), but no one is keeping that promise. Your donors also select countries and priorities as they please. But that's fine. As long as it is about voluntary contributions, that is legitimate; we cannot hold anyone to account on that score.

Climate funding on the other hand is part of an international covenant, of the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is about payments based on the polluter-pays principle, not about charity. ODA is charity, climate funding on the other hand is a contractual undertaking.
When the SDC comes to Bangladesh, for example, Switzerland is acting as a benefactor. But when Switzerland participates in the climate negotiations, we can then hold the country accountable as a contracting partner, because it has been co-responsible for causing harm.


Enough of the delaying tactics!


js. Switzerland and Bangladesh could be agreed in principle. There is no ambition or sense of responsibility as regards implementing the Paris climate agreement. But it is always the fault of the others.

Federal President Doris Leuthard did not mince her words when addressing the assembled world community. We needed «worldwide commitment and transparency», she said. The «time for talking» was over, and it was high time to do the job properly.

In the lead-up to the 23rd Climate Conference chaired by Fiji in Bonn, the Swiss delegation had already described it as a «technical COP». It was simply about drawing up the regulations for the Paris climate agreement. Expectations were accordingly rational and sober, just as though countries had been on the same climate policy wave length since Paris. Signals from countries that are being increasingly affected by climate change were ignored.

Switzerland and other western countries reacted with irritation to the tabling of policy demands already on the first day of the conference. They called not just to discuss the cut in emissions after 2020 but also for a discussion of the sluggishness of the support for developing countries in their struggle with climate change. Island States wanted to see issues of «loss and damage» placed on the negotiating agenda on an equal footing with other items; in other words, financial support in case of climate damage and impending loss of territory.

Industrialized countries, including Switzerland, accused certain developing countries of even trying to «sabotage» the negotiations, and of wanting to «reinterpret» the Paris climate accord. Developing countries were not prepared to set themselves ambitious climate goals, it was said. They wanted more and more money and concessions, despite the lack of adaptation plans and the fact that countries did not know how to use the climate funding already available.

That this is not so, and just how a country like Bangladesh views the situation – as one experiencing the direct impacts of climate change – is clear from the interview. The other 47 developing countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) are themselves still awaiting the support contractually due to them from those mainly responsible for climate change.

In a certain way, the CVF members can therefore endorse the view of the Federal President to the effect that despite a historic breakthrough in Paris, self-interest and tactics are still hampering the climate debate. And there is still a lack of ambition and sense of responsibility. The only thing is that, unlike us, people in the global South are feeling it ever more in life and limb.