At Glasgow, the UN’s Champions of the Earth winner Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the current President of the Climate Vulnerable Forum seeks to secure the interests of the Vulnerable 48
In 2019, President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands travelled to Dhaka to join the Global Commission on Adaptation that I was co-hosting with former UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon.
Together, we were warning the biggest emitters that global adaptation actions were far from keeping pace with the runaway scale of loss and damage, and growing millions of climate refugees that no one wants to host. We warned them that no country or business can eventually remain immune from the climate wrath.
I was captivated by the courage and leadership with which President Heine had been addressing her island country’s climate challenges while voicing those as President of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a global partnership of 48 nations most vulnerable to the threats of climate change.
When she proposed Bangladesh – being at the tipping point of the climate crisis and a global leader in adaptation – should assume the presidency of the CVF in 2020, I felt compelled to accept. This would be the second time for me to lead this Forum since it was launched in 2009 by the Maldives, along with 10 other climate handicapped nations including ours. Today the CVF represents over one billion of the world’s most vulnerable communities, whose very survival is threatened by the slightest sea level rise, frequent hurricanes or rapid desertification.
For Bangladesh, often referred to as the ‘ground zero’ of natural disasters, climate change is a survival battle braved by millions of our resilient people whose homes, lands and crops are lost to recurring wrath of nature.
Every year, 2 per cent of my country’s GDP is lost to extreme climate events. By the turn of the century it will be 9 per cent. By 2050 more than 17 per cent of our coastlines will go underwater displacing 30 million. Six million Bangladeshis have already become climate displaced. And yet we continue to bear the 1.1 million Rohingyas from Myanmar at the cost of environmental havoc in Cox’s Bazar. Who will pay for this loss and damage?
Like Bangladesh, every CVF nation has an irreversible climate loss and damage story to tell. But they contributed little to global emissions. It is time to address this climate injustice.
During my presidency therefore, I have made it my mission to amplify the CVF’s voice and interest in every global climate discourse leading up to COP26.
Of course, the Bangladesh Presidency of the CVF came at a difficult time.
In 2020, the world was already at a cliff-edge of surpassing 1.5 degrees. Major economies were struggling to upgrade their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 31 December 2020. By then, international cooperation on climate had been de-prioritised by the US for several years. International climate finance was falling far short of the $100billion pledged at Paris.
The G-20, accounting for nearly 80 per cent of global emissions lacked the political will to finance transactional carbon markets to support low-carbon projects in vulnerable countries. Loss and damage remained a far cry.
And then COVID-19 hit us like a bolt from the blue triggering the triple perils of climate, health and nature. A rude awakening finally forced the world to heed to my warning that the climate crisis is indeed an emergency. And any recovery had to be green, nature-based and resilient.
Therefore, my first act as CVF President was to declare climate change a ‘planetary emergency’ and call upon all to be on a ‘war footing’ to arrest global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees.
By Autumn 2020, I’d seen very few NDCs, and COP26 was postponed, so I launched the ‘Midnight Survival Deadline for the Climate’ initiative at the CVF Leaders’ Summit. I urged every leader of every nation – “do not fail to show leadership now, declare extended NDCs by 31 December. This is practically our (CVF) survival deadline.”
Following the launch, 60 governments came forward with updated NDCs by 31 December. The UK’s NDC update was most notable as the first major economy to align with 1.5 degrees and net-zero by 2050. President Biden’s returning to the Paris treaty was also inspiring. But those who failed to meet CVF’s midnight-deadline, I urge them, to submit ambitious NDCs ahead of COP26.
CVF’s most vulnerable members pledged no less than a net-zero by 2030, including Barbados, Costa Rica and the Maldives. Bangladesh, the CVF member with the largest population, also submitted interim NDC updates with additional pledges over and above Paris to reduce methane emissions.
For Bangladesh and the CVF, climate adaptation and financing is a prime ‘survival’ priority as we relentlessly struggle to protect our populations from recurrent extreme climate events.
Realistically, my climate survival philosophy has been a common sense one. ‘Help thy self’ and wait for no one to rescue. Because, climate change is not going to spare us for our inactions.
As a testament to this, I have long championed locally-led adaptation and resilience-building at the heart of which are local actors, especially women and youth.
In 2020, when Category-5 Cyclone Amphan mercilessly hit Bangladesh and India, my country demonstrated its capability to evacuate 2.4 million people and half-a-million livestock to safety in less than five days. That same year, two-thirds of Bangladesh went under water in flash floods during the pandemic. Even though this double jeopardy cost us US$3.5 billion in GDP losses, our disaster preparedness saved millions of lives.
Bangladesh has also learnt to self-finance its climate projects. My government has thus created a US$450million Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund that supports nearly 800 adaptation and resilience projects in our vulnerable coasts. We are spending on an average 2.5 per cent of our GDP – US$5billion each year – on climate adaptation and resilience-building.
We built 16.4km of sea dykes, 12,000 cyclone shelters and 200,000 hectares of coastal plantation. Our scientists invented nature-based solutions for our coastal communities, such as salinity and stress tolerant crops, rain reservoirs and pond-sand-filters, floating agriculture technology and mobile water treatment plants.
Inspired by our climate resilience credentials, the Global Centre for Adaptation (GCA) headed by Ban Ki-moon, Kristalina Georgieva and Bill Gates, encouraged me to host the GCA’s South Asia Regional Centre in Dhaka. Established in September 2020, the Centre is already forging regional and global partnerships, including with CVF, to accelerate adaptation actions for South Asia’s vulnerable communities.
In Bangladesh, we are now championing climate prosperity. By pioneering the ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Decade 2030,’ named after Bangladesh’s Founding Father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during his birth centenary, I have called CVF nations to initiate ‘climate prosperity plans.’ We have already planted 11.5 million trees under our plan. These are strategic, low carbon investment frameworks integrated into national development plans for capturing our growth and prosperity.
But the CVF can only do so much on its own. There is a limit to adaptation too!
It is vital to build strong CVF-COP solidarity. We want to see a Dhaka-Glasgow-CVF-COP26 Declaration emerge from November’s meeting.
We, the climate vulnerable nations want to see G20 submit ambitious NDCs before COP26.
We want to see climate financing unleashed, not only towards low-carbon economy, but also for the promised US$100billion, and 50 per cent dedicated to climate resilience-building. We want to see international carbon markets unlocked for transnational climate cooperation and solutions found to our profound loss, damage and climate injustice.
In our war against nature, we will lose unless we unite. We are consciously destroying the very support systems that are keeping us alive. What planet shall we leave for the Greta Thunbergs or those at the Bangladesh Coastal Youth Action Hubs? At COP26 we must not fail them.