The climate change brief for the incoming government

The Daily New Age, 06 January 2009

For Bangladesh to be able to have its voice heard in the marathon negotiations between January and December 2009, it needs to have a full-time climate change negotiating team in place, which will be able to participate in the negotiations on a continuous basis for the next twelve months,
writes Saleemul Huq

The incoming Awami League government will no doubt have its hands full dealing with the myriad social and economic problems facing the country. Nevertheless there is one environmental problem that also needs to be faced on an urgent basis, namely the issue of how to deal with the impacts of climate change. The reason why this is urgent is not because climate change is likely to hit the country immediately but because the decisions at the global level are being made this year and if Bangladesh misses out on having its voice heard at these international negotiations over the coming twelve months, it will have to live with the consequences (which will not be pleasant for the country).
   This article tries to explain the major issues being discussed and negotiated over the next twelve months, culminating in the new ‘Copenhagen Agreement’ which is expected to be agreed in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 at the fifteenth conference of parties (COP15) on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This upcoming agreement is expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol which was agreed in 1997 at the third conference of parties (COP3) in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 and will determine the global actions for the post-2012 period for probably another decade.
   The main features of the upcoming Copenhagen Agreement were agreed a year ago at the thirteenth conference of parties (COP13) in Bali, Indonesia and consist of four ‘building blocks’. Two of these are considered to be the ‘major building blocks’, namely ‘mitigation’ which refers to actions to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases by the major emitting countries to ensure that future ‘dangerous climate change’ is avoided, and the other is ‘adaptation’ which is to ensure that countries which are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of unavoidable climate change (such as Bangladesh) are assisted (with technology and funding) to cope (or adapt) with those adverse impacts. . The other two are considered to be ‘cross-cutting building blocks’, which include ‘technology transfer’ (for both mitigation as well as adaptation) and ‘innovative financing’ (also for both mitigation as well as adaptation).
   The recently completed fourteenth conference of parties (COP14) held in Poznan, Poland was a half-way, stock-taking meeting to enable all parties (and groups of parties) to put their respective proposals (for each of the building blocks) on the table for future negotiations. The negotiations will start in earnest at the next meeting of parties under the UNFCCC in March 2009 in Bonn, Germany and will run almost continuously from then until COP15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 (there will also be additional negotiating sessions under the UNFCCC in June, also in Bonn, and then again in August and possibly again between August and December). In addition to the formal negotiating sessions under the UNFCCC there are also likely to be a number of other important meetings (including a possible summit to be called by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, in New York). There is also a possibility that the Copenhagen meeting in December will become a summit level meeting with President Obama attending.
   Climate change negotiating team and special envoy
   Thus, for Bangladesh to be able to have its voice heard in these marathon negotiations between January and December 2009, it needs to have a full-time climate change negotiating team in place and be able to participate in the negotiations on a continuous basis for the next twelve months. To miss a meeting may result in an adverse decision without our voice having been heard. Such a negotiating team needs to headed by a full-time chief negotiator who can devote almost full-time energy to attending the various UNFCCC (as well as other) meetings on behalf of Bangladesh. The attributes of such a full-time climate change negotiator, or special envoy, are not technical knowledge of climate change (that can be provided by the technical members of the team) but rather diplomatic knowledge and experience, especially of UN processes. Thus a former ambassador who has been posted to important UN missions (such as New York or Geneva) or other important capitals (such as Washington, London or Brussels) would be the appropriate person for the new government to appoint as soon as possible. A number of countries, including Japan, the UK and Denmark have already appointed such climate change envoys, as has the incoming Obama administration in the US. It is extremely important for Bangladesh to do so immediately so that no time is lost.
   The appointment of a climate change special envoy as lead negotiator will not diminish the need for the environment minister, the foreign minister and the prime minister to also be made aware of the climate change negotiations and be able to attend high level meetings where political presence is required. It will also be necessary to brief all the Bangladesh missions in important capitals such as Washington, London, Brussels, Tokyo, etc on this issue so that they are able to attend meetings and speak to the international media when required.
   In addition to the special envoy, ministers as well as head of government there will also be need for a technical team who are able to understand each of the separate negotiating tracks and brief the envoy and ministers accordingly before each high level meeting. Fortunately, Bangladesh is, by now, well endowed with such technical expertise on different aspects of climate change both within the government as well as outside (the government will need to continue its excellent practice of including non-governmental experts in their official delegation to the negotiations).
   The government will also need to bring civil society into the picture by sharing information with the people and using civil society actors, such as NGOs, to also project the views of the people of the country in the many parallel international meetings that will also take place over the next twelve months (and which will greatly influence the key political leaders in the richer countries). The basic demands of the government and civil society on this issue are the same but they can operate in different arenas.
   The negotiating issues
   The main negotiating issues over the coming twelve months will revolve around the four building blocks (as described briefly above) of the Copenhagen agreement and the one which is most immediate concern for Bangladesh is the issue of adaptation and within that the issue of raising major funding for adaptation. The estimates of the global needs for adaptation funding range from ten to hundred billion dollars a year and this will need to come from ‘new and additional’ sources (i.e. not from development assistance). There are number of proposals on the table already for raising such significant sums for adaptation, including a proposal first put forward by Bangladesh and formally adopted by the least developed countries (LDC) group in the Poznan meeting to charge an ‘adaptation levy’ on all international air passengers which would raise over ten billion dollars a year. This proposal has been much appreciated by others (as it is s a pro-active proposal from the LDC group). During the forthcoming negotiations this proposal, with others put forward by countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Mexico, etc, will have to be negotiated and fought over for an agreement to be reached on how to raise the necessary funds for adaptation. Even if the LDC proposal is not accepted in the end, at least it gives the LDC group a strong card to play against the other countries who will need to assure funding in the tens of billions of dollars for adaptation to be acceptable to the LDC group as well as the other most vulnerable countries (MVCs) which include the small island developing states (SIDS) and the Africa group. Bangladesh needs to use its strong presence within the LDC group to build bridges and common negotiating positions with these other groups of MVCs.
   Our focus on adaptation however, should not distract us from also paying attention to the other major building block, namely mitigation (as well as technology transfer) as what is decided by the major emitting countries will affect Bangladesh. Hence our negotiating team needs to understand the issues of mitigation (which can be very complex) and also have a strategy on this issue. At the moment the strategy of Bangladesh, together with the LDC group and SIDS group is to call for a target temperature rise of ‘well below 2 degrees centigrade’ which, while not avoiding some damage, will enable the world to survive the climate change problem. Such an ambitious global temperature target is still far from certain as it will require very strong mitigation actions to be undertaken first by the developed countries and then also by some of the major developing countries such as China and India. Bangladesh’s negotiating stance within the G77 and China group (which is the negotiating block of all developing countries) should be to push the rich countries to take strong and binding commitments to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases while also urging the larger developing countries to take whatever actions they can to reduce their emissions while not hampering their development aspirations.
   Staying abreast and on top of this very complex negotiating agenda over the next twelve months is critical for Bangladesh, if it wishes to have any significant influence on the forthcoming Copenhagen agreement, which will lock the fate of the world, and Bangladesh for decades to come. There is no time for the incoming government to lose on this vital issue.
   Saleemul Huq is head of the Climate Change Group at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. He can be reached at


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