‘The world will start witnessing benefits of COP26 from 2023’

The 26th Conference of Parties (COP), the biggest event of climate stakeholders on earth, will begin in Glasgow from Sunday, after nearly two years. Bangladesh, with a sizable delegation led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, will be attending the upcoming conference which is being considered the most significant one and has attracted more attention than any other climate event in history. Just before leaving for Glasgow, a long-time negotiator for Bangladesh and one of the country’s leading climate experts, Dr Ainun Nishat, professor emeritus of BRAC University, shared his thoughts with Dhaka Tribune about the upcoming COP26 conference, prospects of Bangladesh participating in such a mega event and the climate change scene worldwide. 

DT: How important is an event like COP to deal with the challenges of climate change? 

AN: Well, you’re not going to like the answer. COP is not the most important or an iconic event to solve the issues of environment or climate change. It is important, but not quite the one like the media has made it out to be. In fact, most of the agendas are decided in the pre-COP meetings, annual meetings of subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPC) which are responsible for providing scientific instruments to the implementing bodies. If COP was the answer for all climate related problems, then we wouldn’t have seen a lot of COPs being completely futile in the past. 

DT: Then why is it heralded as such a mega show? 

AN: Because it is a political event. Like all other things in the world, at the end of the day none of the science, grandiose words, dark signals, messages of concern eventually matter if the big heads do not agree to cut down carbon emission unanimously. In fact, COP is just one portion of the negotiations which is mostly discussed by heads of states and governments. Four other committees will be negotiating simultaneously. Among them two bodies are under UNFCCC that are the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA); the other two are CMP (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol) and CMA (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement). 

DT: Where does it leave Bangladesh? With what expectations is the country participating this year? 

AN: This is another misconception people have, that we are going there to win some kind of deal. The entire process of COP has multiple layers with a rigorous discussion process. It’s a convention of 197 nations where an issue can only be passed if we all agree. That’s a mammoth task. Every country participates in the negotiations under one of the regional groups, and Bangladesh gets its spot under the G-77+China, which is a coalition of 134 developing nations. Even there, we fall under the Least Developed country (LDC) sub group, where we have a space to talk. 

DT: Are you saying there is no point for countries like Bangladesh participating in COP?

AN: No, not at all. I am just saying it is not a target-oriented discussion, where we are sitting to finalise some deal. Rather, it is a collective voice with all the other nations which are just as vulnerable as Bangladesh and we are echoing a set of collective demands to the responsible entities to take actions. 

DT: What are these demands and what should countries like Bangladesh focus on? 

AN: I think all countries irrespective of their claims will give a boost to finalizing the Paris Agreement, which has been hanging for such a long time. It has become the need of the hour and the agreement is almost finalized, drafted and ready to go into effect from next year. Binding the agreement with law on every nation state will open the path to implementation and active regulations to keep the temperature within 1.5 degrees. Apart from that, the nations should keep on pressing for the promised $100 bn in climate financing to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature. With this, fixing a market mechanism to calculate the monetary value of activities regarding climate change should also be a prime agenda. 

DT: How big a role does compensation play for countries like Bangladesh from the countries which are historically responsible for carbon emissions? 

AN: It is important, and countries like us could really use the money. But the historically pollutant countries abhor the word “compensation”, because they don’t want to take responsibility for the greenhouse gases which started filling our atmosphere after the industrial revolution. I think Bangladesh should not raise this issue in the big forum, because finance can arrive in many other channels. This year discussions will take place over seventy topics and we could strategically refrain from discussing this. Rather, we should demand sanctions on adaptation and mitigating challenges, most importantly technology transfer - which will be the most crucial instrument to balance between human needs and tackling the rampant destruction of climate. Countries like us cannot afford to spend much in research and development to invest in these tools, so the emitters must feel the liability to help us out. 

DT: Does Bangladesh have a strong position in this COP as the leader of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) nations? 

AN: The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) is not a negotiatory body at COP. It is a sort of club consisting of nations which share similar ideas about climate change due to heightened socioeconomic and environmental vulnerabilities. They could obviously take independent initiatives among themselves to protect their interests, but at COP they or Bangladesh do not hold any exclusive floor to take any decision. 

However, COP is a place of immense opportunities and networking. Bangladesh will have its own pavilion and government personnel will be attending countless sideline meetings. Conversations will take place with third parties such as NGOs, donor organisations and interested business entities which leave an open door for experimenting with proposals. Now we have to know how to utilise such a platform and bring those back in Bangladesh for our benefit. 

DT: As a country, we are not very environmentally concerned. In many cases we ourselves are responsible for a great deal of damage within our territory. But what are the specific effects of climate change that Bangladesh has to confront due to the activities undertaken by global frontrunners of carbon emitters? 

AN: Well, effects of climate change can be divided into many branches such as direct, indirect, tangible, intangible and so on. Bangladesh, being one the most climate vulnerable nations, bears every aspect of the consequences. For example, when flooding caused by sea level rise shatters our dams and bankrupts our people completely, that’s a direct and tangible impact. But when the natural process (pollination) of crop (rice) production is being harmed with time in proportion with a net rise in temperature, that’s an indirect effect. The IPCC sixth report has already forecast that urban flooding will be increasing and the size of the cyclones will grow bigger upto 200-250 km per hour, almost a 10 percent increase than the current ones. With that, drought will be a major concern - and all of these phenomena are induced in our country from global effects of climate change.

DT: Does COP26 have a chance to stand out from its antecedents and can we actually hope for words finally coming out as reality, different from the boastful speeches of global leaders? 

AN: Yes, I believe this COP has a very good chance to be a fruitful one. Because this time, the big fishes are also suffering. There is no alternative to taking steps, we are already very late. They are aware that it has to be now. I think the world will start witnessing the execution of this COP from 2023. We will see finance pouring in towards initiatives to achieve the net zero target, resources will be allocated to develop technology and, if nothing, the increasing disastrous incidents all over the world would be enough to dispense the “push”. 

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