Why ICCAD’s Global Gobeshona Conference set an important precedent
The Global Gobeshona Conference, held in January 2021, was a remarkable and breath-taking event in climate change knowledge exchange and public discourse. This is the first annual global Gobeshona conference, building off of prior years of Dhaka-based Gobeshona conferences organized by ICCAD that brought together many international and domestic participants.
This year the conference was virtual, necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic but also the realization of a vision of a truly global conference that covers all continents of the globe and is inclusive of participants and attendees from around the world. International institutions, research universities, networks, NGOs, activist organizations, academic researchers, students, and local community members were all present.
The number of participants and attendees would be much harder to achieve in a face-to-face conference that in the past involved people travelling to Dhaka, Bangladesh. The global reach of the conference was truly astounding: 90 sessions over 7 days, running 24-hours each day with many parallel sessions, involving dozens of participants and thousands of attendees due to free access. The level of forethought, planning, and commitment that goes into something like this cannot be understated. As a past presenter at a Gobeshona conference in Dhaka, I attended this year’s Global Gobeshona conference as an attendee instead, bearing witness to the event over a week of thought-provoking sessions.
The theme of this year’s conference was on locally-led adaptation (LLA) across different geographic areas, whereby knowledge and lessons learnt were shared and debated from across the Global South and the Global North. The sessions were organized by different types of sessions (keynote speeches with many renowned experts and thought leaders, organizational sessions by various institutions and organizations, thematic sessions, and interactive networking sessions).
The remarkable feat of the conference was not only its reach but also in who spoke at the conference - ranging from world-famous names and leaders of organizations to local community members in remote areas who normally are often excluded from such conference spaces. Thanks to rigorous pre-planning that enabled the participation of average people impacted by climate change, with organized access to the internet, the conference demonstrated the importance of inclusiveness in ensuring that the voices of differently situated peoples were heard and heeded.
Translation facilities furthered this inclusivity. For instance, it was possible for attendees to hear and interact with presenters from powerful institutions such as UNFCC, GEF, SEI, WRI, and many others but also communities participating in LLA projects across countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Among several impactful sessions, one that is representative of this inclusivity was the one organized by UN Women Bangladesh on women champions of climate change, which ensured that female participants in remote villages of Bangladesh were presenters on an equal footing to well-known speakers and organizations, with the session being held in both English and Bengali.
Given that climate change impacts the most vulnerable across the world, yet the voices of the vulnerable are always not heard or heeded sufficiently in high-level planning and decision-making, conferences like the Global Gobeshona Conference enhances opportunities to have different voices and positionalities to be present in spaces of global knowledge sharing.
This is particularly critically important when cross-continental sharing of information, experiences, ideas and processes are hindered due to lack of access to funds to travel to conference spaces or access to powerful instructions and actors. A free virtual conference that is based out of the Global South, inclusive of various types of voices across the Global South, is something that I believe should be learnt from and supported by those in the Global North and Global South. Otherwise, the goals of achieving meaningful climate adaptation or climate justice will remain that much more difficult.
Dr Farhana Sultana is working in the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs of Syracuse University, USA as a faculty in the Department of Geography & the Environment, her research interest lies in _climate justice, water governance, political ecology, and inclusive development. Can be reached at [email protected]